Ministry Resources

People, Tasks, and Goals: What It Takes To Be A Leader

What makes a strong leader? This lesson series takes a deep dive into the characteristics and attributes of Biblical leaders to try and find an answer. Series written by Billie Davis

Leaders Work Toward Objectives

While Michael was visiting his aunt in a village far from his home, he went with her to the market. There they met the pastor of the local church.

“I’ve heard you are a good speaker,” said the pastor. “Would you bring a message at our church on Wednesday night?”

Michael was pleased, but he spoke with graceful humility: “I am not a great speaker, but I am glad to serve in any way I can for the glory of the Lord. I will speak, if you wish.”

In his aunt’s house, Michael gathered his Bible and notebook and some books from a shelf. He had once prepared a message on the subject of worship and praise. It had been well-received. He decided to use it again. Of course he had to study and pray. He made a new outline. He found some illustrations. He practiced reading the Scripture portions. “These are strong points,” he said. “With God’s help I will preach a good message.”

You know this is a very familiar incident, don’t you? It happens so often that we do not find anything strange or remarkable in it, yet there may be in the behavior of Michael and the pastor the indication of a serious error. It may be the error made most frequently by sincere and competent Christian
leaders. Can you explain what it is?

In this lesson we will discuss this and other questions concerning how leaders establish objectives and work toward their achievement. Our Bible example in this lesson is the apostle Peter. There is much to learn from him about Christian leadership!

Peter – A Leader with Purpose

Peter is Instructed by Jesus

The central truth of this course has been that Christian leadership is the process of helping people accomplish God’s purposes. Nowhere is this truth made so clear as it is in the Jesus Christ’s relationships with His disciples. Almost every word He spoke to them had two meanings. One was for the disciples as people, and the other was to help them teach others and so perpetuate the gospel. One striking example of this is found in Luke 22.

In the shadow of the cross, at the time of greatest heartache for himself and His disciples, Jesus’ thoughts were for the future of His kingdom. Even as He reached out in tenderness and love to Peter, He could not let Peter forget his call to leadership. We feel sad when we read that, at this sacred time, so near to the Last Supper, the disciples would dispute among themselves who would be greatest in this calling. On the other hand, we are glad for the clear revelation of the human qualities God is able to use in His own way. We appreciate the beautiful way Jesus used Peter as an example of Christian leadership.

Peter evidently felt very confident in his position. He declared his loyalty to Christ and may have given the impression that he loved the Lord more than the others did. Gently, but firmly, Jesus told Peter that declarations of confidence do not constitute true strength. He told Peter that he would face failure and yield to the devil’s temptation. “But I have prayed for you,” said Jesus, “that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). In these few verses we find two great lessons in leadership. The first is a warning against over-confidence. The second is that personal experiences are to be used to help others. Even failure is a blessing if it gives us understanding and leads to empathy and wisdom in our relationships with others.

Peter did fall into Satan’s trap, just as Jesus foresaw that he would, but in spite of this human weakness, he was devoted to Jesus. In shame and remorse, he learned his lesson. His heart must have been longing for opportunities to express the faith and love which now possessed him. Jesus used this situation to teach Peter more about the nature of his calling. Recall or review John 21:15–17.

“Do you truly love me?” Jesus asked.

“Yes, Lord,” Peter answered, “you know that I love you.”

“Feed my lambs,” said Jesus.

Jesus repeated the question three times. Each time, Peter’s response was the same, and each time, Jesus met the declaration of love by assigning Peter a task. “If you love me, feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.”

“We must note what love brought Peter,” says the Bible commentator, Barclay. “Love brought him a task.”

We have discovered in each biblical example of a calling to leadership that a particular situation or need required attention so that God’s purpose could be accomplished. This was true in a special way when Jesus told Peter to feed the sheep. Jesus had completed His earthly part in the plan of salvation. As we have noted in earlier lessons, God’s plan was to establish the church in order to continue Jesus’ work through human instruments. Jesus expressed His love to Peter by giving him a task in this great plan. Peter expressed his love by accepting the assignment.

