Tipping the Balance Toward Leadership – Thesis Project on Leadership Within the Church

This is the final version of my thesis that I did while in school several months ago. I majored in Organizational Leadership and this was my final research project. I wrote and posted a much shorter version well over a year ago that was for another assignment, but that piece was crucial to leading me toward what I decided to do for my final thesis. Remembering that this was a university assignment, the style is different than my normal writing and reflects the style that was required of me. All of my quotes and citations are listed at the end of the post, although I am not including the Appendixes. It’s fairly long and detailed (again, a product of an assignment), so grab a drink, sit back, and learn something!

Feel free to comment if you want, but remember, this post reflects two of my favorite topics that I am most passionate about…church and leadership.

Tipping The Balance Toward Leadership

As a devout Christian, I find the topics of church, theology, preaching and all things associated with modern day evangelicalism to nearly always be at the forefront of my mind. As one who is also employed by a church, I am compelled to consider the church’s purpose, its value and place in American society, its methodologies, and more specifically how it is led and operated. On a daily basis I am reminded of the balance between what is proclaimed from the platform on Sunday morning from the lead pastor with what I know to be true the rest of the week. When I get the opportunity to hear other pastors preach a sermon on Sunday morning, I wonder if their weekly leadership abilities match the perceived authority he speaks of within his message. Assuming the weekly message of God is coming from a seminary educated, fully trained pastor, qualified in his interpretation of the original Greek or Hebrew and its modern day application, is preaching and teaching the most important aspect of the lead pastor’s responsibilities? Or is the leadership of the pastor Monday through Saturday (responsibilities within the confines of his job as pastor) more important than his ability to preach and teach the Word of God on just one day a week?

Although the lead pastor is usually the primary communicator of God’s Word within a local church, he is also generally the primary visionary, leader, recruiter, and administrator, and is ultimately responsible for the health and growth of the organization. But with the majority of the church’s constituents only experiencing the pastor’s speaking ability one day a week, most church people fail to recognize and accurately evaluate the same pastor’s other abilities (and inabilities) when it comes to the other aspects of leadership. As a result, I am convinced there is an underlying confusion between Biblical authority and corporate leadership since “a leader considered an expert in one area is often treated as an expert in others as well” (Stanley, 2003, p. 25).

When comparing leadership and teaching in a church setting, I believe that leadership is the most important aspect in guiding and growing a healthy and fruitful church, and even exceeding the role of being a good Sunday teacher. Without strong leadership, chances are that the church will not grow in any significant way spiritually or numerically. A lead pastor with strong and clear leadership abilities but with minimal teaching ability will have considerably more impact on the church than one with strong teaching abilities and minimal leadership skills.

Certainly, most everyone would agree leadership is important, not just in the church, but in every business, government and religious organization. But in a church, why is leadership more important than teaching about the Bible or Jesus or how to apply Biblical text to one’s life? In my experience of working at many levels of church leadership, there seems to be an underlying confusion between Biblical authority and corporate leadership. When the lead pastor stands up Sunday morning and gives a powerful, encouraging, passionate sermon, the members are not thinking about what happens in the church during the week or how the staff is operating. Most church members assume that this man leads the staff (and/or volunteer leaders) with an equal amount of power and passion and capability. As a result, ministries and projects are given to the pastor to lead and there are assumed expectations of identical outcomes. However, as Andy Stanley clearly points out, this is faulty thinking. “If you fail to distinguish between authority and competence, you will exert your influence in ways that damage projects and people” (Stanley, 2003, p. 24). Simply put, just because the pastor is good at teaching doesn’t mean he is good at leading. In fact, one could be a fantastic, world-renowned teacher and still be a horribly unqualified leader incapable of administrating simple directions to his personal assistant.

