Many pastors feel like the pastor in a cartoon I saw years ago. The congregation of people was running fast down the road and the pastor was running far behind shouting, “Wait! Wait for me! I’m your leader!” There is more confusion per square inch in pastoral ministry over the definition of leadership than over most any other topic. I have read the books that set your hair on fire with “choose the hill that you’ll die on and go for it!” type of leadership. I have read other books that suggest if you ask “Who’s in charge here?” you have already abandoned Christ-like leadership. I have read that there is the biblical gift of leadership (see Romans 12:8) and I’ve read that all spiritual gifts have within them a latent, yet effective leadership component. I have read good books that try to baptize the culture’s view of successful leadership into the church and I’ve heard suggested that the gospel of the kingdom of God radically transforms the world’s view of leadership. Many have tried to transform military-style leadership and USAmerican business-style leadership into pastoral leadership. I think “mutate” is a better word for it than “transform.” During the 1990s it seemed that if you just tacked the word “servant-” onto any form of leadership, it was considered biblical, like Jesus, the Servant-Leader.
When big-hitter pastors host conferences in their mega-church venues and talk about leadership, you can count on many little-hitter pastors slinking back to their home churches not feeling the least bit like leaders. No matter what is said at the conferences, the medium is the message. The message is: real leaders build and lead mega-churches and host stimulating conferences. Getting caught in that fierce undertow of USAmerican success, many pastors flail just to stay afloat.
So, what’s a pastor to do? As I have wrestled with and reflected on pastoral leadership, here are a few of my observations:
- The gifting and calling of pastors by Jesus Christ includes dimensions of leadership. I do believe there is a specific gift of leadership and pastors need those gifted folks in the church. Yet, the pastor is a leader as well and those gifted leaders without solid pastoral direction can become wrecking balls in the church. The pastor as leader will keep her specific focus and use her arsenal of resources to enhance her leadership.
- Pastors lead by communicating ideas that are shaped by imaginative reflection on the person of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God that he represents. A congregation is not going to fix their eyes and hearts on Jesus Christ unless the pastor stays absolutely fascinated with Jesus. The pastor’s transparent journey into his or her own Christian formation is a high pastoral priority. (See my post in the Jesus Creed archives titled “Lashed to the Mast”).
- Pastoral leadership is conversational, even leisurely, and filled with attention to details. Pastors observe and reflect on in the ordinary, day to day lives of the people. Pastors are on the look-out for those spontaneous brushes of the Spirit and the tiny shoots of grace growing in backyards of the lives of people. In this sense, pastoral leadership is prophetic. “Prophetic words are never detached from the concrete, historic situation. Theirs is not a timeless, abstract message; it always refers to the actual situation” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man). I owe the image of shoots of grace in the backyard of people’s lives to Eugene H. Peterson in Five Smooth Stones. Hopefully, pastors are learning that homiletically casting grand doctrinal ideas (timeless truths) Sunday after Sunday is not the heart of pastoral work.
Like most pastors I’ll continue to read books on leadership. Readers are leaders. I’ll try to glean what I believe is helpful to me as a pastor and let the rest go. Anything that I read that reminds me of Jesus the Christ and what Jesus stands for will always get my attention.