Leading When You Aren’t In A Position To Lead

January 15, 2013 — 3 Comments

We began the first day of class in our DMin program today.

My first day of school!

My first day of school!

It’s been an exciting experience so far, but it’s been intimidating as well.

We spent much of our time today talking about how our program is unconventional when compared to other programs. The professors have set up the cohort so that much of our research will be done in our churches, working with people. We’ll still have a ton of reading, too, but the overall emphasis of the program is that it would change the way we do ministry in our churches.

This is just what I’d hope a doctorate program would be like for ministry, but it means that I’ll have to do a lot of hard work. It also means that our church will have to be willing to partner with me as I make these changes in my ministry and I discern with our cohort how God is calling me to a new way of life.

As we discussed this today, a thought came through my mind: “I’m just the associate pastor! How can I make some of these changes that we’ll be talking about? I’m not the one in charge.”

This belief is exactly the sort of logic that this doctorate is working to correct. One of the key issues for many people in the church is that we wait for the paid leaders, and often the leaders of the leaders, to do the hard work of ministry. We assume that we have less authority than we do.

We mistakenly believe that if we haven’t been placed in a formal position of leadership, we aren’t equipped to lead others or make an impact.

But that’s not the story we see in the Bible.

Throughout the story of Scripture, we see God using a bunch of people from all walks of life.

God loves working with people who don’t have everything together. Joseph, Gideon, David, Mary, Paul, the disciples… These were all people who God used to change the world, and they all had great excuses for why they weren’t in a position to lead.

I’ve been reflecting on an idea in recent months called “leading from the middle.” Leadership on the Line, by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky, talks about this idea by telling powerful stories of people bringing about monumental change in their companies when they were in positions of middle management.

They tell the story of David Grossman, a corporation engineer who realized that IBM needed to make significant changes to their business strategy if they wanted to survive the Internet era. They hadn’t embraced email in an effective manner and they didn’t foresee how dramatically the Internet would alter computers.

David wasn’t in a senior position, but that didn’t stop him from talking with others, enlisting support, and gaining allies to get people to pay attention.

You might find yourself in a situation where you see problems that need to be addressed. You might be the only person who notices the issues. You might even have told others about the changes that need to be made, but nobody seems to listen, understand, or care.

The temptation is to think that it’s not your problem because you aren’t in the right position to fix it.

Unfortunately, if we wait until we have been given the proper authority to make changes, we’ve often missed the opportunity to make any change.

The problem might have gotten even bigger. We might have moved on to other more pressing issues.

In the end, there’s no guarantee that we’ll ever be given the authority to make an impact.

Don’t wait for permission.

As you discern how God is calling you to impact this planet, go for it.

What would you change if you suddenly had permission to do it?


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I'm a pastor, writer, speaker, husband, father, and follower of Christ, to name a few titles. You can find my contact information in my About page.
  • Curtis Schroeder

    Thanks for the posts. I really enjoy them.

    • Thanks, Curtis! It’s a pleasure to write them. I’m glad you find them to be valuable. I’ll keep em coming.

  • scrhill

    This is a great reminder to everyone who is in middle management or an associate pastor or the like… you can lead right where you are. You can’t affect your boss, but you can affect the team you are directly responsible for!