My latest column at ChristianWeek:
"This book is about finishing your leadership race," writes Dave Kraft in Leaders Who Last. "It is a marathon, not a hundred-meter dash. You will encounter many obstacles and setbacks. But as a leader, your goal is to finish well."
That's not so easy. According to Kraft, only 30 per cent of leaders finish well. "That is deeply disturbing," he writes. Kraft wrote his book to help pastors and Christian leaders develop the character and skills they need to finish the race strongly. Kraft recently travelled to Toronto to teach a seminar to church leaders based on his book.
I asked Kraft what's so hard about pastoring compared to other jobs. "Anyone who's in the people business tends to carry more stress," says Kraft. "When you don't see transformation, it can depress you." Pastors can often spend a lot of time with draining people, leaving them feeling depleted and empty.
Pastors can also forget to nurture an ongoing, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, he says. "Their energy is being drawn from their own resources rather than the infinite resources of Jesus." Without a strong sense of calling, it's easy to give up, he says. Pastors are also sometimes unwilling or unable to give ministry to other people. On top of this, pastors' families also share the pain and stress of ministry.
Kraft wrote his book out of concern for pastors and Christian leaders. He's discouraged to see pastors who don't take care of themselves, as well as churches that seem to settle in and become comfortable. He's also concerned with a lack of evangelism and leadership development. "Jesus did not call, equip, and put you into a leadership role to have you start and then quit, plateau, or be disqualified," he writes. "He called you to finish the race, and finish it well."
As I spent a couple of days with Kraft, he reminded me of a lot of things I already know. Kraft sticks to the basics: leading from the foundation of a credible life, casting vision and building teams. All of this is basic, but Kraft has a way of synthesizing information and making it applicable. I know many of these things, but I'm not doing all of them. Kraft encouraged us to make a short list of "personal steps of obedience," listing actions that we would take as a result of what we learned during the seminar. It's worth reading his book just to be reminded of the basics of leadership.
Mostly I learned from his example. Kraft is 72, and he suffered from a cold during his visit. Despite this, he's full of energy and passion, and his mind is sharp. He smacks of humility and intentionality. Kraft regularly prays for himself based on Deuteronomy 34:7: "Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated." "Not that I want to live to 120!" he says. "But I do pray for vision and vitality."
I asked Kraft what he would say to a pastor who is feeling discouraged. Kraft explained that he would encourage that pastor to get both Jonathans and Nathans in their life. He's referring to Jonathan, a close friend of King David in the Old Testament, and Nathan, a prophet who sometimes confronted David. Some churches are full of either Nathans or Davids, but pastors need both honest feedback and friendships that encourage them.
Kraft also urges pastors to look for those who are engaged within the church, "the 20 per cent," and to build into their lives. He sees hope for struggling churches that get serious about evangelism and build into the lives of the next generation of Christian leaders.
Kraft encourages pastors to find a ministry coach who walk with them in ministry and ask good questions. Kraft makes himself available to pastors as a coach through Ministry Coaching International. He also posts free resources and articles at his web site, DaveKraft.org.
The odds are stacked against Christian leaders. The pressures of ministry are relentless, and many won't understand why Christian leadership is so hard. Kraft reminded me of what it's going to take to finish well, and gave me hope that, with God's help, I can be a leader who lasts.