Let me state the obvious:  Leadership is about change, it is not about maintaining the status quo.  Leaders seeing themselves as agents of change is critical to the overall effectiveness of the organization they lead.  When it comes to the local church, this has eternal ramifications.

About 80% of churches in America are either plateaued or in decline.  They are maintaining their buildings, programs and organizational systems.  They are expending vast resources on themselves, but the world we are called to reach is not being reached.  What will it take for the lifecycles of these churches to have a change in trajectory?  What will it take for churches to impact their world for Christ?  What will it take for declining churches to see conversion growth?  It will take transformational leadership.

Transformational leadership is “a style of leadership in which the leader identifies the needed change, creates a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and executes the change with the commitment of the members of the group” (businessdictionary.com).  In the context of the local church, this kind of leader understands that God calls and uses leaders to identify need, cast vision, inspire and execute change.  It is God who transforms, but transformational leaders are tools in His hands.

When you stop to think about it, transformation is what the local church is all about:

  • Sinners transformed into saints
  • Young believers transformed into fully devoted followers of Jesus
  • Unhealthy and declining congregations transformed into healthy and growing churches
  • Churches lacking vision and strategic focus transformed into missional movements

Are you a transformational leader?   Although it’s usually easier to maintain something than to change it, just remind yourself of the mission God has called you to.  His calling is to make disciples.  This is a transformational mission requiring transformational leadership.  It helps me to keep in mind the four key words of the definition:

  • Need
  • Vision
  • Inspire
  • Execute

Transformational leaders take the time to assess the current health and condition of their church so that they have a clear picture of the need for change.  A tool such as NCD (Natural Church Development) is an excellent resource for helping churches assess their overall health.  I like to think of NCD as the spiritual equivalent to an annual physical by our family physician.  Until we see the problem, we’ll never pursue the remedy (Nehemiah 2:17-18).

Transformational leaders expend much energy in casting vision.  Life change is more likely to occur when people begin to see a picture of a better future, a different path, an eternal purpose.  Vision helps people to rise above the details of everyday life, to gain a perspective of what God is up to.  These leaders recognize the power of vision and the need to share that vision at every opportunity.  Vision is a life and death issue for a church (Proverbs 29:18).

Transformational leaders inspire their people to climb the next mountain, to set out on a new venture, to raise the bar higher, and to fulfill the mission with passion and commitment.  We all need inspiration because life in this “earthly tent” is challenging to say the least (II Corinthians 4:7-5:5).  Jesus sets before us a great example of inspirational leadership in the way that he challenges and motivates his disciples (Matthew 5:14-16).

Transformational leaders don’t just talk about change, they execute.  These are leaders that have low tolerance for attending meetings where the same issues are discussed over and over without any action steps being taken.  These are leaders who set goals and then pursue the objectives with great passion and celebrate the outcomes.  These are leaders that refuse to do it alone, but rally the team in support of the mission.

In my view, transformational leaders are not born that way, they are formed that way.  To be transformational, a leader must first experience formation.  Spiritual formation must take priority in the leaders own life if he expects to be instrumental in the transformation of others.  Spiritual formation must be more than a seminary course, it must be a lifelong pursuit.  Are you intentional in nurturing your spiritual development and practicing soul care?

The Scripture says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”  (Proverbs 4:23 NIV).  The healthier we are on the inside, spiritually speaking, the more effective we will be as a tool of transformation in the hands of Almighty God.  It is critical that we spend time in the Word and in prayer, not as a means toward sermon or lesson preparation only, but as a means of caring for our soul.  Each one of us needs spiritual nourishment, the convicting and persuading work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16, NIV) that comes from the living Word.  Spiritual formation is about becoming the person God wants us to be.  It’s less about doing than it is about being.  Spiritual formation is a matter of the heart.

Are you becoming a transformational leader?