One of the most powerful things a leader can do is offer hope to the congregation and community, but this is more than mere optimism. A recent book from the business sector is Putting Hope to Work: Five Principles to Activate Your Organization’s Most Powerful Resource (Praeger, 2006). Inspired, I adapt the principles for church life.

  • Possibility: Help people see the hidden potential in themselves, their resources, and their mission. Unlike business, the church believes the spiritual gifts not only can be discerned, but received, if faithful Christians surrender to God’s will. Remember what happened to the disciples hiding in the upper room: Pentecost.
  • Agency: Help people see that they can do something about their situation, no matter how desperate it may seem. The real strength of the church is in the spiritual relationships of the people with each other and God. Everything else is tactics … including the property and the personnel. Remember it was Lydia who grew the church at Philippi.
  • Worth: Let people know that that they are valuable to God’s mission. The smallest act of faithfulness is celebrated in heaven. Remember that the widow’s mite was valued more than the largest contribution. This is more than polite thanks in the worship service. It is a sincere affirmation of an individual’s gift to God’s mission.
  • Openness: Let people know that you and church leaders are open to fresh ideas … even crazy and creative ones … if they emerge from prayerful discernment and faithful imagination. Remember Peter on the rooftop in Acts 10, and his crazy ideas about God showing no partiality, and using anything and everything as a fit vehicle for the Gospel.
  • Connection: Guide people into significant conversations about mission within and beyond the church. Help them understand they are not alone in the desire to be faithful, and that they really do have colleagues on the spiritual journey. Remember how Paul mentored and networked a host of leaders from Priscilla to Apollos to Onesimus.

What I like most about this book is that it makes “hopefulness” concrete in five specific ways. Ask yourself and your board to measure how “hopeful” they are as leaders in each of these categories … and see what you can improve. There is enough fear and despair in the community today … it’s time to be a hopeful leader.