Today, I’d like to share more about one of the lessons I listed earlier this week in "30 lessons learned in leading the same organization for 30 years."
The greatest leadership lesson I have ever learned is: Not every hill is worth dying on. If I had believed and practiced this in my previous churches and perhaps during the first few of my 30 years at Cross Church, my influence would be greater and the ministry would be more effective. I have seen ministers and other leaders let their stubbornness and pride wreck their own lives, ministries and careers. Usually, it is because of violating this great leadership lesson.
In case no one has said this to you, whether you are a rookie or an icon in your profession, let me tell you right now: Not every hill is worth dying on!
It took me many years to learn this. Again, if I had learned it earlier in pastoral ministry, each church I served would have prospered more effectively. The fellowship would have been sweeter, the growth would have been greater, and the preservation of that growth would have been more successful.
It was a process
How did I learn this lesson? It did not happen at a particular turning point, but through a process. Some things in leadership you can only learn through the growth of the entity you are assigned to lead. The evolution of the organization through growth in structures, personnel, dollars and expectations requires the leader to operate by the conviction that not every hill is worth dying on.
As I write these words, I think about the times that I could have carried more people with me along the church’s vision path if I had only been more patient and personal along the way. In the name of “urgency” or “reaching,” we can at times hurry matters in a church when hurrying is not an asset, but a liability. I wish someone had spoken these words to me earlier in life. Perhaps they did, but my passion distorted my hearing.
It’s not about being right
Most Christians are more interested in being right than they are in being Christ-like. Many times pastors are no exception. The Christian life is not about being right—it is about being Christ-like. I heard this said years ago, and I have never forgotten it: If Satan cannot get you to do the wrong thing, he will get you to do the right thing in the wrong way. When you think you are always right, you will die on needless hills. When you constantly have to prove you are right and don’t take the time to work toward making the best decision in the right time and in the right way, you lose something with your people.
The hills worth dying on
There are some hills that are worth dying on no matter what anyone in your congregation might think. Let me give you just three to consider.
1. Truth: You must be willing to die on the hill of God’s truth found in Scripture. You must stand in your pulpit, in your meetings and everywhere else you go with the confidence that the Bible is God’s truth for today and always. Sadly, many people in the church will die on the altar of tradition rather than be willing to die for truth. Pastors, let’s be committed to God’s truth!
2. Morality: Jesus was very clear that we are to be the salt and light of the world. We must be the moral conscience of our regions, nation and world. Biblically, we have no alternative. We have to engage our culture. Remember, when we do, there are times that our faith will collide with the culture.
3. The Great Commission: The Great Commission should drive every Christian and church. For a church to advance toward the future in terms of health and growth, the church needs to be emblazoned by the Great Commission. There is not one person in the church who ought to be more fired up and passionate about sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with every person in the world and making disciples of all the nations than the pastor.
When you go to the hill
Good leadership determines not only which hills to die upon, but it also chooses the timing of when to ascend those hills for battle. Let me give you some strategic experiences you should go through before you ascend the hill.
1. Leadership has to be clear: One of the biggest mistakes of church leadership is assumption. We cannot assume people understand our vision. We must make it clear.
2. Processes have to be thorough: Have you gone through the various networks of decision-making bodies on the issue at hand? Have you done your homework? Have you connected with the right players about the matter at hand to answer their questions or address their concerns? These questions are important to answer to ensure the processes have been clear.
3. God’s timing: Before you ascend the hill, you need to check the timing. The decision to ascend the hill cannot be made because of pressure from a special interest group or because you would like to get the matter behind you. Don’t forfeit your leadership on the altar of poor timing. It has to be God’s timing.
Wisdom is exercised when you have been clear and know it, the process has been thorough, and you have waited on God’s timing to ascend the hill. A wise leader will always do things in God’s timing, in God’s way, by God’s Word. If you have worked through these issues and you stand in confidence, you have no other choice than to ascend the hill. Therefore, ascend with confidence in God’s Word, power from God’s Spirit and love for all people you want to join you on the hill.
Ronnie Floyd is the senior pastor of Cross Church, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and founder of the Cross Church School of Ministry. This article first appeared on his blog at ronniefloyd.com.