Many would argue that the lead pastor’s primary focus and function is to teach on Sunday or during weekend services. This teaching is often measured to be the primary catalyst of personal and corporate spiritual growth. A good sermon is considered to be the pinnacle of a pastor’s ability to “pastor a church.” Teaching is the reason why a pastor attends seminary, learns to parse Greek and Hebrew and to give historical and contextual backgrounds for Biblical accounts. Sunday morning is often the basis for which he was hired in the first place, is where he is most noticed, and often times is the method in which many people are “saved” or dedicate their lives toward Christ and become Christians. The pastor’s ability to teach is a driving force behind whether a new visitor decides whether to come back the following week. Being an excellent Sunday morning teacher has been one of the most foundational distinctions of how to judge the effectiveness of a pastor for generations. “Churches hunger for someone who can teach. People are drawn to those who can teach” (S. Williams, personal communication, July 7, 2014). But this pairing of teaching ability and leading ability is highly faulty.

This research project is based on the comparison of a lead pastor’s ability to lead versus his ability to teach. After sifting through many Christian and church studies, I do not believe there to be any formal studies on such a direct comparison. As such, I believe that much of my research, hypothesis and subsequent findings to be fairly new and pioneering.

Methods

In determining the research methods to use, we must first understand what terminology is appropriate and accurate. Every denomination has a different vocabulary and terminology, so with hundreds of denominations within the Protestant Church and variants of each of those, we first must briefly cover some commonly used expressions so that nobody is confused with the various groups or people that are described throughout this paper. Reviewing the websites, constitutions and bylaws of numerous denominations and their churches and affiliations, I have researched the names, titles and positions that essentially provide the same function across denominations. For clarity’s sake, this paper refers to the lead pastor, who may otherwise be known as the senior pastor, senior minister, reverend, preacher, or a host of other titles which normally denotes the highest ranking single official within the church, the top of the organized hierarchy.

Likewise, the lead pastor is also generally the primary communicator of the organization, consistently speaking on Sunday mornings (or whenever the church regularly meets). As the person most responsible for proclaiming the Word of God, the title of Preacher, Teacher, Pastor, Evangelist and Reverend is frequently given. Again, for the sake of simplicity, we will refer to this duty as teaching so as not to give preference to any particular group (Priest is also sometimes given to the primary communicator, although this typically infers a Catholic ordination rather than Protestant). Although not common, there are instances of women fulfilling this role, but we will refer to all the lead pastors as men since it is overwhelmingly most common. In most American churches there is an underlying group of people who are not normally as visible to the church as the lead pastor, but do have significant control over the function, direction, vision and authority of the church and is frequently the lead pastor’s boss. This group is often made up of volunteers called an Elder Board, Board of Directors, Deacons, Session, or Assembly (amongst other names), and we will refer them simply as the board. For medium to large churches, it is quite common to employ more than just a single pastor. These employees may be comprised of other seminary trained pastors, secretaries, assistants, custodians, business officers, accountants, technicians, graphic designers and many other employees that may be found in any typical business entity. All of these paid employees of the church will be referred to as the staff, regardless of their spiritual or productive function. Finally, the people who frequent the church itself may normally be referred to as The Church, Church Member, Attender, Regulars, Congregants, Volunteers, Patrons, or Associates. These people, who make up the overall body (another frequently used term) of those who attend the church on a regular basis, shall be called members or the church (implying one local church combined of all its parts corporately) or the congregation.

In addition to understanding the vocabulary of the Church, we must also understand what it means to have a healthy, growing and successful church. Much of my research has been put into deciphering what it means when pastors and Christian books refer to their “growing churches.” A church could be growing numerically, but be very unhealthy spiritually. Four books produced by the Willow Creek Association, collectively called The REVEAL Studies, helped me gauge what it means for entire congregations to be growing spiritually. From the first quantitative studies based on 6,000 Willow Creek Community Church members and an additional 5,000 members from other churches (both denominational and non-denominational) (Hawkins and Parkinson, 2007), the authors determined that when it comes to an individual’s personal spiritual growth, “the church is the most important in the early stages. Its role then shifts from being the primary influence to a secondary influence” (Hawkins and Parkinson, 2007, p. 41). Further discussion regarding church health will be discussed at a later point in this paper.

