Walking the Talk – Essential Criteria for Appointing Leaders

I have been in missions for two decades now and during this time I have seen amazing things in Romania and the Balkans. I have seen my own organization grow from a hand-full of people to a sustainable and still growing team serving in Constanta. 

This summer we housed 200 volunteers from all over the world.  We have 20+ full-time, long-term staff and we see partnerships grow and develop. I am full of gratitude and hope looking forward to new seasons ahead. We work with children in several neighbourhoods, deaf people, students, we are at the party beaches in the summer.  We run an amazing Discipleship Training School and we work with prostitutes and anti-trafficking. We do leadership development and so much more…  I am thankful.

I am also thankful to be able to pass on leadership and still have the privilege to be around, helping and working along-side people I have recruited and can still say I have friendship, accountability and life with.  “Walking the talk” is about serving. It’s about being human in front of a challenge and it is about admitting our weaknesses and getting people around us to make up for those weaknesses with their strengths. 

Over the years I have also seen friends and leaders fall.  I remember sitting in front of a good friend who was sharing how hard things were.  I had a lot of compassion for them only to find out later that it was all a lie. I have had people in our community who have stolen from us.  We have gone through the process of forgiveness and rebuilding trust, but sometimes it’s gone well other times we have had to let people go with unfinished business.  I have seen how politics in churches and organizations have ruined them because of a lack of grace and mercy, with shame becoming the driving motivation.

Not long ago I heard someone criticising our work here in Constanta. It was someone that should have celebrated it, but was putting it down instead. I thought well why don’t you come and see for yourself?  Why have an attitude of cursing when you can have an attitude of blessing?

Bless, bless and bless is a state of heart, and if something is different or something is outside of your box, your curiosity should bring you to build bridges not walls.

That doesn’t mean that we won’t from to time run into unhealthy situations.  We can just read about the tragedy of Willow Creek Church where former leaders had to step down as accusations about sexual misconduct came to the surface.  Later on the whole board that had been speaking so well of Bill Hybels and protecting him, came to the conclusion that it was wrong and that there was more going on than they could cope with. They came to realize that their pastor had not been as transparent as expected from a leader in his position and that there had been a drop in their standard. I feel for these ladies that have been whistle blowers and not been taken seriously.  I have been in situations where leaders have been guilty of misconduct and still been promoted even within my own organization. I know the feeling of hopelessness when people experience and see things of a standard that we cannot tolerate in the Church and mission and have not been taken seriously. 

Walking the talk is also about how you react when these things are coming to your table. Are you defensive and fighting back or are you running processes that are full of trust and transparency?

In Romania today hundreds of thousands are taking to the street demonstrating against what they see as corruption on governmental level and laws going toward the legalization of corruption. I ask myself a question, what if NGOs and churches in this nation had a standard that could influence the political system, would things be better? Do we have that kind of a standard? 

Although I am dealing with some hard questions this article, I am a stubborn optimist. I believe that we need to change our worldview from survival mode to the wealth. From the mindset that I need to take what I can and store up as much as possible, to a wealth centered mindset where I invest and network, cooperating to see things come alive because when I win, we win. 

Walking the talk is about taking on the work. Work because that is what builds up. I have seen leaders come into their positions because they have spoken the right word, had the right connections and even had paid the right people. Even within my own organization we have done this, appointing people to positions without seeing what is behind the decision. What have they achieved and have they had the informal training that comes with leading local ministries, mission centers and so on, or are they just in because they knew the right people? Our organization has been weakened by this kind of leadership many times, and often they don’t last long. 

Indira Gandhi is quoted saying

My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people; those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was much less competition.

I am more and more convinced that we need to have people who are ready to do the work when no one is looking at them, people that have father’s and mother’s heart for their churches and NGOs and are ready to go many extra miles with their people- here is the true gold. 

My criteria for appointing leaders: 

  1. Integrity – What have you done?  Have you served? Are you faithful?  What mentality are you living under when it comes to money, power and sex?  Integrity builds trust.  Leaders walk the talk.  They learn from their own mistakes but also from other’s mistakes.  Integrity means that we deal with money openly so it can be questioned and there are no gray areas.  Power- many leaders get caught up in politics.  Give them a title and you can see their real identity.  Pastor, director and president’s titles can often become a stronghold for people. Can you serve without a title?  And, can you still serve with a title?  That is the real question. 

I have witnessed a lot of power abuse in my time in churches and NGOs.  Leaders who have come to power but are too small inside to be great leaders so they go to power abuse (I’ve written more about power abuse in other articles). Sex- we need leaders that walk the talk, who can turn away when temptation hits, who can respect the opposite sex in such a way that they create safety for all. We need leaders who are not taken down by campaigns like #metoo or scandals of misconduct.  Leaders are vulnerable.  They should know they are human and let that realization fuel their drive for integrity. They must create an environment where they let the people around provide accountability. Integrity is to build trust with others, but it is also to know that we cannot always trust ourselves. We need others to be able to live life with integrity. 

  1. Teachable – Are you open to people speaking into your life?  When someone says something, are you fighting back or are you listening?  Once I worked with a leader of a church.  He had developed a habit of mentoring young girls in his congregation. This happened often in public places but also in in his office.  His own team of elders confronted him on it as rumours were going around and they wanted to protect him from getting into things that could be unhealthy. The pastor brushed off all the concern and said it came with the job and that it was a privilege to mentor these young ladies.  The end of the story was that he would rather quit being a pastor than stop mentoring young girls. This is where it was left. 

For me it was a sad moment because when someone wants the best for you and for the congregation and there is no teachable spirit you have already disqualified yourself as a leader. This pastor did, not because of a fall in sin, but because he didn’t want to listen to his peers.

  1. Are you a leader?  Leaders have teams. They attract people.  They move heaven and earth to find ways to get more people around them.  They spot opportunity and cast vision.  Do you do that?  If not, you are not a main leader.   You are maybe a manager, you like organizations, communication and other things that all organizations need but leadership is once again all about building teams- is this your DNA as a leader?  I will not appoint people who don’t have people around them to be main leaders.  And there is nothing wrong in not being a main leader. The best is to understand your gifting and personality and function out of your strength.  That will strengthen you and your organization.  Ask yourself, what are you?
  1. Vision- A person that cannot describe the future of his work when asked, has no vision.  Appointing leaders without vision is like declaring death over your work.  We need more environments for vision in the world.  We need to promote those with a spirit of entrepreneurship and apostolic gifting.  We need to find them, be around them and create a culture where there is an expectation. Other leaders without vision will celebrate the status quo.  They will always look back and they will never be able to change with the times.  All organizations need to be living a process of change, innovation and hope for the future.  This is also called vision.

These are my four top non-negotiables for appointing leaders.  Ask the person washing the floors, the gardener, the person farthest away from the office of power, what he thinks and you will get the best answer.

In the end I will finish with a story.  A state leader was hiring a new leader for his staff.  The candidate came to the state leader’s secretary.  The secretary announced to the candidate that the state leader was out and would come back as soon as possible.  It was apparently an emergency. 

She asked the candidate to wait and be seated on the office couch.  He did and started to talk with the secretary.  He was relaxed and fun, he spoke about life and the sun.  And after 45 minutes the secretary looked at him and said with a big smile, “You are hired.”  The interview was over and there was no state leader to impress but an ordinary secretary.  

What a clever move from the state leader.  We all want to impress but how you are when you are face to face with anyone is what matters the most.

‘Til next time

Rune Saether 

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