a chess mate situation

Dealing With Difficult Leaders

What To Do In A Challenging Situation

Bring up the word ‘leadership’ and you will elicit a wide variety of responses.

Everyone has their idea, or definition, of what leadership is. One person put it this way:

Leadership is the ability to move people and projects in the positive direction that you pre-determine.

Even that definition is lacking. The idea of ‘moving’ people can imply driving people to do what you want them to do. Yet true leadership is leading. Not driving.

I like this quote from a resource provided by Indiana University Bloomington in their Community Leader Development Program.

A good leader understands that leadership is responsibility not power. They take responsibility for their actions which includes both failures and successes. … When leaders are accountable for things within their power and control, they are being responsible.

Whatever definition you land on, leadership is a people sport. It’s actually leading people. Accomplishing something together. And let’s face it, the things in life that are most important can only be accomplished in relationship with others.

If you want a great family, it takes more than one.

The very nature of family implies a group. Relationship. I think most studies verify that it takes both mom and dad to make a great family.

Sure there are situations when a single mom has raised incredible children that make tremendous contributions to society.

Yes, there are times when a single father has succeeding in doing the same.

But those single parents will tell you that it would have been easier to have a partner. Someone to work with in accomplishing those things. It takes a team of mom and dad. Even siblings contribute to make the family great.

If you want to be great in business, it takes a team.

While there are jobs that can be done alone (I’m a writer so I need lots of quiet and solitude to get my job done), even those jobs require interaction with others to accomplish the big things.

For example, when I wrote my first published book, I did the writing. But it took teamwork to make it successful.

I needed an editor. A publisher. Marketing advisor. I needed a team to bring the vision to pass.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

It’s especially important for those in ministry to understand this concept.

If you want to build a great church, ministry, or outreach that impacts your community, you must learn to work well with other people. You simply can’t do it on your own.

The Bible Says It’s So

A simple survey of a few scriptures drive home this point.

1 Corinthians 12:12-21

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves[a] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts,[b] yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

Romans 12:4-8

4 For as in one body we have many members,[a] and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,[b] with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

It is my belief that God orchestrated his Kingdom/Family in such a way that we are mutually dependent upon each other.

That doesn’t mean we forfeit our identity. It just means we are designed to work together. Pure and simple…this is God’s Way!

But what about leadership?

Doesn’t someone need to be ‘in charge’?

Again…ask enough people and you will get enough different answers to fill a volume of books.

Here’s my two cents.

There can be balance. It doesn’t have to be a dictatorship OR a complete true democracy (where nothing is done until or unless the majority agrees). Balance is the key. Somewhere in the middle, or at least far removed from one of those extremes is a truth that liberates and frees people to do ministry.

We’ve all seen the extremes.

The Dictator Rule

The dictator is one who rules the church with an iron fist. Every decision must come through his hands. No project is done without his oversight. Every person must be approved by him.

To be honest, that’s exhausting. Not to mention limiting.

I’ve rarely seen this type of extreme leadership be successful. I use the word ‘rarely’ even though I mean ‘never.’ Rarely gives me an out if someone sends me a ‘testimony’ of someone like this who is successful.

I guess at that point I would have to ask, ‘What is success?’ Working in that environment (I don’t care what you accomplished) would not spell success to me. Just because something is accomplished – a building is built, a program is launched, etc – doesn’t spell success.

What about the people involved? Are they growing in their capacity to lead? Or are they stifled under the thumb of ‘THE leader’?

Real success moves the project forward AND utilizes the gifts and abilities of the people involved. This makes them a real part of the success.

A dictator can’t do this. They never let go of power. They will not share their authority. Even if it means the project fails. It is not in them to release power and authority.

As one of my friends says about this type person: They don’t play well with others!

I’m sure you’ve seen the type.

What should you do in a situation when you have a dictator leader you serve? What should you do if you are in a church situation like that?

My answer is straight to the point: Get Out!

Here’s why…

First, that leader will fall. I know that’s a bold statement. But the Bible predicts it. I don’t have to be a prophet to realize it. Pride ALWAYS leads to a fall.

You can read more about why pride leads to shame here.