In order to tackle the other aspects of leadership and teaching, we can find a plethora of leadership books ranging from academic theories to business strategies to personalities to Biblical examples. There is no shortage of studies and literature on the concepts and applications of leadership. Nor is there for communication, preaching, teaching, vision-casting and motivational speaking. Both sides of the equation are overly written, discussed, blogged and even preached about. But aside from the FOCUS and MOVE books (and the REVEAL studies in general), I still have yet to find solid literature that specifically addresses the issue of which helps move churches to greater spiritual health and growth by comparing leadership with teaching. Much of the challenge to my research is that there is little documentation, books, or other literature that compares the effects of preaching versus leadership within the context of religious entities. As such, much of this research is based on a broad scope of outside-the norm, on-the-edge leadership books, coupled with interviews of those who have a strong intellectual understanding of how both leadership and preaching independently (and together) can effect a church. Because of this, much of my research is limited to only portions of other people’s works and logical observational study.

Literature Review

Between 2004 and 2011, Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association sponsored several versions of a national church study called REVEAL which focused on the topic of discipleship and spiritual growth within the local church. From the third study, in a book called FOCUS: The Top Ten Things People Want and Need from You and Your Church, Hawkins and Parkinson share the staggering statistics from the responses of “80,000 people from 376 churches who took the REVEAL Spiritual Life Survey…” (Hawkins and Parkinson, 2009, p. 11) detailing what helped individuals and churches collectively grow more mature in their spiritual life. Ultimately, few resources prove my hypothesis as much as this one. Further study into the fourth book, MOVE: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth, shows that additional analysis was done that provides direction on how leadership from the senior leaders of the church makes personal and impactful changes in the lives of the congregation.

Spiritual growth can be extremely difficult to quantify and I find many pastors believe that it cannot be measured at all. How does one measure the growth of one’s heart and mind? It’s a fair question, but both FOCUS and MOVE (the fourth study based on 250,000 church congregants in over 1,000 churches) have shown that with proper technique and honest feedback, spiritual growth and one’s ability to follow Christ more fully can be both measured and calculated. This research paper is not based on these calculations themselves, but rather used as a basis that one can compare spiritual growth in the analysis of leadership versus teaching when it comes to those leading the church.

Next Generation Leader, by Andy Stanley and When Leadership and Discipleship Collide, by Bill Hybels, are two other books that have proven to provide much weight for this project. Although a short 68 pages in length, Hybels’ main points addresses the paradox of pastors needing to focus on both leadership and discipleship. His points are that neither is mutually exclusive and healthy churches require both.

A nationally known speaker himself, Andy Stanley takes a less balanced approached in Next Generation Leader, putting nearly all of his weight toward leadership. Again, he doesn’t specifically address the comparison of teaching and leading, but Next Generation Leader gives plenty of examples and real-life stories that show just how important leadership is within the local church. In addition, this particular book focuses on young leaders and pastors who will be handed “the reigns” to the church within the next several years. Understanding that many seminaries provide strong teaching on systematic theology and a solid understanding of Christian philosophies and history, Stanley gives more pragmatic tools to young leaders about leading a staff, handling conflict, business principles, building teams, and how to make difficult decisions that involve ministry and volunteers.

The Importance of Leadership

In explaining the allocation of spiritual gifts among Believers, the Apostle Paul explains, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them” (1 Corinthians 12:4) and “…if it is to lead, do it diligently” (Romans 12:8c). Throughout 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12, the Bible quite clearly delineates between spiritual gifts given to the Believers. It is assumed by most Christians that every Believer has at least one, perhaps a few, but never exhibits all the various spiritual gifts. Yet, in the Christian church we uphold this belief that because the pastor attended seminary, he must therefore also be a good leader, shepherd, counselor and teacher. The problem is that most seminaries do not teach much about leadership at all.

“Most pastors have little training or background in leadership. But they are expected to lead a church. Some may have extensive theological and biblical training, but they are weak in leadership. Jethro had to tell Moses that his leadership approach was all wrong. Moses was headed for a leadership disaster. Many of our churches have leaders who have few leadership skills” (Rainer, 2013).

Leadership is important. Teaching is also important. But being good at one, does not mean being good at both. In writing about leadership within the church, Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson state, “In fact, a staff member who cannot lead through influence should not be given additional authority” (2005, p. 83).