Jesus spoke in what we call figurative language. That is, he used the words lambs and sheep to represent people, and the word feed to represent the work of teaching and helping the people. By using this figurative language, He was able to communicate in only a few words the urgency and importance of His message. Let’s think some more about the meaning of these words.

Peter Instructs the Elders

While you undoubtedly read the recommended Scripture portions as part of your pre-lesson activities, please review 1 Peter 5:1–4.

Throughout Peter’s writings there is a tone of gentleness and deep concern for the needs of others. Bible scholars call his manner “warm,” like that of an ideal pastor. We know that he understood very well the lessons he learned from Jesus, for he made them a part of his own ministry in many striking ways. One brief passage that illustrates this for us is his instructions to the elders. These few lines contain evidence of his obedience to the words of Jesus and his understanding of Christian leadership.

1. Personal humility.

Peter was an apostle and is generally called the chief of the apostles. But he did not hesitate to call himself a “fellow elder,” thus placing himself, not above, but among those to whom he gave instructions. This concept is also involved in his instructions to the elders to be examples to the flock. The purpose of being an example is to help others to be as the leader is. The leader must be what he or she expects others to be. This places the leader very close to those who follow him or her.

2. Understanding of the needs of others.

The functions of elders, in both Hebrew and Greek societies, were concerned with people’s needs. Elders were overseers of community affairs and matters of justice and finance. They were managers and teachers. This type of office was incorporated into the church at an early date. When Peter called himself an elder, he placed himself among those whose office was to meet the needs of others. We know that Peter lived in a time when persecution was great and teachers were few. The need was for leaders with a pastor attitude—diligent, but gentle. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care,” he instructed the elders.

3. Understanding that the flock belongs to God.

Peter was called to emphasize the fact that the people were God’s flock, placed by God under the care of elders. It was as if he were saying to the elders, “You feel a special tenderness and responsibility toward people when you think of them as the ones for whom Christ gave His life.” We should also note the words those entrusted to you. Peter meant by this that God entrusts His people to the elders for the care they need. He wants the elders, and us, as leaders to care for the flock as God wants. Barclay says, “God has allotted us a task to do and we must do it as God Himself would do it. This is the supreme ideal of service in the Christian church.”

4. Motivation, or the reason for Christian service.

Peter told the elders that they should serve willingly. He gave them three rules of motivation: First, they were not to avoid service because it was too demanding. Second, they were not to serve as though it were an unpleasant duty forced upon them. Third, they were not to grab for positions because of any gain that might come from them.

Peter’s words indicate that a leader must not be greedy for financial gain, nor for power, popularity, and special privilege. Sometimes greed for personal success is a greater danger to a leader than is greed for financial gain. When a leader has his mind too much upon gaining approval or popularity, he forgets that his objective is to meet people’s needs. Leadership is not for personal gain. It is not something we deserve as an honor or have earned as a right. It is allotted to us by God. It is the practical expression of love.

5. Consciousness of their goal.

Throughout Peter’s writings there is continuous consciousness of the ultimate goal—to be ready for Christ’s return to claim His own. “When the Chief Shepherd appears,” He will claim His flocks from the faithful care of those to whom He has entrusted them. Then, “you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

Christian Work as a System

You have seen the terms objectives, goals, and needs often in these lessons. Now that we are somewhat familiar with the way they are used in studies of leadership, we will look at them more closely. We will see how they relate to one another in the total activity or system of Christian work. In Lesson 7 we discussed the nature and importance of objectives. In this lesson we will see how leaders establish objectives and use them in planning and working with people.

The Systems Approach

We may think of the systems approach as a systematic, or orderly, way of looking at what goes on in an organization or a leadership situation. The idea grew from leaders’ desire to understand the total processes of their activities. Most leaders were engaged in planning programs and trying to get people to work at various tasks. Some of them began to ask: “What do we really accomplish?” “How can we tell if we are getting the most benefit from the effort we are investing?”

These leaders realized that organizations are busy doing two different jobs. They are keeping themselves going as institutions, and they are producing some kind of product or outcome. Church leaders were sometimes confused because it was difficult to tell which part of their work was to maintain the organization and which was to do something for other people. Sometimes they would begin new projects or order new Sunday school literature and find that these were of little or no help to the church. Why? Their conclusion was that each activity was considered separately without asking how it fit with the others or what real purpose it would be expected to accomplish.

