Your Niche’ Can Be Your Noose

Why What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

If you were to ask me what, more than any other factor, has been most detrimental to my progress as a leader in 15 years of ministry, I would say “personal preference,” and it’s not even close.

I know what I want, and I want it now.

When I chose pastoring as my profession, I entered with set ideas and preferences about the “kind” of church I wanted to build. Some of those preferences changed over the years, but like a good pair of sweatpants, most of those originals likings have stuck around. Not only are they still around, but I would go as far as to say they have been the driving force of a lot of my success. The same applies to you. If you’re smart, you double down on the unique qualities about yourself that stand out to others. Your preaching style, relational ability, singing voice, etc. The danger comes when our comfort and preference keeps us from growing into the next season of leadership God wants us to experience. Let me show you.

In a podcast interview with Carey Nieuwhof Craig Groeschel said: “When you find a quality or practice in a leader who is ahead of you, pay attention to what makes you uncomfortable about their leadership, and you will have identified where you need to grow.” Dang Craig!

Have you ever gotten to know or observed a leader ahead of you and been bothered by things that go against your personal preference?

  • Does it bother how much the pastor of the larger church talks about money?
  • Does it bother you how all the worship leaders look young and trendy?
  • Does it bother you how honoring the church or staff is towards the pastor?
  • Does it bother you how Spirit-filled or non-spirit filled the services are?
  • Are they too direct with their team?
  • Do they make too much salary?
  • Does the youth pastor not spend enough time with the students?
  • Does the children’s pastor use fun more than scripture to teach the children?
  • Is the facility too big, nice, or expensive?
  • Does it bother you, you have to go through their assistant to reach them?
  • Does it bother you they don’t handle pastoral care (visits, calls, etc.)

Once you identify the bothersome practices and preferences of a leader beyond you, chances are high you just identified your biggest potential for growth.

All leaders have strong opinions; it’s almost a requirement. Leadership requires a core conviction to drive a vision and mission down through the organization. The danger is when our opinions and preferences become our niches’.

Often the thing we think is our niche’ is really a noose holding us back from going to the next level of leadership, It’s hard to admit and even harder to change because our niche’ helped us get to where we are. Our small corner on the market is our identity and the single biggest factor for our success to this point. You’re the funny guy, the yelling preacher, the soloist, I get it. People love you. You love you.

When you get to this point you have a really difficult choice to make, one sadly many leaders choose not to make; are you willing to give up your preference in order to grow to the next level of leadership? It’s an important question because what got you here won’t get you there.

I’m an ISTP from the Myers-Briggs Personality Profile quiz (If you haven’t taken the quiz you need to. Click here to take it.) ISTP describes me with spooky accuracy, but it also gives me a convicting revelation. Only 3.1% of people in the world are ISTP’s, which means (in general terms) 3 out of every 100 people prefer what I prefer, and 97 people out of 100 disagree with me at any given time. The most popular Myers Briggs profile is ISFJ, 13.8% of the world’s population fall into this personality category, meaning even the most popular preference is only shared by 13 out of 100. This may explain why the average small church built around preference is less than 80 people.

What do you love about yourself? Go ahead and admit it, no one will know but you. Do you like the way you preach or sing? Do you like saving the day as people’s hero? Do you like being a critical thinker or perfectionist, or identifying the flaws in ideas? Do you like being unorganized? (Silly to say I know but how often do unorganized people say things like, “I know here everything is in all this mess,” or “I need it a little chaotic to be creative.”) Do you like that you worship from a hymnal or wear jeans to church? There a million little idiosyncrasies and preferences that have brought you to your currently level of success and leadership. There’s nothing wrong with them unless you want to grow. If you want to grow you’re probably going to have to lay them at the altar.

To be clear, I’m not talking about changing your identity. You can always care for people; you just have to figure our new scalable ways to care. You can always preach, but you have to figure out ways to reinvent your preaching. What you can’t do is keep trying to put new wine into old wineskins.

Learn to say “for now” instead of “never” it will save you a lot of humiliation in the future. This is just how we do it for now.

Admitting your self-percieved strengths are actually hindrances is the apex of self-realization. Most can’t grasp it, but if you’re willing to lean in instead of pull back from new ideas outside of your comfort level you will likely experience a new season of growth reserved for only those brave enough to lay down their preference.

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Jason Isaacs lives in Louisville Ky where he serves as the Senior Pastor of Hope City Church. He is the author of "I Want What God Wants" and writes at www.jasonisaacs.me
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