5 Ways to Lead in Ministry When Your Leader Is Not Leading

To be clear upfront, this post is not prompted by my context or personal experience as I am honored to serve under great leaders. However, I am commonly asked questions around the theme of “Help, my leader is not really leading.” Examples include:

  • How can I design a discipleship process when my leader does not seem to care?
  • How can I help groups become a bigger focus when my leader is not in one?
  • How do I implement a leadership pipeline when no one else on staff knows what that is?

Sure, it is possible that those asking the questions are unrealistic in expectations and negative toward their leaders. But most of the time the questions come from leaders who are filled with the tension that comes from carrying both a desire to be loyal to their leaders and a desire to minister and lead more effectively. They are frustrated because they believe ministry can be done more effectively than it is, but they simultaneously fear being disloyal or divisive. Loyalty to your leader coupled with a desire for another direction can be a tough tension to navigate.

So how can you lead when your leader is not leading?

1. Steward your area well.

If you are not stewarding your ministry area well, don’t attempt to speak into the whole. You have been given an assignment, and initially the best way to influence the whole is to lead effectively in the realm of responsibilities you have been given.

2. Ask for freedom.

When you have proven faithful and responsible with what has been given to you, ask your leader for freedom to implement X in your area of responsibility. It may be something you really believe the whole church needs, such as a leadership pipeline or a coaching structure or a more intentional external focus. Ask for freedom to implement in your area.

3. Humbly set the example.

As you are implementing, walk in humility. Don’t give the sense you are creating an elite “sub-church” within the church. If you walk in pride, your leader should not hand more responsibility to you.

4. Communicate progress.

Once you have secured freedom from your leader to implement something you are passionate about, give regular updates. Tell stories that show the impact. Be honest about your struggles and what you are learning. Transparency increases trust, and trust is essential in leadership.

5. Empower your leader.

As you implement well, by God’s grace, your leader may want to apply what you have done in your area to the whole. When this happens, make it as easy as possible for your leader to execute. Support and help. And as your leader executes across the whole what you once executed in your area, cheer your leader on.