Some of these leaders began to feel that if they could look at the activities of the church as a complete system, made up of various parts, they might understand how to make their work more successful. They found that studies called systems analyses were being made for organizations in business, government, and education. The purpose of these studies was to analyze parts of an organization and see how they relate to each other and to the whole.

More recently, several such studies have been made to analyze Christian organizations. The results are very similar in each case. The main conclusion is that every activity requires that something be started or put into action. This is sometimes called input—literally, that which is put in. This input goes through some kind of operation or handling; this is called the process. Then something is produced. Something results or is realized from the process; this is called outcome. From this approach or viewpoint every organization is a system, made up basically of input, process, and outcome.

When we look at a system this very simple way, the first conclusion seems clear: In order to have a good outcome, it is necessary to have the right input and the right process. The next conclusion might be that a leader must be sure of what outcome is desired, or he or she will not know how to manage the input and the process.

Let’s make an illustration from an everyday activity: cooking. Ingredients are put in, the processes of mixing and heating are carried out, and the prepared food is the outcome. It is obvious to us that the cook must know what food is desired before the ingredients and the processes can be selected. Bread would be the outcome only if certain ingredients were used and certain processes followed. Soup would require an entirely different set of ingredients and processes.

Most cooks know what the desired outcome is. They know their objective, whether it is bread or soup. Therefore, they use the correct ingredients and the correct processes. But it is a sad truth that sometimes leaders do not understand their objectives well enough to choose the correct input and processes. They put in ideas and plan activities without stating clearly in advance what outcome is expected.

Think of Michael, the example with which we started this lesson. His input was good material and study. He planned a process—the presentation of a message–but he did not have in mind any specific outcome. He put his attention on the message but did not seriously consider the people for whom the message was intended. We can avoid this mistake by thinking of Christian activity as a system. We can learn to establish clear objectives and then select or provide what is appropriate to attain those objectives.

Now, let’s go more deeply into our examination of Christian work. There is a better and more complete way to describe it as a system. The parts are as follows:

1. A supreme goal. The goal is to accomplish the ultimate purpose of God, through His church.

2. Relationships. Christian leadership involves relationships with people. Out of our relationship with Christ, we are motivated to develop relationships with other leaders, Christian believers, and the people we are called to reach for Christ. A leader must establish and maintain working relationships with and among his or her people.

3. Needs. The difference between the present condition and the objective toward which we are working is defined as the need. Leaders are called because there are needs. When a leader plans an activity, he or her should be able to state specifically how it relates to people’s needs. What are the needs? How will this activity meet them?

4. Objectives. The outcomes we wish to see accomplished are defined as objectives. Objectives are stated in terms of what we desire to be the result of our work rather than what we intend to do. For example, the objective is not to have a meeting. The objective is what we expect to be the result of the meeting, such as a decision on a certain issue.

5. Tasks. The tasks are what we do in order to reach the objectives. They are the processes, including the planning. There are tasks for the leader and those he or she assigns to others.

6. Evaluation. In every complete system there is planned evaluation. This is a measurement of the results. Were the objectives achieved? Were the needs met? Have good relationships been maintained? Were the tasks assigned to the right people? Could they have been done better some other way? The leader finds answers to questions like these and learns how to make improvements. The evaluation probably will lead back to improving relationships, stating new needs that have emerged or been discovered, establishing new objectives, and making adjustments in task assignments.

In the conversation between Jesus and Peter there is an example or an indication of most of these parts of a Christian work system: The supreme goal was to carry out the Lord’s will. The relationship between Jesus and Peter was that of a loving teacher and a student who returned His love. The need was that people were spiritually hungry, or unfed. The objective was spiritually nourished people. The task was to feed the people— supply the food and the action.

Understand the Needs of People

Earlier, we said that the behavior of Michael and the pastor illustrates a serious error that is made by many sincere and competent Christian leaders. Turn back to the first page of this lesson to review the story and see if you can detect the error.

Do you see how your answer is related to our lesson on communication? In order to reach people with a message, you should know something about them. Neither the pastor nor Michael mentioned the characteristics nor the needs of the people who were to receive the message.

