During the last few years, I talked with several churches about becoming their Senior Pastor. Recently, I accepted the call to become the Senior Pastor at Wilkesboro Baptist Church. Many of my conversations with churches dealt with issues such as theology, church structure, ministry philosophy, preaching style, etc. But if there was one topic that literally spanned every conversation, it was leadership. Some of the churches longed for a leader. Some indicated that they had plenty of leaders and just wanted a chaplain. Some churches shared about staff and church turnover that indicated a leadership vacuum. Other situations revealed inner church conflict that spilled out into the public life of the church. Nearly every conversation pointed to the need for church leadership.
If pastoring were simply preaching and caring for people, like much of what we learn in seminary classrooms, then pastoral ministry would be rather simple. But being a pastor requires more. Being a pastor requires leadership. It requires working with strong individuals in church life, working through existing church government structures, taking time to learn the church, being willing to make hard decisions, not seeking out confrontation but not avoiding it either when it is necessary, and the list could go on.
Churches need spiritually wise leaders who are prayerfully patient, while also decisive. Churches need pastors who learn by listening to others, but who are assertive when it comes to the biblically assigned mission and responsibilities of the church. Churches need pastors who will not back down from wolves who want to destroy, but who can also guide and comfort the sheep who need compassion.
I don’t write this article as an expert, but rather as an exhortation. Much of what I’ve learned regarding leadership came from my mentor who excels in leading his congregation with spiritual wisdom. I know this—without much of the insights and years of learning from him, I would be lost in these first few months in to my role as a Senior Pastor.
These five leadership principles should undergird our leadership philosophy.
- Leading others is earned. In order to lead well, you must build relationships, listen, and learn from them. Dictatorship is not leadership. We don’t lead over people; we lead with them. Too many pastors fail because they expect to be followed without earning their leadership credibility.
- Leading others is learned. Some in pastoral ministry are natural leaders. My mentor is a naturally gifted leader. Others, like me, have to learn how to pour into and lead people. The good news is that much of what we need to do can be learned. There is no shortage of good material out there. My favorite and the first book on leadership you should buy is Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. You should also find a mentor who can be your sounding board and give you honest evaluation.
- Leading others is necessary. Someone is leading your congregation. If it’s not the Senior Pastor, then you need to find out who is leading. You should invest in them, and seek to earn their following. Try to work with them, so that eventually you can work through them. We have an enormous mission—making disciples of all nations. Your church, my church cannot do its part without pastors who lead others toward Christ’s mission. If you don’t lead the influencers in your church to make disciples, then who will?
- Leading others is humbling. Church leaders cannot afford to be arrogant. Biblical leadership embodies humility. Arrogance puts us at odds with God himself. Confident leadership is necessary, but that confidence should grow out of a humble dependence on God, not self-confidence.
- Leading others is convicting. It’s been said that leading can be lonely. I think that is partially true because it means that biblical leadership requires closeness to God and a recognition that the leader is a spiritual model for the congregation. The reality that I’m a model for my congregation is convicting. This truth does not mean we have to be perfect, just authentic—authentically growing in our walk with Jesus. If we’re not experiencing conviction and growth personally, how can we honestly admonish others to do so in our preaching and leading?
These principles are not exhaustive and not necessarily original with me. I’ve tried to adapt them to my ministry and leadership philosophy. My hope is that you will be challenged and encouraged to grow as a pastor/leader.