I recently commented that leading a church is an art, not a science. My friend, Jack Mercer in Virginia, reminded me that “organizational leadership of any sort is an art. Max Depree’s observation that leadership was much like improvisational jazz always resonated with me … . The best pastors still lead as artists not mechanics.”
Thinking of church leadership as an art certainly fits well with other activities in the body of Christ. Worship is largely characterized by the expression of our faith through music. From the simple hymns of the early church to Gregorian chants to Handel’s oratorios to campground songs to contemporary praise music, the church has used the art of vocal, choral and instrumental music to express our love for God and challenge us to serve our neighbor.
Our preaching is an artistic form as well. The act of preaching involves the use of rhetorical skills, imagery and speaking to articulate the gospel. I hesitate to call preaching a “performing art,” but some preachers intentionally use drama in the form of character or monologue sermons.
Our church structures are not only works of architecture that keep us protected and comfortable, but they are also works of art. Their interiors and exteriors are theological statements. Tall steeples point the observer to God and stand as a witness to the presence of a believing community.
The church where I am a member looks like a forbidding Greek temple, but when it was built, it communicated that this community of faith was committed to learning and was going to be around for a long time. A rich interior design with stained glass windows, engravings or banners uses the visual arts to present the biblical message. Even a sparsely decorated, austere interior may reflect a simple and uncluttered relationship with God.
And, with some trepidation, I have to say that the Bible itself is a literary art form. The scriptures use the various literary styles that have been developed by humankind — narrative, poetry, allegory, imagery — to present the story (another literary term) of our relationship with a Holy God.
So I think we should feel comfortable with the idea that church leadership is an art. Leading a congregation requires skills of discernment, composition, arrangement, timing, imagination, perspective persuasion and presentation – just to name a few. Such skills are rarely innate to the individual but must be recognized, nurtured and practiced. Yes, art requires practice, doesn’t it?
The great challenge for the leader as artist is the same that any artist faces when his or her work is completed and displayed for the public. When all is said and done, the observer has the final word. Will it be, “That’s the ugliest thing I have ever seen!” or will it be, “Beautiful!”?
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.