Second, you will not grow in that situation. Sure, they may say things from the pulpit that are inspiring (in fact, they usually are), BUT you will not cultivate your gifts, abilities and talents under a dictator.

Ministry is usually all about them, so they aren’t able to release others to fulfill what God has called them to do. They want you to serve THEIR vision; not release you to pursue YOURS. Big difference.

A side note: There are times we are called to serve another man or woman’s vision. This is part of the growth process. But even then, a good leader will cultivate your abilities so that you can one day leave.

It’s like raising children. Let me ask you, s your goal as a parent to keep your child dependent on you? Or is it equip them to live a successful, full and independent life as a responsible adult?

It’s obvious that our goal is to raise responsible adults. It’s the same with leadership. The goal is to equip you to be all YOU are meant to be. A good leader always has his disciples/followers/mentee’s in mind. He is always thinking about raising and releasing them to a success.

The third reason to get out is, it won’t last.

Ministries built on that model of leadership tend to implode at some point.

Most of the time it’s because they’ve used so many people that they run out of volunteers. Nobody wants to feel used. They might put up with it for a while, but eventually (at least the smart ones) leave. And the ministry falls.

Forth, it will diminish your self confidence and erode your potential.

There’s nothing quite so emotionally damaging as serving someone who doesn’t appreciate you AND who treats you as if you should be happy to be used.

You will never grow to your full potential if you STAY in a situation like that. You will learn a lot of valuable lessons, but you will not become your best if you stay.

I have conversations frequently with people who have worked in this type environment; and it’s never been a positive conversation. It generally creates a lot of baggage that has to be dealt with at some point in the future.

Before I continue, I want to let you know that I write about Biblical issues that shape culture and impact our personal lives. Want to check out my in-depth articles? Get on my list. I send my subscribers articles and special offers no one else gets.


One quick example will drive home the point.

Solomon was considered one of the greatest kings of Israel. Probably second to his father, David.

However, when he died and his son Rehoboam took the throne, he ruled as a tyrant. Listen to his own words describing how he would treat his people:

13 And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14 he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord…
1 Kings 12:13-15a

Rehoboam was foolish to think he could mistreat people and succeed as a leader.

The Democracy Rule

But what about the ‘true democratic way’? What’s wrong with that?

A lot actually. Beside the fact that it is not a New Testament model (though some might try to argue that it is, it is flatly not!), it doesn’t work.

Two examples from the Bible.

The first is when Moses was leading the people out of Egypt and toward the promised land.

When they arrived at Kadesh Barnea, the cusps of inheriting their long awaited promise, instead of listening to Moses (and God), they put it to a vote. So how did that turn out? Not so good.

They actually voted to NOT do what God had led them through the wilderness to do!

I’ve seen it over and over again. A pastor has a vision to do something great for the kingdom of God. He shares the vision and a handful of people get excited. They buy in. They share the vision. They want to move forward and accomplish great things.

But when the vision is put before the majority, they vote ‘NO!’ Happens all the time.

So what should a pastor/leader do in that situation? I’ll get to that in minute, but first, one more story from the Bible to drive home my point.

The second example is from the New Testament. It’s found in Acts 1:15-26. Go ahead. Read it. It’s eye-opening I promise.

Here it is in a nutshell:

After Jesus’ death and resurrection the group of about 120 people gathered together. Remember, Judas was dead. They wanted to keep the number of Apostles at 12, since Jesus had called twelve. They were one disciple short. So they sought to fill the office.

This was confirmed as they read the scriptures (Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 specifically). They felt led by the Holy Spirit to fill this office.

So what did they do? Two things:

First, they narrowed their selection down to two men – Joseph called Barsabbas, and Matthias. We are not told how they decided on those two men, but they were the final two choices.

Next, and this is important, they cast lots to see which man should take the role as Apostle. Did you see that? Let it sink in. They CAST LOTS to determine the mind of God.

Weird huh?  I agree. This is a rather confusing action. I’ve read all the reasons – It was an Old Testament practice, it was bathed in prayer, etc. However you spin it, this is strange.

Why would they do that? Why didn’t they just vote? Good questions.

The one thing that stands out is they trusted casting lots over voting. Don’t miss that. Instead of voting on what the group thought, they trusted God to cause the lots to determine His choice.

