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One of the biggest mistakes I made as a young lead pastor was spending too much time trying to get uncommitted people to be committed.

I would do breakfasts, lunches, and coffees trying to convince the unfaithful fringe to become faithful. And in doing so, I largely ignored those people in our church who were committed, already on board, and rowing in the same direction with the rest of the team. At some point after that pastorate, I discovered something: it’s a losing strategy to spend more time with problem people than with promising people.

I can hear some of you objecting: “Didn’t Jesus tell us to leave the 99 sheep who were already in the fold and go after the one who was lost?” Yes. But I’m pretty sure that was a relationship-with-Jesus principle, not a leadership principle. When Judas left the team to betray Jesus to the Jewish leaders, Jesus didn’t chase after him. Instead, He spent His remaining hours with the eleven apostles who didn’t leave. When the rich young ruler refused to follow Jesus, He didn’t set up a lunch appointment with the intent of trying to convince the young guy to follow Him. Sometimes we have to let people go.

Today’s post is not intended to examine evangelism. Its purpose is to shed light on how we use our time leading an organization or a team. Why do some of us fall into the trap of obsessively chasing the unfaithful fringe?  I don’t know all the reasons, but here are three I think may be accurate:

1. Ignorance

It’s not uncommon for a leader to subconsciously think: “Why spend time with faithful people? They’re already in the fold. If the church is going to grow, I need to spend more time going after those who are unfaithful.” We ought to question that line of misguided thinking.

Instead of consistently trying to light a fire under a Christian who lives on the fringes from a commitment perspective, and who is unlikely to ever get on board, why not fan the flame of a person who is already fully present and highly motivated? Ever tried to ignite a pile of wet wood? The amount of energy we expend is way out of proportion to the results we get for our effort. Much better to find dry wood that only needs a spark to burst into a brilliant flame.

2. Messiah Complex

Some leaders live with an incessant need to fix people.

They take unhealthy levels of responsibility for the lives of those they lead. Healthy leaders understand they have responsibility to their people, not for their people. Responsibility to lead, love, and teach them. To encourage, challenge, and comfort them. To pray for them. But it’s never a leader’s job to fix them.

Here’s the truth—we can’t fix anybody. Only God can . . . but even then, He can only do that if they decide to cooperate with Him. Let’s stop trying to usurp God’s role in the transformation of people. There is only one Savior—and we are not Him.

3. Brokenness

I wonder how much of the chasing-of-the-fringe-unfaithful is due to something broken on the inside of us?

Maybe we operate out a deep, subconscious need to be seen as Superman (or Superwoman) swooping in to save the day. Perhaps our self-esteem is fragile, and we crave the applause of others. So, we take on the unfaithful fringe person as a project in the hopes others will notice how amazing we are. If we work for our identity instead of from our identity (our identity is: we are adopted sons and daughters loved unconditionally by Father God), we spend precious leadership capital chasing after people who will likely never get on board. Again, that’s a losing strategy.

I’m not advocating you totally cross off the unfaithful fringe from your list. Not suggesting you never talk to this group or behave rudely toward them. But here’s the unvarnished truth: Leaders and team members who are already on-board need face time with you. They need you to pour into their lives. Spend more time developing these key individuals. You’ll be more effective. Your organization will flourish. You’ll lead better, longer, and enjoy it more.

I’m rooting and praying for you!


John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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