By Chuck Lawless
Leadership is a present-tense task, in that others are looking to us today to provide vision, encouragement, and support. Too many leaders, though, face present-tense challenges while living more in yesterday than today. Below is a list of characteristics of church leaders I’ve known who show this tendency. Using this list, consider if you might be “leading from the past tense.”
- Your faithfulness to spiritual disciplines was more intense in days gone by. If the acme of your Bible reading, prayer, etc., is a mountaintop in your past, you’re probably leading today on the basis of yesterday’s power. That’s a dangerous, self-dependent way to lead.
- Your illustrations of personal evangelism are not current. I learned this problem as a professor of evangelism many years ago. When I realized my stories of evangelism were dated, I had to face the truth: my stories were old because evangelism was something I used to do more faithfully.
- You think about a position you formerly held more than your current position. It’s easy to do, especially when the current role is a difficult one. Somehow, we block all the negatives of that previous role and remember it now as if it were almost heaven on earth. By comparison, our current role can never match up – and yesterday seems much more inviting.
- It’s been a long time since you’ve read a book. Certainly, we learn through means other than books, but books are knowledge. They challenge us, stretch us, move us, and teach us. If you haven’t read a book in a while, you’re leading on yesterday’s knowledge.
- You know no more about God today than you did years ago. Do an honest gut check here – what do you know about God you did not know last year? Two years ago? Do you know more of His Word than you did five years ago? In you’re in a spiritual rut today, you got stuck somewhere in the past.
- You have a tendency to remind others of yesterday’s victories. Sometimes we retreat to telling past-tense victories, especially when present-tense wins are few and far between. If you’re the one who keeps bringing up the past, you might be leading from there.
- You believe few people can teach you anything. I don’t know many leaders who admit this reality, but I do know some who live this way (and, lest I deceive myself, I can go here, too). If you believe no one can teach you anything today, it may be because you think you’ve already learned all you need to know. That’s leading from the past tense.
- You are unwilling to allow others to evaluate your leadership. Evaluation is risky. Honesty from others can be brutal. At the same time, though, an unwillingness to allow others to speak into your leadership limits your growth to yesterday’s lessons.
- If you are a teaching/preaching leader, you only recycle yesterday’s material. I am not arguing here against ever re-using material. Most of us, though, recognize the difference between reworking/ updating material and simply representing old material as if it were new. We know when we’re preaching today’s material on the basis of yesterday’s time with God.
- You are still haunted by yesterday’s pain. Some of us have led difficult congregations, and the wounds are deep. The scars tissue is thick. If, however, you allow yesterday’s pain to make you a tentative leader today, you’re leading from the past tense. In fact, you may not be leading at all.
What other evidences of leading from the past tense come to mind for you?