Tipping the Balance Toward Leadership (short/original version)

I’ve gone back to school to work on a degree in Organizational Leadership. This is partly why I don’t blog much….too busy writing for them, rather than for me. The following is something I wrote for a class project a while back. It’s in a more formal writing style than I prefer to use because of the academic nature of the classes, but I thought this piece was better than some of my others so I figured I’d post it here.


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 even how its 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. 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 it’s modern day application, is this the most important aspect of the Lead Pastor’s responsibilities? Are the duties and the leadership of the pastor Monday through Saturday (responsibilities within the confines of his job as pastor) equally as important as his ability to preach and teach the Word of God on just one day a week? I believe that leadership is the most important aspect in guiding and growing a healthy and fruitful church, 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 typically have considerably more impact on the church than one with strong teaching abilities and minimal leadership skills.

Every denomination has different vocabulary and terminology, so with hundreds of denominations within the Protestant Christian Church and variants of each of those, we will first briefly cover some commonly used expressions so that nobody is confused with the various groups or people that are described throughout this paper. Names, titles and positions that essentially provide the same function across denominations are often called something different and confused with the same name but differing function in another denomination. For clarities sake, this paper refers to the Lead Pastor, otherwise known as the Senior Pastor, Senior Minister, Reverend, Preacher, or whatever person is at the top of the hierarchy and considered to be the highest ranking official within the church. This person can be male or female and we will refer to this person as a male for simplicities sake, but this gender description does not formalize a position of whether the Lead Pastor should or could be a woman. As is usually the case, the Lead Pastor is also 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). 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, Deacons, Session, or Assembly, and we will refer them simply as the Board. 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).

1. Importance of Leadership

Certainly everyone would agree leadership is important, not just in the church, but in every organization. But why is leadership more important than teaching about the Bible or Jesus or why communion is important? In my experience of working at many levels of church leadership, there seems to be an underlying confusion between Biblical authority and corporate leadership. Most notably, “…a leader considered an expert in one area is often treated as an expert in others as well” (Stanley 25). 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. 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 expect an identical outcome. However, as 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 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 renown teacher and still be a horribly unqualified leader incapable of administrating directions to his secretary.

Many would argue that the lead pastor’s primary focus and function is to teach on Sunday or during weekend services. This teaching is 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. But this pairing of teaching ability and leading ability is highly faulty.

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’s assumed by most that every Christian has at least one, perhaps a few, but never exhibits all. Yet, in the Christian church we uphold this belief that because the pastor attended seminary, he must therefore be a good leader, shepherd, counselor and teacher. The problem here is that most seminaries do not teach much about leadership. “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). 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” (Bonem and Patterson 83).

2. Perception of “Need”

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

The Willow Creek Association has conducted four large scale studies on the topic of discipleship and spiritual growth, collectively called The REVEAL Studies. From the third study, in a book called FOCUS: The Top Ten Things People Want and Need from You and Your Church, Greg Hawkins and Cally 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, FOCUS 11) detailing what helped individuals and churches collectively grow more mature in their spiritual life. Expecting to show that the Lead Pastor’s most influential role would be through teaching (as do most Christians and church members), 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, FOCUS 81)

In addition, the study discovered that “Spiritual challenge is the Lead Pastor’s most significant driver of spiritual growth” (Hawkins and Parkinson, FOCUS 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, MOVE 233)

We see this example 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 request from the people was for food. What the disciples provided was leadership. It’s interesting to note here that the disciples 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.

3. The Corporate Comparison

When discussing the idea of strong leadership from the Lead Pastor, I frequently note in other people’s response a slight cringe in 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 of some major corporation. Yes, it does, and yes, it should. Here’s why.

Jesus commanded Christians to live in the world but not be consumed by or adhere to its values and philosophies. So when comparing the “top-down” style of corporate leadership to the traditional flat-lined structure of church boards, we tend to withdraw at this supposed “commercialization of the church.” It seems too close to targeting the “bottom line” and corporate greed and 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, 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 in 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.

With this idea of corporate structure, we need to make sure we do not confuse theology with methodology. 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 and focus) with theology (core religious belief systems 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 church to be, or what we believe about the Bible, or why we are reaching out to the community or who we are worshipping. 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.

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 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 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 185)

4. Ecclesiastes 3

“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 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 online 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 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 was on the teacher and his abilities in expository preaching. When the average church size lingered in the low 100’s and only the pastor was on the payroll, there wasn’t much need for leadership. He was able to know and greet each family as they needed, 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 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 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.

5. 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 4). Speaking more specifically about his own churches 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 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.

“Another thing is equally certain. 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 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, CA, 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 and myself, is what drives this church to success. Success for us, is growth spiritually and numerically.”

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 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 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 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, 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. Leadership can create ownership amongst 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, FOCUS 32).

Lead Pastors, and other church members for that matter, must recognize this 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, FOCUS 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, FOCUS 82).

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.

Works Cited

Barnes, Rebecca and Lowry, Lindy. 7 Church Leaders Website. Startling Facts: An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America. 2012. Web.

Bonem, Mike and Patterson, Roger. Leading from the Second Chair. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-  Bass, 2005. Print.

German, Stephanie. Personal interview. 4 February 2012.

Gopez-Sindac, Rez. “The CE Interview with Sam S. Rainer III.” Church Executive January 2013:            10-12. Print.

Groeschel, Craig. Confessions of a Pastor. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2006. Print.

Hawkins, Greg and Parkinson, Cally. FOCUS: The Top Ten Things People Want and Need from You and Your Church. Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Resources, 2009. Print.

Hawkins, Greg and Parkinson, Cally. MOVE: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual           Growth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

Mancini, Will. Will Mancini: Clarity Changes Everything. Houston, TX. 2013. Web.

Montgomery, Cynthia. “Putting Leadership Back Into Strategy.” Harvard Business Review January 2008. Pages not available.

Osborne, Larry. Sticky Teams. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. Print.

Rainer, Thom. Four Simple Reasons Most Church Aren’t Breakout Churches. 2013. Web.

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

Surratt, Geoff. Geoff Surratt, Inner Revolution. Denver, CO: April 2013. Web.

Wiseman, Liz. Multipliers: how the best leaders make everyone smarter. New York:           HarperCollins, 2010. Print

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