The Leader as a Role Model

My daughter Mackenzie is officially a teenager. She is thirteen and the primary reason my prayer life is alive and well! I love her to pieces, but I tell you, adolescent hormones are scary. I have a deep and growing respect for our Middle School Pastor Dan Self, who leads about 125 of these precious creatures at Crossroads. Can you imagine 125 middle schoolers in one room? That is frightening.

Let me tell you something even more nerve-wracking. My daughter watches my every move. If I call her on something that I have not lived out myself, I'm going to hear about it. The truth is that I'm a role model for her. Fortunately, her mom (my wonderful wife Patti) covers me well in the more gender-specific issues of being a role model. Gender aside, my life is viewed by her and what she observes shapes her life.

This is the way it is with all leaders. Whether you like it or not, you are a role model for your people.

 It may not seem fair and your people are ultimately responsible for themselves, but the shepherd is also responsible for the flock. You are not asked to be superhuman or even close to perfect, but you are required to make daily decisions that inspire others to a better way of living.

If I tell my son to obey the law but drive over the speed limit, I am a poor role model. If I teach my daughter that kindness matters but do not treat Patti with kindness, I am a poor role model. If I press the congregation to get into a small group but I'm not in one, I am a poor role model. If I exhort the congregation I serve to share their faith with those who are spiritually unresolved and unchurched people but I do not, I am a poor role model. You get the idea.

Let me repeat, this is not a lesson on perfection. Nor is it a teaching on performance-based legalistic workaholism. My desire is to call your attention to the incredible importance of living a life of integrity and modeling Christian character and ministry well. This is a humbling topic. Who of us would dare to claim we are a worthy model? Yet as leaders that is our role. We do not claim to be Christ, but scripture calls us to be like Him. And regardless of whether we want them to or not, people watch us. My daughter does.

There are many approaches I could take with this vast and sobering topic of modeling, but for this article, I will focus on modeling in the context of leadership development. The following are four insights to challenge and encourage you as you lead those God has entrusted to you.

1. You can impress people from afar, but you impact them from up close.

Leaders get involved in the lives of the people they lead with an intentional focus on those who are in the process of becoming a leader. You can't model from the pulpit. Modeling is life on life. Modeling says, "Come do this with me." Modeling lets people see your mistakes and how you handle pressure. Because this is true, we can discern that we don't truly model for large numbers. Your church may be large, but you model for just a few. Know who they are and be intentional about it. Be real and be yourself while also being the best model of Christianity that you can.

2. You reproduce who you are.

The principle of mirror leadership is very sobering. Mirror leadership means that after about 36 months of leadership, the people around you reflect very closely who you are.

Look closely and learn from who you attract, and the people who stay with you under your modeling, equipping and developing. When good people leave you, find out why. Your skills and personality may determine who you attract, but your character, integrity, and lifestyle will determine who you keep over the long haul.

3. Our lifestyle influences others.

In many arenas of life, it is your skill that earns you the right to influence others, but for us as Christian leaders it is first our character - our lifestyle that earns us the right. What we do when no one is looking is as important as our level of competency. Competency is critical, but it's not the whole picture.

4. Modeling integrity is what makes the difference between a shallow short-term project and meaningful ministry that lasts.

We are about changed lives, changed by the power of God. Although this can happen in a moment, for most it's a process, and a slow one at that. People aren't projects and they don't fit into formulas or timetables. Meaning is found over the course of a journey.

My kids call it "party manners." Anyone can behave for a short period of time. What counts is your ability to live well over the long haul.

The following are practical principles that help bring this idea of modeling into your daily leadership life.

Bring order to your private world.

When we talk of modeling, it seems like an external display because we talk in terms of what others observe about your life. The truth is that modeling is an inside job. How you live the life that others see is determined completely by the life you live that no one sees. How you handle your thought life, your motives, and your temptations has everything to do with how well you model life for others.

Determine a distinctive set of values and demonstrate them in daily life.

There is no such thing as a default value. Either you choose your own values and live by them or someone else will choose them for you. There are plenty of people who are happy to do so - billions of dollars are invested each year in advertising with the intent of communicating a certain set of values in a very appealing way. Know what you believe, why you believe it, and live it out in an intentional way.

Live by the same set of rules and standards.

As leaders, one of the most dangerous things we can do is to live above the law. By that I mean that you have one set of rules and standards for others but don't follow them yourself. I remember one pastor in a church I consulted with who expected his staff and lay leaders to stick within the budget, but he had no intention of remaining within any budget. We had a great and eye-opening conversation about being a good model.

Roll up your sleeves, get involved and show the way.

You can neither lead nor model from an ivory tower. You may not do all the tasks that those you lead must perform, but they must see you "in the game." A couple of Sundays ago, I observed Miles Welch, one of our pastors, joining in on the umbrella action. It was raining hard as church got out, and to make matters worse, our parking lot is torn up (and muddy) because we are under construction. Miles could have easily let his team do their job while he remained dry, but instead he chose to model a servant spirit by grabbing an umbrella and helping walk people to their cars.

So, how about you? Will you take a moment right now and reflect on the kind of model you are? For what do you have to be thankful? And what might you need to improve upon?

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at I hope this is helpful to you, the next edition of The Pastor's Coach will cover the topic of ministry values.