8 questions effective spiritual leaders ask

Bruce Hopler

National Director of Church Strengthening

  • Church strengthening

God has a unique purpose for your ministry and a unique reason for placing you in the leadership of your unique location. The Holy Spirit was, is and will continue to be highly intentional about the work he is doing through you.

In response, though, healthy leaders should be actively asking strategic questions as to how they can actively engage in the work of God in this unique calling. Far too often, Christian leaders mistake that the active work of the Holy Spirit means they should be passive in their response because “God does the work.” Yes, God is doing the work, but your act of obedience is to be faithful with what he has given to you.

What questions, then, are effective spiritual leaders asking?

1. Can I clearly articulate, ideally in one sentence, what specifically we are trying to accomplish this season?

In other words, are we clear on what our “yeses” are and what our “noes” are? Far too often, spiritual leaders are exhausted and overwhelmed because they try too hard to be all things to all people.

It has been said, “If you give a little bit of yourself to everything, you end up giving a whole lot of yourself to nothing.” So many churches and organizations have a Cheesecake Factory menu with a million options that will make your head spin, instead of a Chick-fil-A menu that is specific and clear.

As you know, every participant of your church has a wonderful plan for you and your leaders, and by the way, their idea is always most pressing. But if you could do everything that everyone wanted, no one would be happy. If those who you are leading cannot articulate back to you in one or two sentences what the goal is for that season, you have more homework to do. Just like a sermon should have a clear call to action, so should your leadership. Simply put, outside of your general calling as a disciple, what is the one thing God has called you to?

2. Am I remaining consistent and specific in my call to action?

Leaders can be amazing visionaries and come up with all sorts of ways to change the world. Then the next week they can come up with another way, then the next week … How consistent are you in your leadership? If not very, then those you are leading will soon figure out that if they just lay low and wait it out, today’s idea will fizzle out to tomorrow’s “new and exciting” inspiration. Heathy spiritual leaders practice the discipline of constancy.

3. Are my specific aspirations still too broad?

Once we do the hard work of narrowing down to a few targeted areas, our homework is still not done. Leaders are often guilty of believing that the excitement and energy they feel within translates to a specific call to action. This misnomer causes frustration for those they are leading, even to the point of the leader accusing those poor followers of being unspiritual or unfaithful for not jumping on board.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if it is spiritual, it is not measurable. Not so. It is true that no one can make someone a follower of Christ. But we can measure how many intentional spiritual conversations we have had and how often we let fear keep us from presenting the gospel. To say, “We want to reach this town for Christ” is too broad.

What specific, measurable action steps is God calling your leadership team to reach your neighborhood? What kind of training do we need to give our people to reach those specific goals? This enables the leader to have measurable follow-up questions they ask every week to ensure the goal is complete.

4. Am I prioritizing bridges over programs?

Churches and organizations often fall into the trap of one-size-fits-all solutions for the masses. For example, small groups can be great. But leaders often forget to ask, “After a season of small group attendance at our church, are we seeing any notable change in individual lives other than faithful attendance?” Bridge questions ask, “What steps does the individual need to take to move from their current state of being to the desired transformed life?” Bridges are clearly communicated action steps that strategically help people move from the place they no longer want to be, to a place that is a better way to do life.

5. Am I prioritizing clarity over cleverness?

Leaders feel an enormous self-induced pressure to put a clever spin on everything to help themselves to stand out. We feel like if we can provide a large volume of activity with a well-crafted spin on it, we will be valued as the latest and greatest.

What I have discovered is that leaders who advance the most are simple, clear and restrain themselves to a limited set of messages. Clever is cool, but only for a limited time. Clear and uncomplicated, though, outlasts every time.

For example, show me a church that has five or six announcements every Sunday morning, with every ministry having a “cool name,” and you will find it often struggles with low community involvement. In contrast, a church that has a far higher actual community engagement more likely only makes one Sunday morning announcement with an unclever name like “Serving the Kids,” that is reinforced in multiple additional ways such as in the lobby and communication throughout the week.

6. Am I limiting my activity to only things I can do?

As a leader, there are certain things you may not want to delegate, such as casting vision or investing in key leaders. Most leaders, though, if they do an honest self-assessment of how they spend their time, much of it is stuff that could (and should) be delegated. A healthy leader is always asking, “Is this something that someone else could do? Is this the best use of my time?” Often, the “great” you meant to achieve is drowned out with “good” activities that distracted you all day.

7. Am I listening to outside voices?

Unhealthy leaders love to hide behind the belief that they are unique and no one can understand them to avoid accountability.

I hate to break two realities to you, but here we go: 1) If you were unique and complicated for an outside voice to understand (and you are probably not), then you have bigger problems than you think. 2) You are not as good at self-identifying as you think you are.

When I am coaching leaders, helping them truly define their reality is often the biggest eye-opening experience. Most leaders believe they are more self-aware than what they actually are. First-time guests and outside leaders can tell you way more about your blind spots than an entire committee of your finest and brightest ever could. 

8. Am I taking time to celebrate?

Driven leaders tend to focus on the “undone” and the “next priority in line.” That is not a bad thing; it is just what exhausts us and those around us. Healthy, growing leaders begin meetings by celebrating wins (in a church context they are often called “yea Gods”). Once a month they not only review what the goals are toward their objectives but “wins” from the previous month of how they have moved the ball down the court. What are some key triumphs experienced in the last four weeks?

Let me let you in on an effective leader’s secret. What gets celebrated is what gets done. Not what is on a job description or in last week’s memo. People quickly figure out what gets celebrated, and that is where they will put the lion’s share of their time and energy. 

Well-intended leaders can turn their church or organization into a machine to operate instead of a movement to lead. These leaders are not bad people; they just fall into the trap of asking the wrong questions. The most powerful leaders are not necessarily extreme extroverts with a million-dollar smile. Healthy, effective leaders are simply ones who ask the right questions.

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Bruce Hopler, National Director of Church Strengthening

Dr. Bruce Hopler has been coaching pastors and church planters for over 20 years. He now serves as the National Director of Church Strengthening at Converge. Bruce started a church in Maryland against all odds with no core group and no upfront funding, but it has grown for 18 years. He then moved to Las Vegas, where he was the Spiritual Formation pastor for the eighth-fastest growing church in America. During his time in Vegas Bruce completed his doctorate in spiritual formation and leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. After four years there, he moved to Orlando to join Converge. Bruce loves planters and pastors. He has been certified in StratOps, Church Unique and SOULeader coaching. He strives to help pastors discover what healthy means, within their unique calling and context.

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