Ministry Today | Serving and empowering church leaders

What six renowned Christianpioneers can teach us about leadership

Ever wish you could sit down with some of the modern-day church’s greatest leaders? Here’s your chance.


W ith more than 300 years of combined ministry experience among them, six pioneers within today’s church sat down together at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, N.C. Undoubtedly, Jack Hayford, Henry Blackaby, Lloyd Ogilvie, Loren Cunningham, Winkie Pratney and John Perkins could each offer volumes of leadership insight given their extensive ministry track records. Yet on this rare occasion, these modern-day fathers of the faith enjoyed the opportunity to collectively pass on lessons learned from a lifetime of pointing others to God.

On Past Mistakes

Ogilvie: I’ve worked with powerful people all of my life in business, government and entertainment, and if I’ve made any mistake it’s that I’ve been overly impressed by the position and power of people and have forgotten that inside that person is an aching heart or an uncertainty or a problem that only God can solve. If you assume everyone really needs the Lord, then you won’t take people for granted.

Hayford: One of my earliest conceptions in probably the first 10 years of my ministry was the separation of the sacred and the secular as two different arenas. The Lord took me into a situation in which I was pastoring a church in the middle of the Hollywood community. I’d been raised in an environment that said everything to do with movies, stage, screen and so forth was basically soured by sin. I came to recognize the division in the mind of God isn’t between the sacred arena and a secular arena; the division is between the light and the dark—and there’s a darkened world in both the secular and in the sacred. There’s darkness across the face of the earth, and the Lord wants to seed it all with the sons and daughters of light.

Pratney: Kids today learn more from other people’s mistakes and failures than from their successes. They’re so overwhelmed with the success stories and everybody promising the world and a golden apple. When they’re continually told, “If you do this or take this or try this,” and they’re so sensitive of their own failures of things, they learn hugely from when people they look up to tell them their story. That’s why I always tell people when I get up to speak to them how I’m disqualified from being there. And it’s not because I don’t have a great sense of value from the Lord, it’s because I want them to know what God can do with a person. I tell them my only three ambitions in life were to never travel, never meet anybody and to be a nerd chemist—and they’re all ruined by God. That’s my introduction. I apologize to them for having a name like a purple Teletubby, and I always start with the inadequacies and the insufficiencies I have for even being there in the first place. I’m the only person here that’s neither a doctor nor a reverend, but it’s wonderful to be honored to be able to sit in. Kids learn more from what we don’t have than they do from what we do have.

Blackaby: I tended to be very shy and a loner. And it wasn’t long before I realized I needed key friends whom I could bounce things off of and they could bounce things off me. If there was a mistake, it would be that no one ever taught me in seminary or otherwise how to be a spiritual leader. I was a loner doing what I thought was best and then God corrected me. Jesus said, “How you receive the ones I send you, you’re receiving Me, and how you receive Me, you’re receiving my Father who sent Me.” So I began to watch, convinced that God would bring to my life individuals. And how I responded to them was indeed how I was responding to Him and the Father. I’m very aware of how I must treat the ones God sends me.

On correction, authority and manipulation ...

Ogilvie: One of the most besetting sins of any who lead is the sense of need to see things perfected. It constantly comes upon you. Earlier in my ministry—especially as the church began to grow—I became more conscious of wanting things to be right, not so much for the sake of distinguishing myself as just that things ought to be right. Whenever anything went wrong in the sound system and there was a break in the service, I’d go back to the soundboard and ask, “What on earth was going on?” I’m thinking to myself that I can do this because they’ll understand that we’re partners together in the meeting. But that’s not the way they feel about me. They feel as if you’re the authority and you’re walking on them. There were a number of times I discovered to my chagrin, embarrassment and shame that I’d wounded people by just mandating perfectionism rather than creating a sense of partnership—and I didn’t realize I was doing it.

Cunningham: There’s a well-known YWAM story about a young man who had the problem of always correcting his staff publicly. I tried to teach him on Matthew 18:15—you go in private, you don’t do that, you can’t use this ... that’s manipulation. And over and over. I’m sitting there one day in a staff meeting and he gets up and does it again. I said, “That’s what I mean,” and I corrected him publicly. Then I saw what I had done, and I said, “Look what I’ve just done.” Everybody laughed, of course, but we all got the message. Correction can be a form of manipulation. If you do it in terms of servanthood, you want to redeem the person. If you do it in terms of expressing authority, you want to control the person.

Hayford: It’s important to recognize the difference between leadership and manipulation because true leadership will always give itself in the interest of the people. It will serve them. Manipulation will always be serving the interests of the person who appears to be leading but is actually manipulating. It’s not wrong to be a bold leader while still being a servant leader—and in some situations you need to be this way. But always keep clear whose interests are at heart. At first you can appear to be threatening to them, when in fact the spirit you convey will indicate you’re not wanting to control or manipulate, but to serve and to love.

Cunningham: If you’re riding a motorbike, you need to take control. But if you do that with people, they’ll rebel. Jesus was talking to the sons of Zebedee in Mark 10 and He said, “That’s not our kingdom way. It’s serving—serving and then you’ll get praising people; you’ll get surrendered people.” We can use information to control people. We can use finances to control people. We can use a variety of things that are legal, but they’re not legal under God. The more you use man-made power and control in leading others, the more you lose influence. And influence is ultimately the release of God’s power through you. It’s not manipulation, it’s not control. It’s God’s servanthood that changes our hearts.

Perkins: There’s also a fine line between power that generates from the people, from God and from money. Because money is another very powerful force and can confuse a situation. That’s why God’s will must be central. We must want to keep God’s will as the focus and not just a need for myself. That’s the difference. That’s when you can begin to see the light.