Perception of “Need”

One of the biggest misconceptions within the church is understanding what the members really want verses what they really need. The church is often like a toddler throwing a tantrum asking for candy late in the afternoon. What she wants is candy. What she really needs is dinner. There is a disconnect between her eyes and her stomach. The Church is much the same way.

From the third REVEAL study, FOCUS, authors Hawkins and Parkinson surveyed 80,000 people on what helped church members grow spiritually the most. Expecting to show that the lead pastor’s most influential role would be through teaching (as what most Christians and church members believe), their statistics showed otherwise:

“We discovered that the role of leading the church had four times the impact on satisfaction with the church’s role in spiritual growth compared to the role of teaching. Specifically, the role of teaching accounted for 20 percent of the senior pastor’s influence on satisfaction with the church’s role in spiritual growth, and the role of leading accounted for 80 percent” (Hawkins and Parkinson, 2009, p. 81).

In addition, the study discovered that “spiritual challenge is the Lead Pastor’s most significant driver of spiritual growth” (Hawkins and Parkinson, 2009, p. 68). In other words, most members confuse what they believe and want in a pastor in order to grow spiritually (a teacher who tells them about God, the Bible and spiritual things) with what they actually need from a pastor to grow spiritually (challenged to grow themselves, led out of their personal comfort zone, and living a life of change). This idea was confirmed one year later in REVEAL’s fourth survey comprising over 1,000 churches and 250,000 congregants:

“Everything in REVEAL [studies] tells us that people want to be challenged. Instead of handing them the proverbial fish, they want us to provide them with a fishing line so they can find out what it’s like to catch one on their own. If we do that-if we help people experience life as a Christ follower, whether through short-term behavior challenges or substantive ministry assignments-we’ll catch a lot more fish for Jesus than if we keep doing so much ourselves” (Hawkins and Parkinson, 2011, p. 233).

We see this example in the Bible in Acts 6:1-7, when many of the Jewish widows were being overlooked during food distribution. When the disciples in charge were approached, the specific request from the people was for food. What the disciples provided was leadership. It is interesting to note here that the disciple’s response was not to provide an immediate relief of food, but to provide a structure that ultimately led to the end result of food. What the people wanted was different from what was needed. Our churches may want good teaching. What our churches need is good leadership.

While the authors of the REVEAL studies wrote their findings in four distinctively separate books with varying purpose, we can sum up a church’s spiritual health more succinctly. “There is a ‘spiritual continuum’ that is very predictive and powerful” (Hawkins and Parkinson, 2007, p. 33) in the lives of all people. Individuals who are growing in their faith show signs of movement from one point of their faith to another. Participants identified themselves as Exploring Christianity, Growing in Christ, Close to Christ, or Christ-Centered. But Hawkins and Parkinson determined that it is not about being identified within a particular location of the continuum that shows spiritual growth, but rather if you were in the process of moving from one to another. This, they determined, was considered to be spiritual growth; it is the continuous movement from the Exploring Christianity side of the spectrum toward the Christ-Centered side. On a church-wide scale, for a church to be considered spiritually healthy, a majority of its constituents need to be in motion (anywhere on the continuum) from one segment to another. In addition, the church must be growing numerically. This can often be attributed (although not always) to the individuals in the church growing spiritually because they desire their friends, family and coworkers to also grow in their own faith. Regardless, the concept of a church growing in numbers can be easily understood and requires little explanation.

The Corporate Comparison

When discussing the idea of strong leadership from the lead pastor, I have experienced in other people’s responses a slight cringe at the idea due to its comparison with a for-profit corporate structure. With the lead pastor focusing on leading, structure, decision-making, goals and team building, it sounds a lot like a CEO or president of some major corporation. Yes, it does, and yes, it should. Here’s why I believe this.

