Leading by Word and Deed: 3 Ways to Move from Words to Actions

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We all know the famous quotes about leadership. We have used them time and time again in sermons, Bible studies, or when rallying the troops for service at the church.

“Everything rises and fall on leadership.” -John Maxwell

“Leadership is influence.” -J. Oswald Sanders

“Spiritual leadership is moving people on to God’s agenda.” -Henry Blackaby

“Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” -Napoleon Bonaparte

Quotes are great but actions are better. Let me share a few thoughts about how to move from one to the other.

First, make your words count.

Looking into the lives of great leaders, we often observe a mastery of language. Now, this does not mean a high-brow vocabulary. Too often, leaders think that using long, technical terminology is a substitute for directional leadership. The leader bent on using specialized language at all cost will often only confuse those they lead.

As a person with multiple graduate degrees, I obviously believe in the power of words – even technical terms in my fields of missiology and theology. I’ve read and written a lot of them–and words matter. If believers can learn to order coffee at Starbucks then they can learn theological language. But, the problem arises when more time is spent in showing off our academic prowess than in guiding people to acting on our values.

On November 19, 1863, Edward Everett spoke for two hours about the strength of America and the sacrifice of her soldiers in defending liberty. But I bet you have never heard of him. Why? Because after he spoke, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. The entire address by Lincoln was only 246 words and it is one of the most memorable in American history. Everett tried to overwhelm the crowd with academia. Lincoln inspired them with words that made sense to them.

Second, what we say should inspire action.

One of the traits that separate a leader from a spokesperson is the movement of people. A spokesperson informs us of the circumstances in an almost sterile method. When given positional leadership, a spokesperson counts it as a success when people know more. We need to know what is happening but not just for the sake of information. In fact, as many have observed, our amount of information often outpaces our willingness to act upon it. In other words, we know more than we obey. Leaders help people move into action because of knowing more.

A leader interprets what should be done in light of the circumstances. As a church leader, your words–whether in a sermon, blog post, or in a newsletter–should help people know what to do next. In 1 Chronicles 12:32, it says that the men of the tribe of Issachar “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” We need to be the kind of leaders who rightly read the times and speak up as to the actions to take. As you read the New Testament, the leadership displayed by apostles was one of moving the church to action rather than merely enjoying classroom teaching.

Thirdly, our actions should be backed up by our words. And vice-versa.

Think about these four elements: what we say we believe, our assessments of circumstances, what we say we should do, and the actions we lead people to take. If there is a disconnect between any of those components to leadership, then your leaders will falter. My encouragement to you is to make an honest review of your life and leadership. If you are saying one thing and doing another, it is the proverbial “low-hanging fruit” for change. But, keep pressing yourself and allow others to do the same. Ensure that the understanding you have, the assessment you communicate and the actions that follow are all in accord with each other.

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles & books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Executive Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than one million individuals each week. Stetzer is also Executive Editor of Facts & Trends Magazine, a Christian leadership magazine with a circulation of more than 70,000 readers. In 2015, he began serving as the co-host of the BreakPoint This Week radio program with John Stonestreet. He also serves as Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has taught at many other colleges and seminaries.