I remember my first Pastoral Ministry class in Bible college. One of my heroes and professors, Dr. Thad Dowdle, shared that pastoral responsibilities can be divided into preaching, caring, and leading. Broadly speaking, I find that observation to be true. Pastors cannot neglect leadership, care of the congregation or preaching. But I don’t believe these three aspects of pastoral ministry are necessarily equal in status. Preaching is the foundational ministry responsibility for the pastor. Paul admonished Timothy, “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). The neglect of preaching God’s Word is a ministry error that cannot be overcome.
It seems that in today’s culture, there is a dearth of pastoral leadership. Pastors must become better leaders. Pastors should avoid the foolish mistakes of dictatorial leadership or indecisiveness. Pastors should listen longer and be patient with people. Pastors should learn and apply timeless as well as contemporary leadership insights and lessons. But of all the things pastors can do to establish and strengthen their leadership, preaching is primary. Here are several reasons why I believe preaching is leading.
- Preaching is leading because it is the prescribed activity for most biblical leaders. Moses was a communicator of God’s Law, as was Samuel, Ezra, Isaiah, and Jeremiah (the Old Testament list could go on). In the New Testament, nearly every major leader exemplified their leadership through their preaching (Jesus, John, Peter, Paul, Stephen, Timothy, etc.). While there are certainly biblical leaders whose main role did not include preaching (Abraham, Nehemiah, David, to name a few), the intrinsic connection of biblical leadership to the preaching of the Word of God cannot be denied.
- Preaching is leading because it is the means by which we communicate God’s Word to others and thus establish leadership credibility. Ezra committed to study, do, and teach the Word of God (Ezra 7:10). He was able to rebuke, correct, and lead the exiles because of his commitment to God’s Word. Leadership credibility, which is vastly important for the pastor, is most naturally established in the preaching event, especially when it is exegetically sound and biblically authoritative.
- Preaching is leading because the pulpit provides the greatest opportunity to communicate to the most people. Whether it’s once a week or three times a week, the preaching setting gives the pastor an opportunity to lead through communication. Communication in ministry cannot be overrated. Indeed, it is often underrated. Failure to communicate in churches (a leadership error) creates numerous problems. The preaching event provides a large platform for communication and casting vision.
- Preaching is leading because it reveals the quality of the pastor’s study and spiritual life. Preaching can be faked, but not indefinitely. Preaching born out of a vibrant spiritual life, study, and devotion will bear fruit in the life of the church. Furthermore, preaching born out of faithful study reveals one’s discipline—a key component in leadership credibility.
Let me offer one anecdote to illustrate my point. A good friend of mine served on staff at a rather large church. Some congregants began to question their pastor’s preaching because they could find online the same sermons he preached by other preachers. Eventually, it came out that for years the pastor plagiarized sermons. Rather than study, he had merely repeated the words of others. Rather than lead, he had been absent in the office and distant with the staff. While his resignation removed his presence from the church, his pastoral leadership left long before—a reflection of the reality that preaching is leading. Or maybe in his case, not preaching the Word, is not leading.
Obviously, there is more to leadership than preaching. And certainly, preaching entails much more than building leadership credibility. But for the pastor, leading begins in the preaching event.
(I’m indebted to Gary Bredfeldt’s book Great Leader, Great Teacher, as the basis for these insights).