I don’t think this should be quickly dismissed.

Bottom line: They didn’t vote. No matter how to spin it. They didn’t vote of the matter.

Now, back to the question I left unanswered: What should a pastor/leader do when they have a vision they believe is from God but people vote against it?

I want to tread this ground with sensitivity. There is a lot at stake. On both sides of the issue.

So here goes:

First, pray about it. This is one of those ‘duh!’ statements. But you’d be surprised at how often visionaries fail to submit their own dreams to God. Don’t overlook this because it sounds so ‘Oh, I know that!’

Give extended time to this. Fast. Pray more. If it’s a vision from God, it’s worth the investment. AND it will keep you from acting prematurely on the vision.

Second, get counsel. Scripture says that plans are established in the multitude of counsel. Proverbs ??

This keeps us from going rogue. It keeps us in relationship and accountable. Sometimes those around us (those trusted advisors) can see things we can’t see. Their insight is helpful.

There are also timing issues that need to be considered. Along with a host of other practical things that need to come together.

I always advise people to submit their vision to peers, trusted advisers and other leaders.

Proverbs is right. Good counsel will establish plans properly.

Third, make sure it’s in the Word. If it doesn’t line up with the bible, then toss it.

Here’s the big takeaway with this: Is this something that God talks about in scripture as part of His Big Idea?

Quick story:

I knew a pastor in Nashville, TN (many years ago) who came to ‘Music City’ with great aspirations of being a music producer, as well as a pastor. Looking back, I’m not convinced his true desire was music and NOT the ministry.

He had devised a plan to get into the music business. He would convert part of the church building (a decent size facility) into a music studio. Then he would market it to the music community.

However, when he presented the vision to the governing leaders they said, ‘No!’ And emphatic ‘No!’ to be precise.

Their reason? It didn’t fit into what they felt they were called to do as a church. Regardless of you might think about the idea, the church leaders couldn’t find a ‘Green Light’ in the Bible so they opted out.

They didn’t see it as part of God’s big picture, so they did not want to do it.

Finding It In The Bible

We can almost prove anything from the Bible. I’ve seen people make arguments for pornography, greed and a host of other ‘sins’ by using scripture out of context. I’m not talking about this kind of proof texting.

Is it part of God’s overall big picture? Feeding the hungry. Visiting widows and orphans. Taking care of prisoners. Loving the unlovely. These are God’s big picture things. If your dream falls in line with any of these (and there are others), then you can pretty much rest that it’s at least biblical. You may have some timing issues to deal with, but you know it’s part of God’s big plan.

Fourth, test it. That’s right. There is nothing wrong with putting an idea to the test.

I do this all the time in my businesses. I get an idea. I think it through. I believe it will work. So I test it. I run little campaigns to make sure there is an audience. I make sure there is a need that is being met.

From a business perspective, it makes sense to test your ideas to make sure they will work. In my mind this is not a lack of faith. It’s wisdom.

Why spend $10,000 on an advertising campaign for a new product when you are not sure you can sell even one. First test to see if there is a market. Are people interested in this idea? Do people want to spend money on it?

These are great questions to answer when you are testing business ideas.

But what about ministry? I say do the same.

If your idea has traction…if it is important enough to get attention…if it is big enough that people are willing to give their time and money to it, then you might just have a ‘God idea.’

But if no one wants to get on board with you, then you should reconsider. Sure, you can do it on your own, but real success comes (real impact comes) when people catch the vision with you and want to spend their life making it happen.

If people follow. You pass the test.

If that doesn’t happen on your test run, then back up and recalculate.

Remember the story about the music studio in the church? Well, turns out, even people in the Country Music industry thought the idea was bad. Many felt (especially at that time) the church should be different. The idea didn’t set well with those in the secular arena, so when no one (even in the music industry) wanted to get on board; that was another sign for the leaders.

Fifth, get permission. Remember, this is for those who work and serve in situations where ministry ideas and programs are submitted to a committee for vote. If this is your case, try getting permission for a test run.

The leadership may not buy in totally to your vision so you may have to start small. Very few leaders will invest a lot of money and church resources on a huge project they are unsure about. So start small.

