todd clark

9 Characteristics Of Next Level Leaders

I am currently in the Dominican Republic with a cohort of pastors on a “Next Level Leaders Retreat” sponsored by GO Ministries.

It has been an amazing week experiencing multiple expressions
of culture shaping local ministry.

God is at work through the church plants, seminary, nutrition centers, sports teams, kingdom businesses, medical centers and local leaders that GO Ministries has raised up and empowered over the past several decades.

Part of our time together has been spent discussing this curious thing called leadership. I have been privileged to give several talks about how next level leaders live curious lives.

Here are 9 of the 15-20 ingredients we have talked about that are often mixed into the life of a next level leader.

1. They lead themselves first.

One of the most curious axioms I have learned and been forced to embrace in the past 3-4 years is …

I am the most important person I lead every week. 

That could sound so self centered and egotistical but it is not meant to be. It’s just true.

[Tweet “Self care isn’t selfish.”]

If I can’t lead myself well … I won’t be leading others for long. I am the most important person I lead every week!

2. They say NO.

“The enemy for leaders is not lack of opportunity; it’s the overabundance of opportunity.” I love this quote from my friend Carey Nieuwhof. Isn’t it true that next level leaders usually have an abundance of opportunities.

There is always someone saying, “You should be here, you should be there, you should do this, you should do that.”

It’s easy to let others SHOULD ON YOU!

Worse yet … next level leaders often SHOULD ON THEMSELVES!

And I “should” add …

Opportunity does not equal obligation.

Leaders listen, if you never say “NO” and you try to care for everything you will soon realize you do not have the capacity or bandwidth to care for anything!

You will flourish yourself to death.

What I have learned is that ministry is so comprehensive you must actually steward your energy and compassion. Jesus didn’t have unlimited energy and capacity to care – neither do you.

3. They visit the future but live in the now.

It is so easy for leaders to live in the future. After all, it is our job to lay track so the train never has to stop. Right?!?!

The problem for leaders living in the future is that they inevitably neglect the now. It’s not possible to be present in both places. And when we live largely in the future we skim life.

[Tweet “Skimming life leaves you with shallow experiences which lead to weak memories.”]

Thus my challenge to next level leaders is …

– Make plans.
– Lay track.
– Cast vision.
– Dream ahead.

Visit the future, but live in the now!

4. They understand their culture is their currency.

It’s a somewhat curious and count-intuitive thing but when it comes to recruiting and retaining next level leaders …

– A pay-check won’t keep them … someone will always pay them more.
– The perfect job description won’t keep them … there will always be a better job description.
– A big house won’t keep them … there will always be a bigger and better house.

So what keeps them? An infectious culture keeps them. Your culture is your currency.

5. They have a long list of “obeyed” Holy Spirit promptings.

In my estimation there is no better way to be balanced, healthy and refreshed than to have a constant string of “obeyed” Holy Spirit promptings in your life.

The Bible is also clear, throughout scripture, that the Holy Spirit gives promptings and whispers to the hearts of His people. I know that promptings are rather mystical and mysterious and I’m not sure how they fit into your theology.

Yet, doesn’t it seem true that if God lives in us by the power and presence of his Holy Spirit. He will give us promptings?

The truth is there are only two kingdoms you can build – yours and His.

If you obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit of God you are building HIS kingdom.

If you do not obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit of God you are building YOUR kingdom.


If you cannot honestly remember the last time you obeyed a Holy Spirit prompting  you had better take a really good look at whose kingdom you’re building.

If we are not daily obeying promptings we are in danger of building our kingdom not His!

6. They understand the pit falls being omni-aware.

Our world is becoming increasingly “omni-aware.” We are now aware of all the good and all the bad in the world the moment it occurs.

Think about that …

– We see every heroic act immediately.
– We see every violent act immediately.

Thus creating unintended hero’s and villains almost daily. 

When I think about our current culture – it feels like we are living in a comic book. Because we are globally aware of super hero’s and villains like never before.

Often what happens to Christians when we get a real-time look at the world we get depressed. Because frankly it often looks like the Church is losing.

I love the documentary on CNN a few years ago that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the allied invasion of Normandy. During this special documentary CNN interviewed two elderly men who had been young soldiers and participated in the Normandy invasion.

An infantry soldier was interviewed and said, “We landed on the beach and I made my way thru dead body after dead body … I saw my whole unit killed! I fought hand-to-hand combat paying a high price for every foot of territory. I looked all around me at all the dead bodies and I fell to my knees in defeat. And I said to myself … there is no way we can win.”

A reconnaissance pilot was also interviewed and said, “It was my job to fly over the entire area of the battle and then report back to the allied command everything I could see from my aerial perspective. And as I flew over the battle field with every hour I became more and more confident with what I saw. And I said to myself … there is no way we can lose!”

Two people viewing the same set of circumstances only from a different perspective.

I believe it’s our job as next level leaders of God’s Church
to remind God’s people about God’s view.

If we could just this world from heavens perspective we would see that the message of Christ is advancing every single day. And there is no way we can lose!

7. They leverage technology.

Technology is amoral.

It can be used for either good or bad – just like money.

We should be curios and committed to leveraging all platforms, old and new, for good.

8. They have next level friends who they can be 100% honest with.

Ministry is hard. Isolation makes it even harder.

I read a study recently that claimed 70% of pastors do not have close personal friends, and no one in whom to confide.

This just seems crazy to me but also awkwardly true as I encounter lonely leader after lonely leader. We don’t share life very well together is seems. Maybe we are too busy, jealous, preoccupied or focused on our “own thing” to care about another persons thing.

This is tragic and I’d say to all wanna be next level leaders…

Let’s be others centered not self centered. 

[Tweet “Others-centered > Self-centered.”]

Let’s do our very best to live and model for others what Paul says in Romans, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” 

9. They have a killer commitment to a private devotional time.

What is it that separates you from a very charismatic, gifted, energetic, determined person who works for a Boys And Girls Club or a Chick fil A franchise or Google or some benevolent brand or non profit?

Your connectedness to God.

The greatest and most compelling thing next level leaders have to offer this world is our connectedness to God.

For many years I had a small sign in my office that said …

When you are faced with a busy day …
save precious time by skipping your daily devotions.

Don’t let satan make you so busy with “good things” that you miss the “best thing” your daily time with God.

Next level leaders have the ability to lead people closer to God because they have been close to God themselves!


There you go … a short excerpt from several of my Dominican Republic talks.

Live curious friends.



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todd clark


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