In Christian work, we have an advantage over those who try to communicate in the business world. We have the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He knows the people, and He is able to guide us as we study and pray. Many sincere and competent Christian leaders depend entirely upon this truth. However, it is inconsistent to believe that we should spend time and effort working out an outline and making a good delivery and then say it is not necessary to think about the objectives of the message or the needs of those for whom it is intended.

Probably the most neglected part of our Christian work system is the part we have called needs. This is a serious error because, as we have seen, the parts of the system are interrelated. If we do not understand the people’s needs, we cannot establish appropriate objectives.

It is characteristic of Jesus that He spoke in terms of the people more often than in terms of the message. We have seen that He did not tell Peter just to learn a lesson from his failures but to pass on to others what he learned. He did not tell Peter to be a good leader but to feed the sheep. In His own ministry, Jesus considered the needs of people of various ages and conditions. He knew, of course, that they all needed salvation, but He did not rely on a basic “salvation message.” He offered water to the thirsty, healing to the sick, and food to the hungry. Peter, following His pattern, speaks with an awareness of the suffering and persecution experienced by his particular audience.

It may be that we overlook the importance of finding out what the needs are because we take for granted the divinity of Christ. He did not have to make surveys in order to discover needs. Our own position is different only in that we are required to use the implements available to us, just as Jesus used those available to Him.

Needs Assessment Methods

In addition to informal ways of finding out people’s needs, there are formal needs assessment methods that have been designed by scholars in the fields of leadership and management. Some of these have been used with great success in Christian work. You should be aware of them and understand the basic principles, then you can adapt them in ways appropriate to your own situation. We will describe briefly here four types of needs assessment.

1. Initial activity.

In an unfamiliar situation, such as taking a position in a new area, starting a church, starting a class, or planning a series of meetings, you know little or nothing about people’s needs. Without making assumptions in advance, the leader asks the people to state how they perceive their own needs—what they think their needs are. This can be done by surveys and questionnaires or by personal interviews. The leader may feel that the people do not understand their own needs, and this may be true. But for the initial needs assessment the point is to find out how the people perceive their own needs. This is a type of listening and can be very useful in helping a new leader work efficiently and be accepted by a group.

2. Perceived needs.

This method begins with the needs perceived by those in charge. The leader has observed or received information from others that needs exist. A list is made of these perceived needs, and the people are asked to indicate whether or not the needs exist or to what degree they are being met by the organization at the present time. In this way, a leader can understand how the people feel about the success of an activity or procedure. If needs are not being met, changes can be made.

3. Known needs.

It may be that there has been a failure to accomplish objectives. The leader must face reality and help his or her group face reality. The leader must see that the needs are described more accurately so that the entire group understands them in the same way as the leader. In Christian work, some needs are common to all and cannot be questioned. The leader must guide the group in stating the objectives clearly and finding ways to accomplish them.

4. Comparison of needs.

The activity of comparing the importance of needs and setting priorities for action is essential in most organizations. Leaders must decide how to allot personnel, time, and money to meet the needs. They do this by asking their people to rank the needs according to their importance.

Management by Objectives

We have seen that needs and objectives are interrelated parts of the Christian work system. We must know the people’s needs in order to minister to them in effective and appropriate ways. When we have determined the people’s needs and stated them clearly, then we can establish our objectives. We define objectives as the desired outcome of our work. In Lesson 7, we learned something about the importance of objectives. Now we can understand this importance more clearly because we see objectives as part of the total system.

Leaders are responsible to take care of the work or get the job done. This is what we mean by management. When we say management by objectives, we mean that you must identify your objectives and then handle the work in a way that will lead to the accomplishment of the objectives. This is probably the most efficient way to handle any kind of work. Most problems in Christian work result from the fact that leaders have not established objectives or do not understand the difference between an objective and an activity. They have given attention to having meetings and projects. They have an idea that these activities are for the glory of the Lord, but they do not know how to judge whether or not they have been as successful as they could be.

You learn to manage by objectives by seeing your work, or your organization as a whole, with definite purposes that you understand. Then, you and those who work with you establish objectives that can be achieved and measured.

