What Leading A Church Has Taught Me About Life And Leadership



This is a guest post by DJ McPhail, senior leader of Liberty Church. Follow him on @saintdj and his blog.


After founding a church and leading it for the past 20 years I learned:

God has a purpose for everyone!

  • We are all leaders:

God’s purpose thrusts us all into leadership. Everyone influences someone; thus we are all leaders.

  • Always encourage people to lead:

As a leader, my responsibility and privilege is to respect every person, irrespective of age or gender, and to inspire them to lead in life.

DJ McPhail
DJ McPhail
  • My family is my responsibility:

When it comes to priorities, family is the first arena of leadership. It carries the most profound consequences to a person’s joy and a sense of significance.

  • Most people are not thinking as much about you as you think:

Among those you lead, some will love you, most will like you and few will criticize, oppose and resist you. Be grateful for those who love and support you, be gracious to those who like you and don’t worry nor waste any energy or time on the others.

  • Hold people lightly:

People come and people go. They are God’s children not mine!

  • Never be a threatened leader:

Encourage people to make decisions, show initiative, take responsibility and lead. No one can threaten my job or position, as I don’t have a job. I have a call from God and there is more than enough for all of us to do.

  • Only God:

When I do what I can do for His Glory then He will do what only He can do, and that makes all the difference.

  • Never complain:

Church leaders often complain they are tired and feel used. But they forget that when we met Jesus and were consumed with His love, grace & mercy for us we prayed, “Lord use me”. Stop weeping and start sweeping, serving, and leading!

How Different; Really?

There is an inherent desire in us to be distinct, to stand out. There’s something ‘uncool’ about being a copy of another. Something interesting, though, is that we sometimes feel we’re different from our competition or those around us because we are doing something new and unique that someone else or another enterprise is already doing. It’s like teenagers trying to stand out yet looking exactly like their peers.

How Different; Really?
being different for the sake of it does not guarantee impact || image by JP<3! | cc

Some questions worth exploring:


Sometimes the reason enterprises do something is what separates them. For instance, two enterprises might manufacture the same product for different reasons; one to support the underprivileged and the other to make as much as they can for themselves. The products may essentially be the same but the motives not. Does this really make them different? Does this give a competitive advantage to the other?


Because of diverse opinions and approaches, the same end may be pursued by different means. Means have different by-products. Means matter; they determine “residue” on the way to results. Some means are destructive and others add value on the way to the ultimate goal.



When” something is done can be a matter of motives. When can determine the difference it makes. Timing makes a difference. For instance, it is more pertinent and makes a greater difference to offer a helping hand when it is necessary. When all the work is done, it is no longer relevant.

The Bottom Line


“Being different” per se, is not enough as a goal. The ultimate goal of “being different” must be the reason for being different. Choose your own “different” but not for the sake of it. Does your “different” matter? Some things may matter to you but what ultimate difference do they make to the outside world? What impact does your enterprise make as a result of being or seeing itself as “different”. What impact do your different values make beyond the internal environment of your enterprise? Being different as a value does not matter if it is only upheld internally and does not make a difference in meeting need outside of your team’s context.

Every enterprise and leader must answer this question:

How different are we and, what difference does our being “different” really make?




What Does It Mean?

We’re consuming more information than we ever did. Largely due to the fact that it is getting easier and easier to create and share. Information is increasingly more accessible. Successful leaders know information is important. The challenge, however, is identifying which information is relevant. Perhaps more than that, which information is important now? Which information will be relevant tomorrow? How can leaders be effective in identifying what information is relevant?

what does it mean
an inquiring mind is prerequisite for great and successful leadership || image by JD Hancock | cc

Knowing what information is pertinent is one of the things that will give organizations the edge over rivals. However, knowing is only the first step. Knowing the pertinent information must be followed by its appreciation. That is, for leaders to be successful, they must allow the information to speak for itself. Manipulating information or facts does not change their truth. Ignoring it does not empower, it impairs, and ultimately destroys an enterprise.

Fight the temptation to manipulate information to say what you want it to say.

Beyond identifying relevant information and what it says, you must inquire on what it means. The implications of information can be determined if the right information is being queried and it is not tainted or manipulated to preference. Dialogue in teams is important. Exploring the different possibilities of the implication of information is best done with many minds and outlooks. Reflection is key for every successful leader. They must constantly look at information to them and ask, “What does it mean?”

The value of information is in the appreciation and understanding of the implications thereof.

