In the business world you cannot spend capital you don’t have, at least not without serious consequences. In the ministry this is also true. So often pastors don’t understand authority and leadership. They move into a new church and immediately begin to exercise authority and then wonder why they get a backlash of anger and resentment to their leadership. You cannot lead people in the ministry that you have not EARNED their respect and trust first. This is the capital you have to “earn” before you can “spend” it.

Pastoral ministry is a lot like a bank account. When you first open an account your balance is almost $0. You haven’t made any real deposits yet so any attempt to spend will prove to be empty or bankrupt. As time goes by, with each demonstration of servanthood and trustworthiness as a leader you make more and more deposits into your account. As your account builds you can draw on it as needed. You cannot spend more than you have. If your account is still fairly low and you have to spend a large amount of your capital on a single moment you might find yourself bankrupt. This is, by the way, why ministers who have stayed a very long time in one place have such powerful ministries. They have built up huge bank accounts by their long proven record of sacrifices, trust, and selflessness. They can draw on their capital in large measures and get things done because of their large account. BUT … it takes the RIGHT kinds of investments over time to build up this kind of capital to have this kind of power or authority.

Jesus taught that these are the right kind of “investments” to make in one’s leadership account: “selfless love, servant-hood example, laying down one’s own life for the sheep, feeding, listening, caring, valuing others over self, not lording over others, sacrificial giving, not demanding one’s own way, honesty, trustworthy, etc.” When a leader exhibits these qualities his authority bank account builds quickly, and when he needs to draw on the capital to exercise authority it will be there. New deposits will quickly replace that capital and he/she will continue to build up that account. However, when a pastor demands his own way, lords over others, fails to engender trust in his leadership by being honest or gives the impression of manipulating events toward his own plans he fails to have any capital to work with. This type of pastor resorts to exercising authority based on position or title, “I’m the pastor” rather than authority garnered from respect. By the way, this applies to all areas of leadership, not just pastors.

Real power to lead comes gradually, it does not come instantly. This is why it is such a mistake when a leader tries to make major changes at first, they have not yet been at a place long enough to have “earned” capital for their bank accounts. They may spend capital before they have actually gotten it and the results can be tragic. Even if they get by their early decisions and make the major changes they may have bankrupted their accounts for some time to come and they will find the next several years difficult at best. They won’t be trusted and may find a congregation that refuses to follow their leadership. By the way, this is why many ministers never make it past a few years at any one place. They become so frustrated and realize that things aren’t going to change where they are and so they move on, often repeating this same process at each new church they go to.

The first couple of years at a new place of ministry should be devoted to one thing, proving the minister. It is interesting that when Paul wrote to a young pastor named Timothy about defending his ministry he did not exhort Timothy to prove his calling by the Apostolic laying on of hands, or by Paul’s letter of confirmation on him, but by Timothy’s behavior. 1 Tim 4:12 “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” Timothy would prove his qualification by his behavior, not his credentials! The Senior pastor of my home church gave me good advice when I left for Bible college many years ago, he said, “Dennis, God builds a man before he builds a man’s ministry,” and I’ve never forgotten those words. Build capital before you spend it!