The Bible commands Christians to live in the world but not be consumed by or adhere to its values and philosophies (Romans 12:2 and 1 John 2:16). So when comparing the “top-down” style of corporate leadership to the traditional flat-lined structure of church boards, some people tend to withdraw at this supposed “commercialization of the church.” It seems too close to targeting the “bottom line,” corporate greed, structure, and big business. But if there is something to be learned from business, it’s that top-down leadership produces better results in reaching organizational goals. Leadership involves vision-casting, decision-making, organization, communication, and focus on what the “end game” is, leaving out everything that is unnecessary. Churches should be no different. Each church needs vision to stay on target, decisions so that directional movement can be achieved, organization so that all those involved understand their priorities, and that the true purpose of the church is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and make disciples. Good leadership should happen in an ongoing daily cycle. Without this leadership, a good teacher is only a good teacher and will never achieve the organization’s purpose because the administrative side of the church will fail during the rest of the week.

With this idea of corporate structure, “we need to make sure we do not confuse theology with methodology” (S. Hansen, personal communication, 2012). The reaction to strong leadership and its importance to the church is often contested with an argument of some sort of theological dispute suggesting God would not agree. Many Christians get hung up and confuse methodology (leadership structure, focus and process) with theology (core religious belief systems often derived from Biblical text) and believe one may interfere with the other. With this confusion comes the view that certainly God would disapprove of this structure and focus! However, I find nowhere in the Bible to support a theological view that a focus on leadership is less important to God than a focus on teaching. Rethinking how we do church, how we do leadership, how we reach out to the community, how we worship, even how we teach the Gospel, does not have to change what we consider the Church to be, or what we believe about the Bible, or why we are reaching out to the community or who we are worshiping.

In my own experience of working in a church, I find many people often fear change and allow their own personal preferences on how ministry should be done to be confused with often misunderstood Biblical or theological positions. “We hold on to things because we want our way of life. Our comfort. Our possessions. That’s what happens to churches that die” (Rainer, 2014, p. 35). As the world changes, as generations come and go, we must always consider what is the best method to reach people for God, what is the best method to structure our organizations and even what is the best method to teach the Bible. It is what we believe in God, the truth of the Bible, and our theology that must never change. But we must never confuse the two ideological standpoints.

Along with a corporate mentality often comes teams, goals and accountability. Pastors must be able to build teams, develop other leaders and even set performance goals. One of the key components to leadership is the ability to develop and work with teams. “When a true team emerges, performance improves not because team members like each other better but because collectively they can make better decisions on the important issues facing the organization” (Bonem and Patterson, 2005, p. 91). Put another way:

“Leadership is not always about getting things done “right.” Leadership is about getting things done through other people. Leaders miss opportunities to play to their strengths because they haven’t figured out that great leaders work through other leaders, who work through others. Leadership is about multiplying your efforts, which automatically multiples your results” (Stanley, 2003, p. 27).

In her book, Multipliers: how the best leaders make everyone smarter, Liz Wiseman discusses the impact that Multipliers (those who multiply the impact of others through their leadership) have on those who work with them. She explains that it is not just teams that are important, but teams with purpose and with accountability:

“Multipliers don’t act as Investors [in other people] because it makes people feel good. They invest because they value the return on their investment. They believe that people perform at their best when they have a natural accountability. So they define ownership, invest resources, and hold people accountable” (Wiseman, 2010, p. 185).

Results and Discussion

Already having interviewed one pastor, I also sent several requests via email to some of the nationally-known lead pastors around the country, but few responded to my questions. However, the lead pastor of Northpointe Community Church in Fresno, CA, a well-established mega-church in the Central California Valley, responded in great length. Although I initially only asked four questions via email, Steve Williams responded with a lengthy audio file for each question covering a total of 80 minutes worth of discussion!

Although his personal views of leadership versus teaching differ from my hypothesis, the level of detail and Biblical examples he shared proved to be very insightful no matter what position one takes on the subject. His comments have greatly influenced how I have chosen to approach this research and I have been forced to answer more difficult questions regarding my original hypothesis. When he stated, “One of the prime leadership skills [of a lead pastor] is to be a good communicator” (S. Williams, personal communication, 2014), I was reminded that a church cannot be led solely by a good leader. Good preaching/teaching is also certainly necessary to grow a healthy church, but I was reminded of just how much these two skills do indeed overlap.

