One evening I met with a church committee and their pastor. This church was having problems and asked me to spend some time with them to see if a solution could be found. Among the issues was a lack of leadership on the part of the pastor. As we began to discuss the issue a way to address it was proposed, and the majority of people felt it was a possible option. Someone asked how this could be communicated to the congregation as a whole. I suggested a couple of options. The pastor was asked which he believed they should do. He looked at the questioner and shrugged his shoulders. The questioner looked at me with a look that could only be asking, "Now do you see what we are dealing with here?" To move the conversation forward I suggested the steps the pastor and lay leaders should take. Although the church followed my recommendation the pastor did leave a few weeks later.
Leaders must project an attitude of confidence or they will soon be unable to lead. A military officer who expresses doubt that their unit will successfully carry out its mission will not be able to lead that mission. A business person who sits in the office day after day discouraged because of the lack of sales will soon find employees looking for jobs elsewhere. Church leaders who cannot demonstrate optimism and courage will not enjoy a very productive ministry.
Of course, pastoral leadership entails more than appearance. True leaders find ways to balance the need for long-range planning and the need to be prepared for next Sunday's message. They find ways to invest themselves in developing future leaders while not ignoring the pastoral care needs of today. They have a vision for the future of their place of ministry and the ability to articulate that vision. Their words and actions instill confidence in those who follow them. When such leaders suggest change it seems a little less threatening because of that confidence.
Smaller church pastors need to understand that doing all of these things will not automatically make them a leader in the church. It can take years before the pastor actually is accepted as a leader in a small congregation. In a church that has had rapid pastoral turnover in the past it can take a very long time because the church is always anticipating the pastor's resignation at any time. After all, they've been conditioned to think like that by their previous pastors.
The secret is to keep acting like a leader even though you know that others in the congregation are the true leaders. As people see consistency in your words and actions and you don't run off the first time another church opens up they will begin to accept your leadership. One day you will suddenly be recognized as one of the primary leaders in your church, and it's likely you may not even notice it. You'll first recognize things have changed as people begin to open up to you with deeper personal issues than they've ever shared with you before, when they begin to ask your advice before offering their own, and when they start giving you much more freedom to lead than you've previously experienced. This is an exciting time for a pastor, but to get there you must act like the leader God has called you to be.