Think again of Esther. Her goal was the salvation of her people. Everything she did was for the purpose of saving them from death. In order to achieve her purpose—reach her final goal—she had to achieve other objectives, such as gaining the attention and the approval of the king.

Think of the preparation and delivery of a sermon. Let’s say the final goal is to have decisions for Christ. To achieve this, we set the objective: an effective sermon. To achieve this objective, we must have good content and good delivery. Each of these, then, becomes an objective. To have good content, we must know how to study the Bible. This may mean learning how to use tools such as the concordance and the commentary. This means, of course, that we must know how to read. To have good delivery, we may take a course in preaching. We need to know something about grammar and vocabulary. We see that, in order to achieve a final goal, we must achieve a number of objectives. Leaders must understand this and be able to explain it to their workers. This is management by objectives.

How to Manage by Objectives

1. Consider the past and present situations.

Study your own organization and see what has been accomplished in the past. Try to evaluate honestly the present state. How successful are you? What parts of the work have been successful, and what parts need improvement? What would you like to see accomplished?

2. Set realistic objectives.

What do you feel could be accomplished that would meet the needs of the people you wish to serve? Depending upon the guidance of the Spirit, decide what outcomes you expect to see within a specific period of time. Set your objectives high, but do not be afraid to be realistic. Your people need to feel that they are challenged and that you have faith in the Lord, but if the objectives seem too far out of reach, they will be discouraged.

3. Be sure your objectives are measurable.

A time limit and a way of measuring success must be decided upon in advance. Otherwise, it will not be possible to know whether or not an objective has been reached. Make a clear statement of what should be accomplished by a certain date.

4. Be sure the objectives are understood by those who work with you.

Leaders must share their vision and sense of mission with the people. We will see in our next lesson that people are challenged or motivated to work toward the goals of the organization when they are sure what those goals are.

5. Make a plan to reach the objectives.

Show the workers how you intend to accomplish what you have set out to do. Assign definite tasks and responsibilities to individuals. Let your people know how they relate to one another in the work and that they are important. Share your ideas, your enthusiasm, and your faith.

6. Get activity started in the right direction.

A leader is expected to make things happen. It is not enough to preach and explain. You must see that there is action and that the action is appropriate for the situation. If there is too much delay between making a plan and putting it into effect, people tend to lose interest. As soon as you have made a plan, get it into action.

7. Keep the activity directed toward the objective.

People tend to keep on doing what they are accustomed to do and so lose sight of their reason for doing it. Leaders cannot announce a list of objectives and then forget about it. They must see that the people are constantly reminded and encouraged to work toward the objectives. Inspiration and enthusiasm must be provided consistently.

8. See that the results of every effort are evaluated and recorded.

When results are evaluated, the leader has an opportunity to decide whether the procedure has been appropriate, whether the right people have been assigned to a task, and whether the objective should be changed in some way. Failure to reach an objective is not necessarily an indication of inadequate dedication or incompetent work. Leaders must take the risk of making honest evaluations. This is their best insurance that the work can be improved and the ultimate goals reached.

9. Recognize and reward those who help accomplish objectives.

Recognition should be given on the basis of accomplishment of objectives rather than upon personal factors. In this way, people are made to see the importance of the goal and to enjoy the satisfaction of working toward goals rather than making less meaningful contributions of their resources.

10. Demonstrate that personal objectives are reached by those who work toward the objectives and ultimate goals of the institution.

In business management, much thought and effort are given to making workers feel that they can attain personal advantages and reach personal objectives by helping the company or institution reach its objectives. In Christian work, the problem is not so great. All true Christians have the same basic objectives. All wish to please God, and most are very anxious to serve Him in some definite way. It becomes the leader’s duty, then, not to prove that working for institutional goals is to their personal advantage but to show them how this can be done in the church’s activities. Christians need to be supplied with structure, or plans, to guide them in doing the Lord’s work. This is the really marvelous aspect of management by objectives. It helps leaders guide workers into the paths they deeply wish to follow. It helps them see the order, reason, and purpose of Christian service. Your greatest reward as a leader is to see people finding their own needs met and achieving their own spiritual goals as they work toward the supreme goal, according to God’s plan.

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