Vin Tomei, Worship Arts Pastor at The Bridge Church in Fresno, California, prefers to take a different approach. Much of his view is based on personal experiences of working in the pastorate for over 30 years with several lead pastors, many of which have had horrible leadership skills. Having personally worked with Tomei for several years, I can attest to his own ability to both lead teams and staff as well as preach on Sundays. But his experience of working with lead pastors that cannot lead Monday through Friday, yet preach well on Sunday, is seemingly exhaustive. In my interview with Tomei, he shared with me several examples of his most recent lead pastor and I must concur based on my own personal experiences. An excellent evangelist and highly gifted communicator, the general congregation loves Scott Hansen. With weekly, “off the charts” messages, it would appear on the surface that The Bridge Church had a fantastic future ahead of itself. Yet, in nearly every department and every ministry within the church, leadership suffered as a result of Hansen’s autocratic and dictatorial methodologies. “Public speaking and spiritual giftedness as an evangelist or ‘prophet’ is not enough to build a (healthy) church” (V. Tomei, personal communication, 2014).

A Brief History of Church Leadership

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). The historicity of the American church is strong, unique and filled with the problematic philosophy that what used to work should still work now and will always work in the future. But the world today is vastly different from previous generations and just because one methodology used to work well doesn’t mean it always will. People stopped gathering at the town square to hear the news of last week because the newspaper was invented and they could read about what happened yesterday. Just the same, newspaper sales are declining because we can now see the news on the internet about what happened across the world less than five minutes ago. The old methods, what was then efficient and wonderful, is no longer good enough and it is antiquated. This adds to the previous point of methodology: the news we share does not change, but we must change methods in how we share it.

Two generations ago we saw the focus in the American church that was on the teacher and his abilities in expository preaching. When the average church size lingered in the low 100’s and only the lead pastor was on the payroll, there wasn’t much need for strong leadership. He was able to know and greet each family as they desired, visit the sick, marry the young and bury the dead.  As the American church has changed, introducing mega-churches of several thousand members and multi-site churches having dozens and even hundreds of staff, the focus must change to leadership in order to meet the needs of those depending on the organization’s ability to reach its goals. The pastor must lead and minister to the staff. The staff must minister and lead the church.

“Our fiercest battles are seldom fought over theology. They’re fought over change, especially any change that comes as a surprise, alters a comfortable tradition, or represents a symbolic changing of the guard” (Osborne, 2010, p. 172). People are often afraid of change, but we must embrace the idea that change can be good and that God knows and understands that there is a season for everything. Change is necessary, it happens, and we must learn to embrace it with all diligence.

The Pastor’s Role

“‘Established churches in decline are suffering from a leadership crisis,’ says Kirbyjon Caldwell, Senior Pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston” (Barnes and Lowry, 2012, p. 4). Speaking more specifically about his own church’s change in leadership focus, he goes on, “Reversing the decline…was about the leaders of the church-both clergy and laity-deciding to redefine the congregation and meet the needs of the community” (Barnes and Lowry, 2012, p. 4). During his time as senior pastor, his church went from 25 members to 7,100 in 25 years. In recognizing the previous pastor’s focus on teaching, Caldwell focused on leadership. But he first had to deal with a church that was in denial about what they needed.

Larry Osborne, Senior Pastor to the 10,000 member North Coast Church in Vista, California, agrees:

“The role a pastor takes will determine to a great extent the church’s potential for numerical growth. Pastors who don’t lead, can’t lead, or aren’t allowed to lead seldom see their church break through growth barriers. It’s as rare as a balmy day in the middle of a Chicago winter. It can happen, but it’s bizarre when it does” (Osborne, 2010, p. 87).

In a recent conversation I had with a former coworker of mine, Stephanie German, Director of Outreach at River Valley Community Church in Fresno, California, this idea resonated with me. “I’m not the Lead Pastor at this church. But even I recognize that leadership is of utmost importance at every level. We have many teachers, many people with different gifts. But if we have no leadership to organize them and to keep momentum building toward our goal of reaching the lost, we all have nothing. All we have is many teachers and people with different gifts. Leadership from our Senior Pastor, myself, and others, is what drives this church to success. Success for us must be growth spiritually and numerically” (S. German, personal communication, 2013).

