The 6 Most Important Christian Leadership Skills

A few days ago a friend emailed me asking what had been significant skills that I had sought to develop in Christian Leadership. I really considered it a privilege to be asked to input into this area and I actually appreciated the question itself.

I appreciated the question mostly because it was written with expectation that almost all the good things that God invites us to can be cultivated as skills rather than understood as gifts that some people have and some don’t.

I’m convinced much of our Christian growth is stifled by a fatalistic sense that some people just seem to have it and others don’t. In Ephesians 4 Paul invites believers to grow up into the full maturity of Christ. It is possible for us to grow into the likeness of Jesus, but we won’t fall into it, we must desire it. Desires are formed through practises, otherwise they become spontaneous and fleeting passions more akin to lust than desire. I wrote a post about this a while ago called “Practise makes spontaneous brilliance” which unpacks this idea a little more.

Many of us are growing older in faith but are we growing up? Are we entering into the promise of being men and women who increasingly look, lead and love like Jesus would if He were living our lives? I really believe the scriptures invite us into this lifelong journey of becoming and it will be the most fulfilling life we could live.

Skills are something which are difficult but become increasingly more natural. Many resources on developing skills using mechanistic language, 1+1=2, but I’ve found skill development is much more like gardening. If we do nothing things will fall apart, but even when we do the right things we are also reliant on some environmental factors which expediate, slow down, or hinder our growth. It might seem like pure semantics but I think the verb I’ve predominantly used of ‘cultivate’ helps us to imagine the process more organically which I think is a more helpful imaginative framework to apply to growth in skill.

Here’s the content of the email I sent to my friend, it focusses on leadership in the fairly narrow category of leading a group of people in a church or explicitly christian community even though Christian leadership can very legitimately be thought of in many other contexts. This list spontaneously came out, so it is certainly not exhaustive, but they represented the areas I have needed to cultivate skill in;

Here are some things that have been significant for me so far;

  1. Cultivating true thankfulness when receiving personal challenges (It takes people courage to risk relationship and I wanted develop the skill to immediately respond with gratitude not defensiveness – this took prayerful practise and I certainly don’t get it right still).

  2. Cultivating the sense that it is a privilege that we have in serving people and having influence in conversations that help shape our community life together (it is far too easy to respond with frustration, apathy or resentment in the midst of responsibility).

  3. Saying Thank you / having gratitude for others service – a simple one, but often overlooked in leadership, especially if we have the victim mentality that we do more than everyone else.

  4. Cultivating the ability to step out of my own shoes into someone else’s. Not to simply focus on how something affects me but how they might be experiencing it.

  5. Cultivating an attentiveness to God’s presence with you. Too often we dichotomise that certain things are to be figured out with our intellect (or strategically) and others are to be prayed about and hear God in. This is a broken sacred/secular divide that stops us from both hearing God and using our God given wisdom and experience when making leadership decisions and processes. Too often we put our brains in a jar while we listen for God, or work things out in our own way without a thought towards God’s involvement.

  6. Not letting small things become big things – At the end of our lives, we will be measured by love, not which organisational roles we took. In one sense every role God leads us into is to teach us to become a more faithful lover of God and others. In ministry as much as any other workplace, things can become petty, divisive, egotistical, and our chief goal must be to work in ways that consistently produce the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This practise is often called ‘practising the presence, mindfulness, attentiveness or abiding’ and I think it is the foundation of Godly works.

For a while I thought maybe the trick was to be able to project a sense of these things, but a far more rewarding (yet harder) journey is to cultivate true heart depths for these things. It will take longer than just learning to ‘Fake it’ but I feel assured we are contributing to our growth in ways that cause ourselves and those around us to flourish in God’s kingdom into eternity.

What does it look like to practically cultivate these skills;

  1. Identifying the skills you want to grow into intentionally.
  2. Including them in prayer times to God for your own growth. Holy Spirit is the one who empowers these spontaneously holy responses.

  3. Practising them when I have small opportunities and trusting God’s grace to pull them out of me when the big ones come.

  4. Take up the practise of examen at the end of the day and ask God to show you places where you operated in the fruits of the Spirit and when you neglected to operate in them.

  5. Share the areas of growth with people who are close enough to observe if you are growing in them. Give them permission to reflect to you when they are not being expressed in your life.

You may notice that I didn’t include many seemingly practical skills. Well, I certainly have picked up a few practical skills;

  • How to have hard but fruitful conversations
  • How to facilitate groups of people in processing new knowledge
  • How to influence people rather than simply require of them

but most of the practical abilities are seriously dangerous and manipulative if the more foundational heart attitude skills are not in place.

Do you have some skills you want to develop? Leadership, interpersonal, fitness, discipline skills? Consider being clear about them, practising the, and inviting others on your journey, like my friend did.

What do you think the most important skills are in Christian leadership?

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