Learning from leaders

I learn more about ministry leadership by watching other leaders lead than I ever did in the classroom. I have always benefited from seeing others do something before I do it. I may not do it exactly the same way — but it gives me a pattern to follow.

The Apostle Paul must have been thinking of people like me when he penned the words of 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.”

Dr. Don Mathis is a Kentucky Baptist leader I have learned from.

Being acquainted with Bro. Don and his ministry for years, I have observed him in action and been around him enough to pick up several lessons. While interviewing him recently on the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Leadership Lessons, I was reminded of things I observed him doing well.

Here are five leadership lessons I have learned from Bro. Don:

1. Be yourself. As a Kentucky Baptist pastor, I invited Dr. Don Mathis to lead in revival services more than once. I still remember the way he introduced himself to the congregation. He told us his name and where he was from. He added that he responded best to, “Bro. Don,” and that we did not need to call him Dr. Mathis. He also shared that he does not like to eat fried chicken. The fried chicken part is hilarious given the stereotype of Baptist preachers. Those things in themselves are not the most important — what matters is that Bro. Don is comfortable in his own skin. Every leader needs to learn to be comfortable with who they are.

2. Be intentionally evangelistic. Bro. Don pastored several churches — and each experienced evangelistic growth. His preaching and teaching provided the congregation a healthy diet of biblical instruction. He led each church to build or strengthen their Sunday School ministry, but Bro. Don always found ways to lead the church to be intentionally evangelistic. When it comes to evangelism, each leader must keep in mind the concepts of faithfulness and fruitfulness. When we see a church that is fruitful in conversion growth, we usually discover a pastor who is faithful in leading evangelistically.

3. Be involved in your state convention. Bro. Don served as two-time president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. He was elected by his peers and has been influential in our state. It has been said that decisions are made by those who show up. Those who get involved in the work of their convention are often used by God to give direction and shape its future. Bro. Don made a choice early to show up and be involved in KBC life and has been used of God in Kentucky.

4. Be faithful to God’s Word. One question that I did not ask Bro. Don in our recent interview was why he leads the Lifeway Winter Bible Study each year, but I’m grateful that he does. For years, Bro. Don has spent much of his fall studying and preparing not only to teach the Winter Bible Study, formally known as the January Bible Study, but he has also taught others to teach it. This is only one example of his commitment to God’s Word.

5. Be a friend to others.  Bro. Don enjoyed a 40-plus year friendship with recently-deceased Kentucky Baptist leader Rick Hatley. Don and Rick were on staff together in different ministry settings and for years they spoke to each other daily or almost daily. Reports circulate stating that 70 percent of pastors do not have a close friend with whom they can share celebrations and challenges candidly and confidentially. I do not know if that is the case, but I do know that 100 percent of Christian leaders need one. Bro. Don has benefited from and modeled for us the importance of iron-sharpening-iron friendships.

Proverbs 13:20 tells us that if we spend time around wise people then we will become wise. Bro. Don is one example among many of the wise people in my life. Who is modeling for you what it looks like to follow Jesus faithfully year after year?

Click here to watch the full Leadership Lessons interview with Don Mathis.

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