Lessons from Leith Anderson

Posted to our blog on November 1st, 2013 by Dave Linde
In the General, On Our Hearts category with 3 comments

2013--8Last month we were privileged to have Leith Anderson as our speaker at Pastors Teaching Conference.  Leith’s thirty-plus years as lead pastor of Wooddale Church, his fruitful track record, and his present perspective as evangelical statesman and worldwide observer made him a rich source of wisdom. He shared a number of principles of ministry and leadership.  Here are some that especially caught my attention.

Yesterday’s successes can be a major barrier to today’s innovation.  What we have succeeded at in the past is what we will tend to keep doing.  But that may not be meeting today’s need.  Beware of refusing to change something that was successful in the past.

Every time an organization doubles in size, half the leaders become obsolete. Leith cited Peter Drucker as the source of this observation.  It has huge implications for church growth.  Good church leaders, both pastoral staff members and lay leaders, may not be able to meet the challenges of a larger arena of ministry—even though they have done very well up to this point.  This is a sobering thought that bears careful consideration by lead pastors—including consideration of one’s own abilities to grow with the organization.

Church leaders constantly give and withhold permission.  They do this by what they say, what they don’t say, what they do, what they encourage, what they criticize, and so on.  Give people the right kind of permissions, such as permission to reach out to their unbelieving friends in creative ways.  Beware of giving them unhealthy permissions, such as permission to gossip.

The mountain driving principle.  The driver of a car full of people going around hairpin turns in the mountains generally does not get sick.  He or she is in control of the car and knows where it’s headed.  Not so the passengers.  They’re the ones that get sick.  Pastor, remember this as you move ahead with change in your church.

Don’t reward dysfunction.  Don’t empower “the 15 percent.”  Don’t cater to church members who habitually misbehave.

Define leadership by actions rather than by traits.  Leaders exhibit a wide variety of personality and temperament traits.

Leadership is figuring out what needs to be done and then doing it.  This simple definition is more profound and potentially fruitful than it may appear.  We need to remember it especially when what needs to be done is difficult or distasteful. Leith told of a time when he agonized over personal evangelism, but he went out and did it, persevered in it, and in time it bore multiplying fruit through multiplied efforts.  He knew it’s what the church needed.

Don’t wait to lead until your personal problems go away.  People don’t expect you to have no problems.  They have the same problems you do.  They want to know if they can be a Christian—live the gospel—with this problem.  Show them that they can by showing them that you can.

Beware of the “cutting edge.”  It can cut and cause damage.  Better for most churches to let others do the edge-cutting, then be early adopters of the innovations that prove to be sound.


  1. Thanks Dave! I greatly appreciate the overview and notes.

  2. Thanks for your comments Dave. Three points you made stand out to me:
    1)Don’t reward dysfunction. I appreciate this statement and agree with it. I find it so uncanny how even fairly mature believers and those in leadership can live in dysfunction and see it as quite “normal”.
    2)Define leadership by actions rather than by traits. If one carried this to the extreme it could result in “the end justifies the means”. I think there needs to be a balance of pure heart & integrity with action, i.e. the proof is in the pudding.
    3)Beware of the “cutting edge.” I certainly appreciate the wisdom of being prudent in assessing new things but given the church’s propensity to be slow to change, I think as church leaders it is better to error on the early adopter side. How else does the church stay responsive to its culture and alert to reaching people for Christ?

  3. Greg,

    Your clarification in (2) is well taken. Certainly character is essential to good leadership. That’s an important reminder. Leith’s point was that a person does not have to have certain personality traits–such as being extroverted, big-picture oriented, or directive–in order to lead. People with a wide range of personality profiles can lead effectively. The emphasis is on personality and temperament variations more than character qualities.

    Similarly, your perspective in (3) is helpful in balancing things out.

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