Dec 21, 2015


5 Keys to Leading from the Middle

Lance Crowell provides some good advice for how to affect change when you’re leading from the middle, instead of the top of your ministry.

We have all been there. You are frustrated because you are in a ministry situation that needs to change. Maybe you’re a college minister, pastor, or a campus minister that is dealing with struggles flowing from unhealthiness, inefficiency, or just a lack of vision. The problem is you are not in a position to bring the change. Those in leadership don’t see your ideas or thought as a priority or they just don’t understand your ministry. You are filled with thoughts and insights on how to transform your ministry need, but you just can’t invoke reform.

How can you lead from the middle? How can you influence those above you in a healthy manner? Let me give you five things that will help you optimize your opportunities to invoke change in your context. They will not guarantee that you can ensure development, but they will help.

1. Pray for those over you and walk humbly in faith
This should always come first. If hearts need to be changed in your organization, God is the only one capable of doing that. Ask the Lord to bring life transformation to you and to the collegiate students in your organization. Doing all this with a humble heart honors the Lord and allows him to receive the glory he deserves for changing lives. You cannot make those in charge hear you, but the Lord can and he is in the business of renewing and transforming hearts.

I can recall being in a situation where I needed the Lord to open a door in my ministry with those over me that just was not going to happen. I had requested and the answer was no. After disappointment and frustration, I finally did what I should have done all along and began to fervently pray for the Lord to provide a solution that I could not. Within a week the Lord had opened a path that completely solved my problem. To be honest it brought me to tears knowing that God was always able to solve the impossible. I was also saddened that I did not start by bringing all of it to him. Now things don’t often work that quickly nor does the Lord always do what we ask, but there is no doubt that the first step must always begin with giving it to Christ.

2. Respect those in authority over you
The truth is God has not given you the position of leadership in this situation, and he has called you to respect those in ministry over you. This can be really difficult, but honestly if you want to be able to influence the situation you must demonstrate constant respect and honor. Grace and kindness will take you farther than arrogance and anger. Leaders are more interested in listing, if they have your respect and do not feel threatened by your attempts to usurp their authority.

3. Live a God honoring life in every detail
A desire to invoke true and lasting change in a church or ministry requires authentic transformation. In other words if you are sharing and communicating to other leaders in your origination the need to change you must live a transformed and God centered life in your context. This needs to be demonstrated with a humble spirit in all respects. Leaders who see you living a compromised life or one that is not gospel centric will struggle to give credence to your words. Yet, when you honor God and live that out it will get noticed. Do not live to get noticed. We live for Christ and Him alone. However, I believe a God-centered life just stands out.

4. Ask good questions about the present system
One of the best methods to help others see the need for change is to invoke the Socratic method. In other words ask good questions to those in leadership. Use timely and probing inquiries that will help them flesh out some of the thoughts you are bringing to the table.

CAUTION: Please be very carful with this approach. This cannot be a “bate and switch” tactic where you ask in order to give your own option. Focus on understating the vision of the present system. If there really is not a defined plan allow this conversation to aid you in stirring up new thoughts. How you ask questions like this is as important as what you ask. The goal is to develop robust dialogue about your ministry need that will lead to new thoughts and possibly a new approach in your context.

SUGGESTION: Provide your leaders with a good foundational resource that you might read with them or they might read and discuss. The goal is to foster new questions and thoughts concerning spiritual multiplication. Ask them if they could read it over the next six months. I know that sounds like a very long time, but they are busy and to put something on their plate with a tight window means it probably won’t get read or taken very serious.

5. Be able to clearly articulate your ideas to those when the time comes
When the moment does arise where you are able to share your thoughts, be prepared to clearly and simply communicate your ideas. Do not try to set up a 20-step plan, but do provide clear foundational steps. Think through the questions they will have with clear and compelling reasons for your change.

What if change never happens?

If you are in an environment where you think change will never happen you have a few options:

  • Continue to pray that the Lord will truly transform hearts and minds as my story earlier demonstrated.
  • Look to connect your leadership with other leaders at their level that understand the change that needs to take place. i.e. pastors need to talk to pastors
  • Find a new place to minister – the worst thing you can do is cause unhealthy conflict in an environment where you are not in leadership. If it is really frustrating and a difficult environment to work, there are other places you can find opportunities.

Stay Faithful

I know several collegiate leaders who have been in very difficult and frustrating situations. They have worked where there is no process or vision for developing people, and yet they did not feel the release of the Lord to move on. In those situations continue to bloom where you are planted. Trust the Lord and be faithful in the small things. At the end of your life you will answer to only one and he will ask you about your faithfulness where he planted you.

about the author

Lance Crowell

Lance is the Director of Discipleship Ministries and Online Training for the Southern Baptists of Texas. He formerly served as a college and young adult pastor in the Houston area.