Inquiring minds will unlock secrets borne by information. Some of the implications of information will glare at you and others must be prodded out.

Information is only as good as your understanding of it and its implication. It’s not what you know it’s how it matters… It does not matter how much you know. What matters most is how you use what you know. It does not matter that you know until you know what what you know demands. The demands of what you know do not matter much until you act on what it all means. Only then can it make a difference.

Now that you have this information, what are you going to do with it? What does it mean for you and your enterprise?


When Others Pass Judgment On You

Not too long ago I wrote a post about what to consider before you pass judgement or critique. Since that post, I’ve had numerous requests to consider writing about being on the receiving end of ‘judgement’ or critique. Existence is enough reason to make you candidate for being judged or critiqued.
I say this often and will say it again, “you are never going to be right all the time every time”. Judgement or critique is inevitable. We earn some of it. Perhaps deserve it. Conversely, we may be clueless about its origins and reasons behind it. So, what are you supposed to do when others pass judgement on you?
when others pass judgment on you
being judged or critiqued does not condemn you to whatever you’re judged as forever; it is your decision || image by jkbeitz | cc


Foremost, you must acknowledge that you do not have total control over people and their perceptions.
It is pointless and, exhausting, trying to get everyone on the same page as to what they should believe about you, your cause and enterprise. However not having total control does not mean you have none. Doh! Do only what you canon managing others’ perceptions.


Critique can be an amazing tool for growth for your person and leadership. Sometimes judgement on us stings. Sometimes because of the truth in it. At other times because of the lack of truth in them. You’ve heard this before but a reminder is always beneficial.
Be ruthless in addressing changes the critique may warrant. Not only that, be equally brutal with what is irrelevant by discarding it and not giving it any valuable attention and energy. In other instances some critique could be just what is needed to save your organisation.

Without a complaint your vision can die.

Someone always has a better idea about how you should be or how to do what you do. Frankly, there are times they are right. Sometimes negative critique could be indicative that we are not doing what we should be. It could also mean that we are trying to be what we are not. Critique can be a medium of learning.



Burying your head in the sand does not make judgment or critique irrelevant or go away. Acknowledge it will always be there. Don’t take everything personally. See each judgment as either an opportunity for growth or a ‘traffic calming device’ that slows you down but you move past. Whether critique makes you bitter or better is all up to you.



Other helpful posts:


Your thoughts?



Which Leadership Style is Best?

Not all people are the same. Leaders are also people and, as a result, are also not the same. Every leader has a different personality, worldview and disposition on different things.

The common thing to all leaders is that they exist to lead [Click to Tweet]

That is why they are there. This leaves how to lead somewhat optional. You can train leaders on the principles and strategies of leadership but you may not be able to completely shape who they become as leaders. This is because every leader has a different personality and something about it will color their leadership.

Personality profiling or strengths assessments, such as Strengths Finder, Myers Briggs, DISC and Insights, highlight different strengths people have. Leadership style has impact on those you lead and ultimately on your enterprise.

Different leadership styles are effective in different contexts. For example, leaders can take into account the personalities they lead. A relational leader may find it easier to lead and may be able to succeed in getting results from their team.

On the other hand the relational leader can put relationships ahead of results. Some leaders are more focused on the tasks, strategy and ideation. There are myriad ways of assessing and labeling leadership styles.

It is not that leaders have one leadership style per se. What is called ‘leadership style’ is generally their primary and predominant response(s) or disposition as they lead.

Which leadership style is best? Which leadership style is better than the other? Or, which is the best leadership style? None.

There is no one leadership style that is best. Neither is there one leadership style that is better than another. What makes the difference is how leaders manage themselves in leading. One of the reasons teams get frustrated with leadership is not leadership style but the context it which a particular style is employed.

Different leadership styles get better results in different contexts. The most important thing for leaders is to understand themselves and the context in which their predominant tendencies work best.

Leader, where you have shortcomings, it is prudent to lean on those on your team whose leadership styles are stronger than you in the Ares you will need.

The only instances where one leadership style is better than another is when another leadership style could be used to get best results. Screwdrivers are great but are ineffective when you need to knock a nail in.

In conclusion, no one leadership style is better than another per se. Context is what you should use to determine which leadership style will be best.

The best leadership style is the one that best fits the context [Click to Tweet]

It is not the leadership style that matters, but that it is appropriately leaned into in each context. As part of developing a healthy organization factor in discerning the leadership style needed for contexts you encounter.

Your thoughts?