At one point in High School, I found myself in the role of pianist of the School Jazz Band. In fact, I was really quite good – the only things I lacked were skill or talent. Our major performance was at the School Carnival, which also happened to be the day on which I was playing a big football match. So, when I sat down at the piano to lead off in our big piece, I was distracted, nervous and completely unprepared. Given I was playing the introduction, it was my job to set the tone of the song. The result was not good – I played the notes wrong, played way too fast and let the whole band down. It had been my job to set the right tone. Instead, I set a tone that led to a trainwreck.
Leaders set the tone: Culture is driven by the leader; the way the team relates to one another is usually exemplified by the leader; vision needs to be embodied by the leader.
Leaders set the tone – we see this principle all through the Bible.
When God calls Joshua to take the mantle of leadership from Moses, God makes clear that Joshua will set the tone for the elders and the whole nation: “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.” (Joshua 1:6) The elders, likewise, recognise the need for Joshua to set the example, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses.” (Joshua 1:16-17) Joshua was a faithful leader who served God faithfully. When he set the tone well, the nation went well.
In the centuries that followed in the time of the Judges, time and again the tone of the nation depended on the example of the leader. The people would turn away when they lacked leadership and sin against God. God’s remedy was a leader who set the right tone: “Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.” (Judges 2:16) Likewise, the pendulum swing continued through the era of the Kings. When kings set the right tone, the nation went well, such as King Hezekiah. But when the kings were evil, the whole nation suffered. Take for example what is said of King Solomon in 1 Kings 11 – he started out so well but as he fell away from God, he led the whole nation into idolatry and, ultimately, caused civil war.
Nehemiah and Ezra set the right tone for Israel and led the country into spiritual revival. Imagine the incredible moment when, after seeing the walls rebuilt, the enemies beaten, the city restored, the Book of the Law found, the Bible tells us the people “cried out with loud voices to the Lord their God.” (Nehemiah 9:5) That moment occurred because the Lord used leaders to set the tone of the country and turn the nation back to God.
Of course, the greatest example of a leader setting the right tone is Jesus. He set the tone for His disciples in many ways and at many times but even in the short statement at His resurrection (Matthew 28:18-20), we see a leader setting the tone:
- He inspired confidence and faith: “All authority has been given to me”
- He gave them a clear mission: “Go make disciples”
- He gave them a big vision: “of all nations”
- He was clear on what to do: “teaching and baptising”
- He gave them assurance that He was by their side: “I am with you always”
Leaders set the tone. As leaders, we have a responsibility to be constantly evaluating the tone we’re setting. If we don’t like the tone of our team, we must take responsibility to change it. But, when we set the tone of our team’s culture in Christ, we realise the enormous potential in our team.
So, as FLBC leaders, it’s not whether or not we set the tone. It’s what sort of tone we will set:
- We direct people to Jesus. Ask yourself this question, “When people see our team, are they directed to Jesus?” If Paul wrote, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17), then the tone of our leadership and the tone of our group must reflect Jesus.
- We set a culture of grace. Sometimes we are so focused on a goal that we forget we lead people and Jesus loves them. If we believe God is the God of second chances, we must also be leaders of second chances. If God includes broken people in His mission, we must include broken people. It doesn’t mean we ignore underperformance but it does mean we deal with those things in a forgiving, loving, gracious way.
- We will be the custodians of the mission and vision. As a mentor of mine, Darren Frame, said to me, “we must maintain a fierce focus on mission.” This can be one of the hardest things for a leader in Christian ministry to do. There are so many factors that can take us away from the mission. The leader will ultimately be the one who brings the team back to the mission. Ideally, the leader will so set the tone that the group members will bring the team back to the mission because they have become so invested in it.
- Leaders set the tone in stewardship of the team’s resources and their own. Leaders set the example. If we squander resources like money and time, that’s how our team will see those resources. Likewise, at a more personal level, if we do not use our personal resources in a loving, generous, responsible way, that will also set the tone. I have seen this go both ways. If a leader is a workaholic – not stewarding their time well, at the expense of their family and themselves, the team comes to see this as the expectation of them. It’s an unhealthy culture that is ultimately destructive. On the other hand, if the leader is generous with their time but sets limits for the well being of their families, that becomes the tone of the team and they realise the leader actually cares. What tone do you set as a steward?
- Good leaders set a tone of reflection. Once again, let me credit Darren Frame for this one. He told me how he has seen good leaders bring a tone of self-reflection to their team by being honest in their own self-reflection and also being proactive in making time for reflection in the team. This tone of reflection is healthy and fruitful. Jesus was a reflective leader. He sent the disciples out and then he debriefed when they returned (Luke 10).
- We want a tone of fun. The teams in which I have enjoyed most being a part are the ones where we had fun together. We weren’t serious all the time. Sometimes, we become so focused on a task, we forget to have fun. But the team that has laughs together will often also cry together and that’s when true openness and honesty can grow.
- A leader sets a positive tone. Leaders have a way of being positive without being false. As someone has said, “faith it until you make it.” Catherine told me, “An old boss would look at a bad situation and say, “How do we make ourselves better because of this.”” That’s setting a positive culture. If a team seems defeated and negative, look at the leader.
- Good leaders collaborate. Poor leaders create competition. Good leaders promote ownership by the whole team. Poor leaders make the team dependent on them.
- Good leaders see how they fit into the bigger picture. One of the most common problems in Churches is that a “silo mentality” develops where each ministry is only aware of what they’re doing, without seeing how they fit into the wider Church. Rather, we need to look to the wider team and vision. We need to honour and respect other ministries and other leaders. That starts with leaders. Let’s be the first to honour others – we set the tone!
- Leaders must have integrity. We set the standard. Paul makes it abundantly clear in 1 Timothy 3 that leaders must be people of integrity because it flows onto the team.
We set the tone. And when we set it well, we can have a great influence well beyond just the people we lead.
“Everyone really does win when a leader gets better.” (Bill Hybels)
Lord Jesus, as we lead Your Church, may we set a tone that points people to You. Amen