Center for Organizational Leadership

Empowering Effective Leaders

If we are to lead, we must lead diligently

By Travis Stewart

Travis Stewart poses in front of a tree with his wife, Mindy Stewart.
Travis Stewart is a missionary for Mission Para Cristo Leadership in Nicaragua. He is pictured above with his wife, Mindy.

According to scholar Peter Northouse, leadership is not an innate trait or ability reserved only for a special group of people. Leadership is a process . And the great thing about processes is that they can be taught, learned, practiced and even perfected. As a missionary working for a nonprofit organization specializing in hosting mission teams, I often find myself in situations where being a more effective leader also means being a more effective missionary.

Since I enrolled in Harding University’s Master of Arts in organizational leadership program in January 2022, the one question that inevitably comes up in conversations is: “What do you plan to do with that ?” In a few instances, the other person has even asked something along the lines of “Isn’t that a business degree?” The assumption is that I have plans to parlay this education into a specific next step or new direction in my career. The honest answer, however, is simply that I just want to be a more effective missionary .

There is an old adage that says people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care . In ministry, this is especially poignant. In 2023, how do we show people we care? I believe one of the most impactful ways is through empathetic, personal connections. In most cases, people don’t want to be “preached at.” They simply want someone to meet them where they are in life and walk with them in a substantive, authentic relationship. This is where the MAOL program has been especially helpful for me. It intentionally connects the concepts of leadership and communication, reminding us that good leadership demands good communication. I have learned how to be vulnerable in conversations, how to communicate more honestly and how to listen and respond instead of listening to react.

Regardless of whether we are in the business of ministry, marketing, management or medicine, we are all in the business of people . And for ministers and missionaries specifically, regardless of our roles (mission, pulpit, worship, family, youth, children, elder), we face challenges that are specifically covered in this program. For example, how do churches communicate most effectively with Traditionalists and Baby Boomers all the way through members of Gen Z and Gen Alpha? For youth ministers, how do the needs of Gen Y students differ from Millennials and their Gen X parents? How can elders create a solid strategic vision for the future? Or how can they create a crisis response plan? How can introverted and extroverted church members thrive in the same space? These are all legitimate situations that people in ministry face every day. While scripture gives excellent guidance on these issues, the MAOL program gives us an opportunity to practice responding to them in a safe and encouraging space.

The electives I chose in this program focus on executive and workplace coaching, a field that overlaps with ministry in several areas. Coaching involves active listening, empathy, ethical considerations and asking open-ended questions. The basic principle of coaching is the coach helps the client unlock solutions within the client; they do not give the client the answers. This approach has particular application when I am visiting with people with whom I do not have a deep or lengthy relationship. These conversations often begin with someone  asking me for advice, but they can lead to spiritual questions that provide a subsequent opportunity to minister.

Scripture tells us to use our gifts to the best of our ability to further the kingdom. If professional athletes improve their skills by training and doctors, accountants, engineers, nurses and teachers improve through continuing education,  why shouldn’t those of us in ministry practice connecting with people more authentically and on a more substantive level?

If you’re feeling at this point like you aren’t gifted with strong leadership qualities, take heart! As I mentioned earlier, leadership isn’t something given only to a select few. Leadership isn't an innate trait or ability reserved only for a special group of people. Leadership is a process, and processes can be taught, learned, practiced and perfected!
I’ll leave you with a passage that has motivated me over the last several weeks: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve;  if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently ; if it to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” — Romans 12:6-8 (emphasis, mine).

Topics: Leadership Education