Teaching in the church is important. As is shepherding, counseling and leading. But it is through leadership that these other gifts will be more effective. Leadership draws out the potential in other people, not just using the potential that you have. As leadership author Liz Wiseman aptly states:

“It isn’t how much you know that matters. What matters is how much access you have to what other people know. It isn’t just how intelligent your team members are; it is how much of that intelligence you can draw out and put to use” (Wiseman, 2010, p. 10).

Applied to the church, it isn’t how well you teach, how much information you can regurgitate to the church members or even how well they remember all the Biblical text or data you speak to them. What matters is action. What matters is moving that entire group of people, whether 25 or 7,000, toward a goal, and toward action themselves. If we believe that God has indeed granted wonderful spiritual gifts to each and every Believer, leading those Believers toward using their gifts is what will grow the church the most because our actions are multiplied rather than added. “Servant leadership emphasizes that leaders be attentive to the concerns of their followers, empathize with them, and nurture them. Servant leaders put followers first, empower them, and help them develop their full personal capacities” (Northouse, 2013, p. 219). Leadership can create ownership among the masses that are led well and “ownership marks the shift from passive attendance at a weekend service to active engagement in the life and mission of the church” (Hawkins and Parkinson, 2009, p. 32).

Lead pastors, and other church members for that matter, must recognize the fact that leadership is more important and more productive than good teaching. Leadership will drive better results of church members growing in their personal faith and encourage numerical growth as well. In the FOCUS study, it was shown that “the senior pastor’s leadership of the church – which means making and executing the kinds of decisions that create an environment of spiritual challenge and spiritual guidance in all ministries – drives satisfaction with the church’s role in spiritual growth by a margin of four to one” (Hawkins and Parkinson, 2009, p. 82). The implication of this? The authors of this nation-wide study continued on, “This finding implies that even the best sermon doesn’t have nearly the impact as do the day-to-day decisions a senior pastor makes about how to lead a church-specifically the decisions that deliver spiritual guidance through the church” (Hawkins and Parkinson, 2009, p. 82).

The Importance of Both

When asked about Biblical examples of leadership and teaching, Williams responded, “The first organizational notes that you see in the book of Acts are the apostles separate the daily administration from themselves so they can devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word” (S. Williams, personal communication, 2014). This presents an interesting paradox. As previously noted, the apostles were forced to choose between giving the needy widows what they wanted (which was food) versus providing a system that would sustain the ministry long term:

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ This proposal pleased the whole group” (Acts 6:1-5a).

The point Williams was attempting to make in bringing up this verse is that the Apostles believed teaching and “not neglecting the ministry of the Word of God” was more important than handling the leadership challenges of their time. My argument to this is that the Apostles actually exhibited great leadership in understanding the difference between the widow’s wants and the widow’s needs. Choosing to create a system that allowed for better and more effective ministry (and ultimately, more time to teach publicly) is indeed an act of strong leadership and vision! The Apostles chose to create systems and structures that allowed the Gospel to then be effectively shared both locally and around the world. They exhibited great leadership first so that they could focus on teaching! In addition, great leaders know where they lack skill and ability. Geoff Surratt, a nationally recognized pastor, author and blogger on church leadership and church expansion, responded to all of my questions regarding this topic. In his words, “All leaders need to surround themselves with people who can supplement their weaknesses” (G. Surratt, personal communication, 2014). When weak in one area, a good leader finds others who can fill-in and compensate for the needs of the church that the leader cannot adequately fulfil.

In his book, The Leadership Jump, Jimmy Long writes about the challenges of transitioning leadership to the next generation within the church. In recognizing the vast differences in leadership styles, methodologies, and focus, Long poses an interesting and often worrisome question: “Which comes first – task or community?” (Long, 2009, p. 104.) Hybels presents a similar challenge as the conflict between leadership and the teachings of Christ (Hybels, 2007). Jesus simply told Peter to “feed my sheep” (John 21:17), but the implications can be for both the physical needs of the Believers as well as the “feeding” of their souls through teaching of the Word of God.