You will have to use your creativity here a bit, but you can do it. Come up with a mini-version if necessary and present it to the board (or governing body for approval).

The fact is, sometimes leaders (committee members, board members, council) can be swayed by passion and persistence.

If it means that much to you, don’t give up. Keep coming up with ways to get permission to move forward.

Sixth, make sure you know that you know that you know. Somewhere along the way, you have to get the assurance deep within that this is God’s Will. Whatever it takes to get that knowledge, do it.

If you have to fast. Do it.

If you have to take a vacation to get away and pray it through. Do it.

If you have to talk to your mentor or trusted advisor. Do it.

Whatever it takes. Do it. You must have the inner assurance that this is God’s will for your life.

It’s the ‘give me a child lest I die’ passion that Hannah had before Samuel was born. She wanted a child bad enough to keep asking. She wouldn’t let it go. Wouldn’t give up. She even looked like a drunk woman at one point. But she wouldn’t let go of the vision.

Rather, the desire (vision) wouldn’t let go of her.

When that’s the case, you are closer to seeing your dreams come true.

I often tell people, ‘If you can NOT go into the ministry, then don’t!’ Bad grammar. Good advice. If you can do anything else, then pursue something else.

Too many people show up with vision this week, but next week it’s gone. There is no passion. No drive. No longevity. It’s fleeting.

Make sure this is truly ‘IN YOU.’

Seventh, just do it. I need to issue a warning at this point.

Visions are costly. Sometimes they cost you friends and family. Money and reputation. You must count the cost.

But if you have come through these steps and your church (council, leadership, etc) will not buy in, it’s time to make a tough decision.

If this is really God, then just do it.

I’m not talking about violating your leaders and disregarding their authority. I’m not suggesting being a rebel to do what you want to do anyway.

I’m saying, ‘It may be time to make a move into another, better, situation that will permit you to do what God has put in your heart.’

This is never an easy decision. In fact, if it’s too easy for you to do that, I question your character.

This should not be a flippant decision. But sometimes the only course of action you have is to cut ties, move on, and follow your dreams.

Don’t let anyone stand in between you and will and purpose of God!

Quick story…

I know a pastor in Oklahoma who had a dream to build a church that would reach the inner city youth. The vision burned in his heart. It consumed him.

Unfortunately, he was pastoring a traditional church that was well established in the city. They had lots of money. And lot’s of property. But the government of the church was strongly ‘board controlled.’ Anything that was done, had to come through the church board members.

When he presented his vision, which meant either using existing buildings or purchasing new buildings in a different location, they board balked. They did not want to be ‘that kind of church.’

The first thing the pastor did was submit his vision to some close, respected and trusted advisors. They all prayed and eventually confirmed this was a ‘God Thing!’ They all agreed this dream fit into God’s big picture.

Next, he tried to test the vision. He shared it with a handful of church members (people who had expressed an interest in this type of ministry). He knew the need was there. There was opportunity available. Things lined up and people wanted to get on board.

He even asked the board for permission to work ‘on the side’ (much like a moonlighting job) to test the vision. They denied.

Eventually, he had to make a decision. If this was God’s will, he had to make a choice. Would he deny the vision, or would he take a step of faith.

After a lot of prayer and fasting, he resigned his position at the church, went across town and started a new ministry so he could fulfill his dream.

The result? Huge success. People began to flock to his ministry because they wanted to be involved. Apparently , he wasn’t the only one who had a vision to reach youth. It struck a nerve with people, and God blessed it.

Last I heard, this ministry was continuing to grow. God gave them favor with city government and other programs, so now they are able to do much more than they even envisioned. God was (and is) in it!

It took guts to do what he did. But God bless it. Because he obeyed God rather than men.

Let’s face it: Sometimes people get it wrong. But you’ll never go wrong with being obedient to God.

The problem is making sure it’s God.

This takes relationship. You have to spend time with God. Seek Him. Pray. Fast. Even sacrifice.

But once you know the will God…Just do it!

What About You?

What’s the biggest challenge you face in seeing your vision come to pass?

Have you worked under a dictator who micromanaged your every move? What was that like? Did you feel stifled?

Or have you served in a situation where you had to get permission for every decision? How did that affect you?

Weigh in and let’s talk.

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