A Layman’s Comments on Pastoral Leadership Style

Disclaimer—a statement that disavows expertise. Commonly used in conversation to communicate the lack of knowledge that one has before one makes a knowledgeable statement.

Here it comes.

“I am not an expert on pastoral leadership”

Also, I belong to a church that is being pastored. My comments today are not intended to refer to her. They are a collection of statements that are based on many years of observing people in leadership, mostly in an educational setting. In the last fifteen years, I have volunteered more in church in the Christian education role so I have a closer “pastor-volunteer” view. I also have close friends and family members who are pastors.

Still “I am not an expert on pastoral leadership.”

You might say, I have tried my hand at leading people over the years in the classroom and as an educational administrator. I have a fascination with leadership. Communication majors [I am one] have had courses in group communication and organizational communication and the subject of leadership is a major component. To add to this, I am a history “buff” and I have a natural curiosity about the rise and fall of leaders in history [you know, presidents, dictators etc. etc.].

I say all this to tell you that even though I am not an expert, I have spent many hours pondering what makes a good leader. What can we draw from the examples of good leaders we have experienced first-hand and what can we see in the lives of the famous leaders that we have read about?

First of all, many who study leadership break leaders down into three leadership types [two not so good and one that is supposedly ideal].

The autocratic leader is the hands-on boss who wants everything done their way.   I do not use the term boss lightly because the autocratic leader likes to “boss” people. That is how they get what they want from others; tell them how to do something and watch them and hound them into doing your wishes. Most of us can think of a leader who is autocratic. Many of us have had a “boss” in our lives.

The laissez-faire leader is the “hands-off” leader who leads from a distance. They do not interject themselves into the progress of the group they are leading much at all, preferring to let people do what they normally do without giving them much direction. At this point, it may be good to draw a contrast between the autocratic leader and the laissez-faire leader. The autocratic leader pushes his group; the laissez-fair leader does not push his group [makes you wonder if goals are accomplished].

Lastly, one has the democratic leader, the supposedly ideal leader of the three. This leader is not so much a boss because he or she lets democracy within the group decide issues. The democratic leader is a facilitator of group activity rather than a dictator of group activity. The whole idea is to get things done but to get them done in a pleasant atmosphere, devoid of “hounding”. This type of leader is present (unlike the laissez-fair) but this leader does not impose his or her will on the group.

What do these types of leadership styles have to do with Hearing God? Dr. Willard spends several pages at the end of Chapter 4 trying to explain his views of pastoral leadership and if you carefully read between the lines, he comments on all three of these leadership types in those pages.

In my life, I have seen many examples of all three types of pastoral leaders in the church.

Before commenting on three qualities I think are essential for effective pastoral leadership, let me explain my attitude toward pastors.

Their work is a call. They have a special job that is not a worldly appointment. They are supposed to feel they have been led into ministry by God. In my mind, this puts them far away from earthly models of leadership because of the nature of what they have been called to do. In a nutshell, be the spiritual head of a church.

Still though, what qualities make for good pastoral leadership?

1.Realization that the church looks to them to set the tone for the church. This is an awesome responsibility. I believe it is one that requires a very serious relationship with God. Church members are not a group of robots but they need guidance from time to time as they try to do God’s work. To use a cliché, churches need to be “on the same page.” It is best if members who are active in their work are trying to work together to further the mission of the church. Too many people doing their own thing with their own job and not coordinating with others is a real problem. This is where the pastor can set the tone for the church. Cooperation and coordination is in my opinion a necessity for proper functioning. I guess I am saying that members should learn to like each other, help each other and appreciate the efforts of other members who are working [big jobs and little jobs]. Get people involved and get them working together for the glory of God.

2.Fight the urge to micromanage. I have seen this first hand and it is a killer—for the pastor and the pastor’s family. Congregations love it because it takes so much off their plates. The micromanaging pastor is everywhere, doing everything and the job list is endless. Pastors can literally do so much that they will pastor the church and forget that they have to pastor a family. I have seen marriages break up. I have heard pastor’s kids complain about never seeing Daddy. Why? The pastor has to be everywhere to make sure that everything is working well.

That should not be the case. Good leaders have to learn to trust their workers. Good pastors have to learn to trust their church members. As good church members we have to learn to look to the pastor for guidance and never forget that he or she is the one with the “call”, and we are not, but if we listen to the pastor and pray for guidance as to how we are supposed to work within the church, we can be effective and help a pastor carry out the ministry of the church. In fact, it is our job to be Christian volunteers, doing what we can to help with the mission of the church as long as we are working together with others and responding to the loving guidance of the pastor.

3.Listening and responding is key. It is so hard to wait for things to happen. Earlier I described the democratic leader as ideal; however being a democratic leader has its drawbacks. The democratic leader leads by majority rule and getting a group to make a decision can be grueling. It takes time and a lot of facilitating on the part of the leader. When Dr. Willard talks about the shepherd pastor as leader, I think a lot about the democratic leader. They listen to their group, which is a sign of respect. The group is not just a bunch of workers; they are human beings who have ideas that they want to express, problem solvers with solutions that need to be implemented and dreamers with innovations that need to be realized. The church is full of members who need to grow and if the members grow, the church will grow.

Pastors not only need to listen but if they are intelligent, they will respond to the feedback they are getting from their members. Are all members of a church right? Of course not. A discerning pastor will know which person has a “right heart” and which one does not. Members who know they belong to a church, which is overseen by a spiritual head who has been called are “right heart” members. Members who want power and influence over other members and the pastor are worrisome.

Are they working for the church?

No, they are working for themselves.

This has been a long post.

I apologize.

But I had to write it because I am a church member. Sprinkle in my long-held fascination with leadership. That’s a recipe for a long post.

Also, I want my church to carry out its mission in the world today. In fact, I want my church to do the best it can in carrying out its mission. The world needs strong Christian churches.

Full of vibrant church members.

Overseen by effective church pastors, as Dr. Willard says “undershepherds (ministers under God) counting on their flock to minister the word of God.”


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