“There is a natural hunger to feed the mind and spirit and heart and so there needs to be good teaching. It needs to be accurate to the Word” (S. Williams, personal communication, 2014). This adds to the important aspect of understanding that along with good leadership from the lead pastor, there also must be good teaching. Although this research shows that one may be more effective in the development and growth of a church more than the other, it doesn’t negate the true need for good, accurate and applicable teachings on the Bible and words of Christ. In all of my research, this paper, it’s purpose, thesis and findings, all of it hinges on one critical point: The teaching from the lead pastor, no matter how charismatic and motivational, no matter how eloquent and ear-tingling he may preach to a crowd, if he teaches any level of heresy, nothing else in this study matters. Heresies taught of the Bible and Christian faith, at any level, can destroy the works of those who seek to love and share the joy of Christ. If an accurate and historical portrayal of the Word of God is not properly communicated, no level of exemplary leadership will be able to compensate the destruction of heresy.

Conclusion

One could argue the finer points of “mediocre teaching” and “great teaching” and “average” leadership skills and “naturally-gifted” leadership gifts. Perhaps the nuances found in such discussions are valuable and applicable to both churches and businesses alike. Most Americans would agree that where great leadership is present, the purpose and goals of that organization are more likely to flourish. That business or church has a greater chance of succeeding, whatever that organization’s view of success may be. But no matter how great a teacher or charismatic preacher a pastor may be in communicating the Bible, it will only lead to an average church with little to no spiritual or numerical growth in the constituents.

In a multi-year study of several dozen churches that had died, Thom Rainer wrote about fourteen in his book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 ways to keep yours alive. Reviewing the slow and always painful process of why a church ultimately fails and ceases to exist, Rainer notes “For the majority of the churches, pastors came and went at a pace of every two to three years, especially in the two decades leading to the deaths of the churches” (2014, p. 55). Regardless of the root cause of why those pastors had such short tenures, the main point is a lack of key leadership in the church, from both the lead pastor and board. “The cycle was predictable” (Rainer, 2014, p. 55).

The church must have good teaching, this no one denies. But for the church to truly succeed, to truly reach more people for the Gospel of Christ, to truly grow healthy spiritually, corporately and numerically, the church must have not just good leadership and good teaching. It must have great leadership. “In my opinion, good teaching will never be enough to build the kingdom of God. But combine good teaching with great leadership, and watch what God will do!” (Hybels, 2007, p. 49).

References

Barnes, R. & Lowry, L. (2012). Church Leaders Website. Startling Facts: An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America. Retrieved from http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html

Bonem, M. & Patterson, R. (2005). Leading from the Second Chair. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hawkins, G. & Parkinson, C. (2007). REVEAL: Where Are You? Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Resources.

Hawkins, G. & Parkinson, C. (2009). FOCUS: The Top Ten Things People Want and Need from You and Your Church. Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Resources.

Hawkins, G. & Parkinson, C. (2011). MOVE: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Hybels, B. (2007). When Leadership and Discipleship Collide. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Long, J. (2009). The Leadership Jump: Building Partnerships Between Existing and Emerging Christian Leaders. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Northouse, P. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE

Osborne, L. (2010). Sticky Teams. Grand Rapids, MI: Zonddervan.

Rainer, T. (2013). Four Simple Reasons Most Church Aren’t Breakout Churches. Retrieved from http://thomrainer.com/2013/04/20/four-simple-reasons-most-churches-arent-breakout-churches/

Rainer, T. (2014). Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 ways to keep yours alive. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing.

Stanley, A. (2003). NEXT GENERATION LEADER: Five Essentials For Those Who Will Shape The Future. New York: Multnomah.

YouVersion Bible App. (2008-2013).  English Standard Version (ESV). Digital. Stig Brautaset. Oklahoma: LifeChurch.tv.

Wiseman, L. (2010). Multipliers: how the best leaders make everyone smarter. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

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