Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Perils of Church Leadership

(Hebrews 13:17) Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
How do you respond to your pastor's leadership?

For about eight years I held administrative positions in a secular organization. For at least five years I supervised all of the dozens of staff on three campuses either directly or indirectly. I signed off on all of the programs and services offered in my program and managed a multimillion dollar budget. I had the final say in hiring and firing and promoting staff within the program. It was an insanely busy, meeting intensive, highly demanding job that required hours of overtime and heart wrenching decisions that impacted many lives.

I say that to say this. The pressure of corporate leadership is NOTHING compared to leadership in a small church. Back in those days I read the leadership gurus... and appreciated their insights and profited from their ideas. But much of what they write about is not transferable to small churches. The high intensity, constant scrutiny and sense of jeopardy in secular organizations is small potatoes compared with the high wire act of leading a small church.

"Why is that so?" you may ask. (Smile) Consider a few secular/organizational reasons.
  1. Small churches have evolved their own culture and pecking order. They have arrived at a unique and comfortable stasis where everyone knows who is in, who is out and how things run. Any change to any aspect is upsetting to someone, but leadership requires change.
  2. Small churches are invariably a web of human relationships - often family relationships. Since someone will be upset by almost any change, any change will also upset the people who are in relationships with that person and then on to other persons in a chain reaction. Consequently any leadership decision is likely to cause seismic ripples through the small church.
  3. Small churches tend to be looking backward. The small church is nostalgic for the golden days of the past, but leadership urges them to catch a vision for the future and embrace the change.
  4. Small churches tend to be looking inward. They are very committed to each other, but have difficulty assimilating new people. Typically the pastor and his wife are new people. The small church always struggles with where do these pushy new people fit in and why should we grant them authority?
  5. Small churches are always on the verge of disaster. They need all the workers. They need all the tithers. A pastor knows that if he makes an unpopular decision it is likely to cause upset that may well result in departures and/or decreased giving.
These secular/organizational reasons create a tremendous prejudice against leadership - not from the people, but from the supposed leader. It is much easier - much better for your nerves - much healthier for your ulcer - to adopt a non-intervention approach.

A pastor could serve as the hired preacher of the church and leave everything else alone. He could let the church run as it "has always run" - letting the people do whatever they want to do and not interfering. He can "mind his own business" and preach his sermons, and carefully avoid any pointed applications that might cause upsets.

He could. But he would be doing that because of secular/organizational reasons. He would, in fact, be abandoning his leadership responsibilities, because letting everybody do whatever they decide to do is NOT LEADING.

A pastor is more than a preacher. He is a leader. He is a shepherd under the authority of Chief Shepherd. Maybe it will give him ulcers, but he must step up to the challenge and LEAD.
(1 Peter 5:2–4) Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;
3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;
4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
There are certainly boundaries here. Because of the difficulties inherent in small church leadership the pastor faces varied temptations.
  1. "Not by compulsion but willingly." This is the temptation to do as little as possible. This pastor is lazy or frightened and only leads when absolutely forced to do so.
  2. "Not for dishonest gain but eagerly." This is the temptation to be directed by financial and other practical priorities. The result is "leadership" based on respect of persons because of how those persons affect the bottom line.
  3. "Nor as being lords over those entrusted to you." This is the temptation to use dictatorial force to drive the church. The pastor should lead by the teaching and preaching of the word of God. The pastor leads the church by explaining the application of biblical principles to the matters at hand. He cannot be wishy-washy about these things, but he also needs patience and grace.
  4. "But being examples to the flock." The pastor must live by the biblical principles he teaches. His control of his temper, his humility, his devotional life, his evangelistic zeal, his honesty, his diligence, his love for his flock, his prayer life and his family life are all essential to moving a small church forward. There are no shortcuts through programs or techniques.
  5. "When the Chief Shepherd appears..." This is the real authority for the pastor and for the church. The pastor does not work for the church. He serves the Chief Shepherd. That is why it is so important for him to actually LEAD the flock in following Jesus.
Pastors and people, there is good news! From a secular/organizational perspective, small church leadership is almost impossible, but the church is not a secular organization.

The Church is the body of Christ. The local churches are truly communities of converted people covenanting together to follow Christ. The true believers have the Holy Spirit of God working in their hearts. The hope for the progress of any church is not in the secular leadership skills of the pastor, but in the supernatural work of God growing His people in Christ.

People - pray for your pastor and give yourselves to Christ.
Pastors - pray for your people and give yourselves to Christ.
(Ephesians 4:11–13) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

1 comment:

Irv Cobb said...

Very perceptive. This is tough stuff to which we are called.