10 Leadership Lessons Learned from My Mentor

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Below was an original blog I shared @Pastor’sToday with Lifeway.com.

Joshua had Moses, Elisha had Elijah, and Timothy had Paul. Mentors are invaluable and biblical. The most influential mentor on my life and ministry to date is Dr. Greg Mathis, or as he’s known to his staff and church members, “Preacher Greg.” He’s been the senior pastor at Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville, NC for 34 years and is my mentor and friend. I’ve served on his staff for almost 15 years with more than 10 of those years being in a full-time ministry capacity. I’ve watched Preacher Greg lead, preach, encourage, teach, and model both integrity and effective ministry in a church that has experienced consistent growth throughout his ministry tenure. I plan to share a two-part series on the lessons I’ve learned from my mentor.

In this part I will focus primarily on some of the leadership lessons he has taught and modeled. In part two on Thursday, I will share some of the lessons I’ve learned from him about preaching and pastoring.

Leadership lessons from my mentor:

  1. Be the same person in public that you are in private.  Preacher Greg is consistent in his character and conduct publicly and privately. He’s not perfect, but he’s not deceptive either. In serving under his leadership for nearly 15 years, I respect him more as a friend, mentor, and leader now than I did when I first began at Mud Creek. His authenticity is worthy of emulation.
  2. Be patient with people. I’m not sure I’ve met a man with more patience for staff members or parishioners than Preacher Greg. There may have been times when he could’ve intervened to resolve a minor conflict. But he says, “You’ll be amazed at what will fix itself, if you leave it alone.”
  3. “Even if you’re 99% right, and they are 1% right, the conflict will end up in 50-50% fight.” Dealing with interpersonal conflict and disagreement is a necessary part of church leadership, but the wise leader will engage conflict with patience and grace. We should remember that any time we engage in direct conflict intervention with someone, we will leave the conflict with bruises and scars. This certainty is the reason for the patience advice above.
  4. “Stay out of the swirl.” The admonition here is to stay out of swirling conversations of frustration and discontent. It is far easier to lead if you rise above the petty, swirl of frustration than from the middle of it as a participant.
  5. Be loyal to church leaders and especially to staff. Preacher Greg’s default position is to defend his staff with absolute loyalty. In all my time at Mud Creek, I have yet to hear him speak critically or negatively of a fellow staff member in my presence. I believe the loyalty he models to his staff is why his staff remains so loyal to him. Illustratively, the shortest tenured ministerial staff position (and we have 9 ministers on staff currently) is 8 years. The rest are all between 10 and 20 years.
  6. “Have the meeting before the meeting.”  If the first time church leaders are hearing about your vision for change is from the pulpit or even in a large meeting setting, you’ve not cast vision well. Have numerous conversations with leaders before “the meeting,” and well before the pulpit announcement. That way when heard from the pulpit, leaders will be shaking their heads in positive agreement at your announcement rather than in shock or disagreement.
  7. Don’t chase people. If a staff member resigns, let him/her. If a disgruntled church member decides to leave, let them. By chasing people, we empower their complaints. That’s not to say we shouldn’t have legitimate conversations with those who have genuine concerns. Preacher Greg always welcomes concerns from the congregation and staff—albeit with respect and a desire for a positive outcome, not merely complaining.
  8. Share credit and take responsibility. Be the first to give credit away for successes. Brag on others. And be the first to accept responsibility for failures or problems. Being a leader means owning responsibility and giving away credit.
  9. “Be careful what you publish in writing.” I guess it’s a bit ironic that I share this quote from Preacher Greg since I’m writing it. But his point is well-made—when you print your thoughts and ideas, you own them. You cannot claim misstatement or misunderstanding. In the age of social media and blogging, it is wise advice to pastors and leaders to be thoughtful and savvy about what we write and display for everyone in our social media circles to read. See Thom Rainer’s article here for more great advice on this topic.
  10. Always learn. Preacher Greg studies consistently, reads constantly, and is always ready to listen to new ideas. He’s humble enough to realize he doesn’t know everything even after 34 successful years at a growing church.

The reality for any pastor is that what he models will be his legacy, and my mentor’s leadership practices are certainly worth emulating. Preacher Greg didn’t teach these lessons formally, but rather through the course of ministry situations and teachable moments. It has been an invaluable privilege to have such a capable leader as my mentor. I hope these leadership insights from my mentor will encourage and challenge you as they have impacted me.

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