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Leading by asking

By Sam S. Rainer III

Leaders do not have all the answers. And if leaders do not have all the answers, then they must ask questions of others in order to gain insight to make the best decisions. In the church, autocratic leadership is especially dangerous. A senior pastor or ministry leader that commands and controls without regard for other people’s insight creates a volatile environment.

Most pastors are not extreme control freaks. But I know I’ve been guilty of charging forward with an idea without stopping to ask the right people the right questions. So what happens when pastors and church leaders neglect to lead by asking?

Bottlenecks: Stop asking questions and watch bottlenecks form. One of the easiest ways to slow implementation within the church is to outline a plan without seeking feedback. Ministry leaders must ask questions of their followers. Not everyone needs to participate in every decision, but confusion and frustration follows poor implementation.

Dependency: While frustration is common when leaders move forward without asking good questions, dependency also forms. Some will begin to stop thinking independently when leaders do not challenge them with questions. Additionally, an environment without worthwhile questions promotes a culture of approval-seeking rather than an exchange of healthy criticisms.

Laziness: No one person can have all the answers. When church leaders do not allow for questions, others are not challenged. Both leaders and followers can become lazy about digging deeper and ignorant about how best to accomplish ministry.

Here are a few guidelines for asking good questions:

  • Don’t seek leadership answers from people you don’t trust. If you don’t trust certain people, then you shouldn’t ask them questions about your leadership.
  • Don’t fear better answers from subordinates. Great pastors and ministry leaders have followers that provide better answers, and they integrate these answers into a shared vision.
  • Don’t interrogate. No one likes to be bombarded with questions. Discernment is critical in choosing the best questions.
  • Don’t obscure the important question by crowding it with several unimportant questions.
  • Lead by asking without asking leading questions. Leading questions are more for ego-boosts than gaining new insight.

You cannot lead without asking. The best leaders ask the right questions of the right people at the right times.

Sam S. Rainer III is the president of Rainer Research and senior pastor of First Baptist Church Murray, Murray, KY. [www.rainerresearch.com] [www.fbcmurray.org]

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