In the last couple of posts I've looked at the need for pastors to provide leadership to their churches. We can list any number of things that are wrong with our churches today, but at the top of that list has to be the lack of leadership many churches are receiving from their pastors. In fact, many of the other problems could be directly traced to that lack of leadership. But, what we have not done is define what it means for a pastor to be a leader. That is what I hope to do in this post.
Pastor-leaders are not dictators nor are they CEOs. They do not lead with a "My way or the highway" attitude. They do not threaten, manipulate, or force anyone in order to get their way. Unfortunately, when one talks about a pastor being a strong leader this negative image is the one some people immediately think about. It sounds too much like a cult leader, a Jim Jones type person, who everyone must follow regardless of the cost. This is not at all what I mean when I talk about a pastor-leader.
A pastor-leader is one who is in the trenches with the people. He or she has a vision for where God wants to lead this congregation and is willing to lead them there. A pastor-leader knows he or she is accountable to God for the congregation he or she has been given. The goal of a pastor-leader is to take everyone on the journey, but he or she also knows that some may refuse to go, and they cannot be allowed to prevent the others from experiencing what God has in store for them. (Does any of this sound like Moses leading the Israelites to the Promised Land?) This means a pastor-leader has a spine and is willing to confront those who will oppose or hinder the ministry God has given the church. Such confrontation is not done in a mean-spirited way or without much prayer, but there will be times when a pastor-leader must take a stand and challenge the controllers and others who would sabotage the work God is doing in the church.
Pastor-leaders do not seek their vision but God's. They are not interested in climbing the ministerial ladder of success; they are interested in fulfilling God's purpose for their lives whatever that might be. For some, that may be serving as a bivocational pastor of a small, rural church that may struggle but offers the only hope in the community in which it serves. Others may be called to a mega-church with thousands of persons attending services each week. Regardless of where one is called, the pastor-leader rejoices that God has entrusted him or her with the responsibility to lead the congregation that has issued the call. If this is not be a great place in which to serve, the pastor-leader is committed to staying there until it becomes a great place.
A pastor-leader is committed to personal growth. Pastor-leaders are often found attending a workshop, reading a book, or enrolling in a course that will help him or her grow personally and spiritually. Every pastor-leader I've ever known has been committed to lifelong learning. A true leader knows he or she has much to learn, and the minute they stop learning they stop growing.
Pastor-leaders lead from the front, not from the safety of their office. They lead by example. They are not afraid to get their hands dirty. If they want their congregation to win souls for Christ, they are soul winners. If they want the members of their churches to be more involved in feeding the hungry and ministering to the physical needs of the community, they will be involved in doing that alongside their congregations.
Pastor-leaders understand the importance of equipping the saints for the work of ministry. No military leader would think of leading troops into battle without first making sure they were trained and equipped. However, many pastors spend more time complaining about the lack of commitment on the part of their church members than they do in equipping them so they can do ministry. Not the pastor-leader. He or she takes seriously the Eph. 4 mandate to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Discipleship and lay ministry development is serious business in a church that has a pastor-leader because such a leader knows how critical these are for the personal well-being of the individuals and for the ministry effectiveness of the church.
Pastor-leaders are servant leaders. They understand that the call to lead is a call to serve. Again, this doesn't mean they become door mats for every disgruntled controller that calls them on the phone. It does mean the pastor-leader develops relationships with the people. He or she loves them unconditionally as Christ does, and the pastor-leader is not afraid to tell them of his love. He or she admits when they are wrong and quickly extends grace to others when they fail.
No one has to wonder who is in charge of a church that has a pastor-leader. He or she has earned the right to lead by their faithfulness in small things, their love for the people, and their love for God. People are not afraid of a pastor-leader because they know that person always has their best interest at heart. I once heard a pastor-leader tell of a time when some of the lay leadership questioned a decision he made. He told them if they couldn't trust his judgment on the matter would they at least trust his heart, and at that the opposition ceased because the people knew his heart. Even if his actions would prove wrong (they didn't), they knew that whatever he did was out of love for the church and its mission in the world. He had earned that trust through many years of faithful service to that church.
Let me end this post where I began: our churches need strong pastoral leadership if they are ever to become what God envisioned the church would be. Congregations that will not follow such leadership are destined to wander in the wilderness wasting God's resources and squandering the ministry opportunities that could have been theirs. Pastors who are not willing to lead are forfeiting their calling and should immediately step down from pastoral ministry. But, pastors must understand that it will take time to earn the right to provide strong pastoral leadership, and they must be very intentional about earning that right. If you prove yourself trustworthy, and the church is healthy, the day will come when you will be ready to provide the kind of leadership your church needs. When that day comes, lead.