John Stumbo Video Blog No. 37

August 12, 2016


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This month, John talks with Melissa (Mel) MacDonald, about several key qualities of a great Christian leader. He also describes his respect for the influential prophet Jeremiah’s authenticity, and Mel introduces the C&MA Children’s Disciplemaking Leadership Certificate.


John Stumbo: Hey team, I’m back with you today again—excited to be with you. And today, we’re doing something different. Mel MacDonald is a children’s ministry consultant for The Christian and Missionary Alliance here in the United States. I love getting to work with Mel. We don’t get to sit side by side often enough, but it’s crazy fun when we do.

And you’ve been developing a curriculum [Mel]. Tell me in just a couple sentences what this curriculum is.

Melissa MacDonald: Yeah, we’ve developed a certificate, a Children’s Disciplemaking Leadership Certificate that is a year-long certificate program focusing on the theology of ministry to kids, philosophy of ministry to kids, and tools of ministry to kids. And so we’re launching it soon, and it’s going to be partially online. They’ll be paired with a coach for the entire year, and then they also do some regional connecting, so this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And we’re really excited about it!

John Stumbo: And I know the curriculum is in English, but you have a Spanish coach as well?

Melissa MacDonald: Yep, Spanish coach as well.

John Stumbo: And who’s your target audience on this piece?

Melissa MacDonald: You know, we designed it for a pretty wide variety of people, but mostly those that are either part-time, no-time, or full-time at a church going, “I’m doing this ‘cause, either I was asked to, and I don’t know why I’m doing it, or because I stepped into it, but I want training. I want to know why I’m doing what I’m doing.” And so we designed it for that. Whether you’re a college student, whether you’re an international worker, whatever that looks like, just to give you tools and an understanding of why we do ministry to kids.

John Stumbo: Raising the bar of children’s ministry here and across the globe.

Melissa MacDonald: Yes.

John Stumbo: So what I’m taking to us today is a piece of that curriculum, the video training sessions that Mel and I recently taped together.

Melissa MacDonald: So I’m gonna ask you first, “What do you think are the marks of a great leader?”

John Stumbo: It’s gotta start with character and the life of integrity—a oneness that is the same, whether they are upfront in public or behind the scenes in private—that life that reflects Jesus through the filling of the Holy Spirit. So character is non-negotiable in Christian leadership. You can read that in Timothy and Titus; you can see it in the life of Jesus and the early church leaders. So, gotta start there.

Melissa MacDonald: Yeah, I totally agree.

John Stumbo: Second, I look for somebody who is willing to step into leadership but doesn’t need it.

Melissa MacDonald: Okay.

John Stumbo: I get nervous about somebody whose identity is so tied to their role that they need the role of leadership to feel good about themselves.

Melissa MacDonald: Absolutely.

John Stumbo: So I appreciate somebody who is willing to step into it but doesn’t have a sense of neediness about it. They are dangerous people to me.

Melissa MacDonald: I remember, was it two years ago when I sat in your office and said, “John, do you ever hate the sound of your own voice?” Which I later realized was kind of a tacky question.

John Stumbo: Yeah, especially for a guy who sounds like he smokes three packs of cigarettes a day.

Melissa MacDonald: Exactly, and that was so not my point. But, I was so burned out on this role, and the mantel I felt on me. And I remember you saying, “If you wanted it, we wouldn’t want you.” And that was so affirming to me to go, “It’s okay that there’s times that this role is too big for me, or that I don’t feel like I can do it.” That was really, you probably already know this, but that was a huge turning point for me that week. It was in November two years ago. And the same message you told me, I had two other people that same day come and confront me and say, “Mel, you’re called to lead. You need to step into this leadership role.” And so that idea of not wanting it, and yet …

John Stumbo: Or needing it.

Melissa MacDonald: Or not needing it.

John Stumbo: Now there’s a slight nuance here that I want to correct, because it’s not as though I disliked leadership—I don’t want to be a leader. But I don’t have to have this role for me to feel good about myself.

Melissa MacDonald: Yeah that’s a good point, yeah. That meant a lot to me when you said that. And of course you had me look at all the great leaders on your wall and go, “Look at them, and they led because God called them for such a time as this.” And that was super impactful to me as a leader, and that’s something I’m continuing to do. I just hold my head up a little higher and go, “I have been called my God to lead, and I’m young, and I’m a woman, and sometimes that’s not seen as an advantage. I think it is. But to really step into that, so I appreciated that. I interrupted you to tell you how much I appreciate you.

John Stumbo: No, that’s great, and I want to affirm that leadership is upon you and that is very clear. And so I would love to continue to bless that. Let me throw in a couple more answers to that question.

Melissa MacDonald: Please do, please do.

John Stumbo: Ungodly leaders make people dependent upon the leader, upon them. Godly leaders make people depend upon Jesus. We need to continually aid people in their journey toward Christ. So that really, over time, they need us less and less as they’re finding more and more of their strength, sustenance, and all that in Him. So maybe I’m over stating that point a little bit . . .

Melissa MacDonald: No, I think you can’t overstate that.

John Stumbo: But needy people need to be needed. And that’s ugly leadership.

Melissa MacDonald: And I think poor leaders focus on making disciples out of themselves, instead of disciples out of Christ.

John Stumbo: Beautifully said.

Melissa MacDonald: And that bugs me, so you can say it as much as you want.

John Stumbo: Number three, the third thing I look [for] in a leader is someone who has a sense of direction. The role of leadership is to help other people get somewhere they would not get on their own. Leaders help take us places, but if the leader has no clue of where they’d like to take us, are they really leading? Probably not. And so a sense of direction, now that best comes from lingering in times with God alone, and in community—having others speak into that. So a listening posture is essential for good leadership. And in that also is the ability to take direction. Those who can only lead but never follow, [is] another side of dangerous leadership. But someone who has a sense of direction—a direction that’s worthy of following—not just everybody who points, “let‘s go there” should be followed. And then lastly, may I just add, a winsomeness, a “likability,” is a bonus.