On facing criticism ...

Ogilvie: There’s a deeper issue that we’ve not touched on, and that is we are so obsessed with our own image, success and status that anything that hurts probably needs to be crucified anyhow. Paul talked about dying daily. Often when I’m upset it’s because it might hurt my own career or my own status or my own well-being. If I could say anything to a young leader it would be to get to the place of surrendering so completely to Christ that you’re seeking His glory and not your own. Then you can get free of constantly being hurt.

Hayford: Whenever I find anything that is rejecting or critical of me, the phrase that guides my response is “Suspect your own righteousness.” I don’t mean our righteousness in Christ—that’s established, thank God. I mean to suspect that you are right. All of us receive weird letters from people that just lambast you. Usually they’re people that, to begin with, don’t really know you much at all. And whatever their cause is, it primarily reflects their own hurt. You have to let your heart go out toward that because anyone who would intentionally be so bitter or unkind, there’s agony in their own heart. It’s not that you could not have provoked something—I’m not claiming innocence. But there has to be something in me that has a point of needful examination: “Lord, what is there that I might have done, said or appeared to be—wholly, unintentionally, presumably? And Lord, refine that.” It can sound self-righteous to suggest you do that because it’s so counter to our natural tendencies. But it’s being mindful of the obvious truth that the only truly righteous person in every manner, dealing, attitude and reflection of themselves to the world was Jesus.

Blackaby: People have the right to be critical, but if they are severely critical, it means they have a problem. Often it can be great insecurity on their part. They feel they haven’t become something, so they attack those who God’s people recognize as having accomplished something.

When I’m attacked, I see if what is said is true. If it is, then I need to make the adjustments and thank God that He’s caused somebody to care enough about me to make some correctives, and I’ll take that very kindly. But for those who are very critical unfairly, they have the problem. I don’t assume that their criticism is necessarily valid. I’ll examine it, and if it isn’t valid and they still persist, then I realize that they have a problem and I need to pray. I’ll become their friend. I won’t avoid them. I’ll still relate to them. They determine how deep I can relate, but I will not hesitate to try and relate.

On developing as a leader ...

Perkins: If possible, stay in a discipleship relationship with someone you respect deeply. I used to say someone who is older than you, but I’m almost older than anybody around me, so I can’t say that too much anymore. But I’ve always had these people in my life who have guided me and who would speak back to me. I’ve looked at the failures of leaders, of politicians and even the presidents who didn’t have those people in their lives who speak to the issues of their lives. [The result is that] they walk outside of discipleship. I really believe we should be in a shepherding relationship throughout our lives.

Blackaby: You need to have an unhurried time with God. However early you need to get up, get up so that your time with God is unhurried and He has all the time in the world to speak to you and impact you. Don’t do a little devotional life. A little devotional time will not do it.

I once shared this with a CEO who said, “You don’t understand how busy I am.” And my spontaneous response was: “You evidently don’t know who you’re going to meet. You’re meeting the God of the universe.” The next month when we met back, he said, “I now get up at 4:30 and this month was the first time I’ve led one of my employees to the Lord.”

Pratney: Jesus didn’t just appear on the scene a couple of years ago. He’s been there forever. If you’ll dig in the past, read biographies of those who went before you—rediscover again. You don’t need new truth. You need a fresh revelation of what has always been real and always been true. We’ve lost our way in terms of not knowing what people died for centuries ago to give us. We’ve lost our moorings because we don’t know our spiritual heritage. We are fatherless. We have no reference point of anybody we can trust.

Try to find fathers you can identify with, people that had the same calling you have. When you read about their lives, you’ll see fire starting anew: “If God did this for him and he’s just like me or at this time in his life, He can do that for me because He’s the same. He’s not the same yesterday and yesterday and yesterday. He’s the same yesterday, today and forever lasting.”

Ogilvie: I think praying without ceasing is probably the thing I’d encourage most for young leaders. I’ve had to learn it again and again, but it’s just simple things such as every time I go to my desk, I get down on my knees and say, “Whatever I’m going to do in the next hour or two, Lord, bless it and guide me.” When I shake a person’s hand, I say, “Lord, this is a gift, this is Your person. [I’ll say] whatever You want me to say.” And I’ve found in every sermon there’s a moment when you feel that pit-of-the-stomach kind of emptiness. I cannot do it by myself. The manuscript is there and the words have been polished, but you need the power and you just say, “Lord, help me.” Then in those crisis situations when you’re talking and working with people and you say, “Lord, I don’t know what to say,” and then the words come and you know that it’s His word for the person in need. I’ve found that more than anything else, making every moment a moment of prayer has been the secret for me.

Blackaby: To most pastors: Take an honest inventory of your time in the Scriptures. First, as a devotional time; second, as a study time to get acquainted with God; and third to prepare messages you’re going to deliver. But your study time ought not to be the same as your preparation for messages. Take an honest inventory to see how significant Scripture is to you and then go to Psalm 119. Almost the entire psalm indicates the critical place of the Scriptures, the Word of God. As you read each of those verses, take a one to 10 of your own personal walk with God. Then, of course, go through the life of the Lord Jesus—if it was that important to Him, it ought to be important to you.

And third, watch the prophets’ encounters with God. Like Amos said: “I wasn’t a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I was a herdsman and a tender of sycamore trees. But the hand of the Lord came upon me and He gave me a word and told me where to deliver it, and I did.” From that moment on, the whole human history knows about Amos the prophet. He was not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but he became one by spending time with God and the word from God. So if you want to be an effective person in our day to speak a word to the people of God, you need to spend time with the Word of God.

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