Thursday, November 8, 2012

Why won't pastors lead?

Currently, I am aware of two churches that are having serious issues due to a lack of pastoral leadership.  It is a problem I've encountered with a number of churches since beginning judicatory work, and it never ends well for the pastor or the church.  There are a number of reasons why pastors struggle to provide the leadership their churches need, many more than we can cover in this post.  You can read more on this subject in my latest book, The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.

The first reason we'll mention is that many pastors were never trained to lead, and, therefore, do not know how.  Most seminaries teach their students how to manage their congregations, but they don't teach them how to lead.  Managers ensure that things run smoothly, that people are generally satisfied with the service they receive, and that things are done decently and in order.  Leaders focus on the future and attempt to lead their congregations towards that future; managers are primarily concerned with the present.  Leaders have a vision they are following; managers follow a job description.  Leaders report to their boards where the church is going; managers report where they have been.  Leaders attract other leaders; managers attract followers.  Because pastors were trained to manage that is what they do, and the church remains stuck in its ruts because there is no one who can lead them out of them.

A second reason is that some pastors don't want to lead.  Quite frankly, managing is much easier.  Preach decent sermons, make sure the flock is cared for, and that is all that is required in many churches.  Leadership is risky because it can create conflict.  Not everyone will be happy with the direction a leader attempts to take them.  I find that many pastors, myself included, tend to be people-pleasers.  We don't like it when people are upset with us.  It pains us when people leave our churches due to our leadership.  Most church folks tend to be less upset when the pastor simply manages the affairs of the church, and that makes life much easier for the pastor. 

Also, some pastors don't want to lead because they have misunderstood what leadership is about.  It is not being a dictator as some have suggested.  The pastor is always a servant-leader.  We're not drill sargents barking orders to our congregation; we are persons with a vision calling others to buy in to that vision and follow it to where it takes us.  Leadership is about doing ministry with a purpose and not being content to drift from one Sunday to the next.

The third reason we'll address why more pastors don't lead is because their congregations will not allow them to do so.  In my role I work with numerous pastor search committees.  Many of them tell me they are looking for a pastor who will lead them.  These well-meaning committee members usually don't have a clue what they are asking.  In fact, at one meeting with a committee I responded to that statement with, "Are you sure about that?  Do you know what you are saying?"  I then described what a pastor who was a true leader would do if he or she came to that church.  The committee nervously looked at each other until one laughingly said that they may need to re-think that.  This is a good church in many ways, but it's history says that the last thing they want is a leader.  Many times I've seen churches say they want a leader, call a leader, and then spend all their effort standing on the brake trying to keep the church from moving forward until the pastor finally leaves out of frustration.  You can be sure the search committee will insist they still want a pastor who will lead them when they look to replace the one who left.

I am convinced that without good pastoral leadership our churches will never rise to the level of ministry they should enjoy.  It is believed that 80 percent of our churches are plateaued or declining, and I believe that a lack of pastoral leadership is responsible for much of that.  As stated above, that is not always the pastor's fault.  Some churches will destroy a pastor who attempts to lead them out of their comfort level.  However, in other situations it is the direct result of a failure of the pastor to provide the leadership he or she has been called to give.  If the church in North America is ever to make a difference it will require solid pastoral leadership.

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