Melissa MacDonald: It’s so big.

John Stumbo: But, you don’t always get that from a leader, but if that’s included it’s like, “Oh . . .”

Melissa MacDonald: It’s really nice. I like working with you, because you’re very winsome, very handsome too, there you go.

John Stumbo: Okay, we just crossed a line here, but we’ll keep moving.

Melissa MacDonald: It’s all good. I like that. Quick question for you, what do you define as the difference between someone who’s charismatic and people just follow them and an actual leader? Is it that direction piece, or where does that come in?

John Stumbo: I like that distinction because there are some charismatic personalities that naturally gain a followership, and there’s some validity to that. But not every leader has the charismatic personality. That’s okay. We in America have elevated one type of leader as the quintessential leader, and all the rest of us are like second or third class, or maybe not even called to that role. So I would fear that some of your students will have the sense of “Oh I’m not like this, you know, really not outgoing, verbal, excitable kind of person.” That’s okay, be who God called you to be. If leadership is upon you, learn to live out that through your personality and please do not imitate somebody else’s personality.

Melissa MacDonald: Amen. I actually do an entire hour seminar on that alone. Stop comparing. We waste so much time when we compare, going “I wish I was like that person,” instead of what God called us to be.

John Stumbo: And none of us are above that, I can get sucked into that just like anybody else.

Melissa MacDonald: Oh gosh, I do too, all of the time.

John Stumbo: So I’ll come to your seminar sometime.

Melissa MacDonald: Please come, you can help me. When you think of a biblical leader, do you have a certain leader from the Bible, or somebody that you look to and go, “That’s the kind of leader I want to be.” Or do you pull from a number of them? Or do you relate more to one?

John Stumbo: As you know, there’re so many great leaders in the Bible described from Deborah to Moses to Joshua, and fascinating different styles and types and personalities. Jesus Himself, obviously being the quintessential example. But the one that I would probably comment on right now, oddly, is Jeremiah.

We don’t think of Jeremiah as a leader, because in a sense he didn’t have an organization that he was overseeing. He wasn’t the king of the country. But if leadership is defined as influence, Jeremiah was a huge influence, starting as a teenager, to the best of our understanding, and then having this 50-year ministry where he influenced his country. Sometimes with not very positive effect, but I love him (A) because he’s so autobiographical. You read the story of Jeremiah closely, you find out a whole lot about the “guy” more than any of the other prophets. I love him because he can express emotion. He gets accused of being the weeping prophet. Yeah, he did cry. Although I would challenge you as you study Jeremiah to discern who’s crying in any particular passage? Is it Jeremiah or is it God? Because sometimes he’s expressing tears of heaven in what he’s writing. But I say that because far more emotion than just sorrow is expressed through Jeremiah. Another thing I love about him is we see about 10 of his prayers. We get into his prayer journal as you study Jeremiah closely.

So he’s one of these kinds of leaders that lets us have a look into his heart. And I think that in this generation, as we raise up new leaders, if we don’t live in such a way where people can see our heart, they’re less likely to follow us. If it’s a mental exercise only—if it’s a “do as I say, get in line with me” kind of leadership—you’ll get a little bit of traction in some places. But the kind of leaders I think that are longed for today are the kind we’ve already talked about with character, integrity, etc., but you get a window into who they are in the meantime. The authenticity piece arises in Jeremiah’s story.

Melissa MacDonald: I love that. I have been speaking all this summer to kids at camps about Joshua. And what a cool leader. Like it’s been so fun to—and Rahab, we’ve been doing Rahab, too—that’s a hoot to do with kids. We’ve done it great, it’s worked out. But this idea of Joshua, who took a very heavy mantle from Moses, and then our sweet God who has a minute with him and goes, “Look, be strong and courageous. Be strong and very courageous. Be strong and courageous.” And I have really loved watching him, as I’ve walked the kids through his different stories, how he leads. And you know, because he was human there’re times he’s like, “Okay Lord, I’m going to do what you say. I don’t really know what’s going to happen, but I’m going to trust you and . . .

John Stumbo: And don’t you feel that as a leader?

Melissa MacDonald: Oh gosh, all the time.

John Stumbo: I know this is what I’m supposed to do, but I don’t know if it’s going work.

Melissa MacDonald: Exactly. And there are times as a leader, where—I don’t know about you—but times where I move forward with confidence whether I’m 100 percent sure or not. And I do think sometimes that’s a leadership characteristic that we forget because we want to be authentic, but there is a part to “you lead.” And so, “Hey guys, you’re going to take the Ark of the Covenant. You’re going to step into the water, and then God will part it.” And you’ve got to think that these, you know, the priests of Levi, probably were not sure if it was going to actually part or not, and they kept going. And I love that. And I love Jeremiah. I love how God calls him. And I love that you see so much of his heart. And I love that you mentioned that. It’s so important. People don’t want to follow a program—they want to follow a person, and they want to be a part of something that’s working in you and working in me, so . . .

John Stumbo: Is this person trustable, and is there something happening in that person’s life that I want to join?

Melissa MacDonald: So may this not just be a “I learned more how to work with kids” course. May this be a “I learned more about who I am, and who the character of Christ is.” Because churches will fail you. People will fail you. And our world is sinful, but if you are deep-seeded, grounded in the character of God, oh man, all other ground is sinking sand. Like solid ground we want to be standing on. So I just want to encourage you in that. Leadership is important. You as leaders, the leadership you work with, and what you do matters.


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