Pastoral leaders should be gauged by their faithfulness rather than their commitment to a business model of success. The ultimate aim of pastoral leaders is to please God rather than the world.
Thus, standards for good pastoral leadership are derived from biblical and theological principles, not merely membership and attendance margins. Several marks of faithful ministry are listed and described below.
Commitment to a shared vision for the congregation
A congregation differs from any other organization in that a congregation’s leaders and members look to God as their single source of hope and guidance. Good pastoral leaders guide their congregations through a discernment process to discover God’s vision for the congregation.
Establishment of a set of personal and professional priorities to achieve the vision
Good pastoral leadership extends beyond the discovery of a vision. It involves regularly establishing both short- and long-term priorities that will allow the congregation to achieve the vision discerned from God. Faithful and committed pastors recognize that their office carries inherent leadership responsibilities.
At the core of those responsibilities lie training and empowering members of the congregation to achieve a vision. Faithful pastoral leaders guide a congregation in “leaning toward” the vision … far enough to know they are headed in the right direction … but not so far as to think they have arrived.
A commitment to God’s whole mission for the church
Sometimes, it may be necessary to focus energy on a particular aspect of God’s mission in order to achieve a short-term vision for ministry. But faithful pastoral leaders do not neglect any portion of God’s mission over the long term. They understand the historic purposes of God’s church and advance those purposes in their preaching, teaching and discipleship activities.
A recognition of one’s unique gifts for ministry
Research from the Pulpit and Pew Project reveals that a good match between the pastor’s gifts and the congregation being served is important for church vitality; furthermore, it is the most important factor in sustaining good pastoral ministry.
Before the pastor can determine whether his or her gifts are a match for the congregation, the pastor must know the unique set of gifts given by God. Faithful pastoral leaders regularly assess their strengths and weaknesses through reflection and outside feedback. They then use the feedback to plan for competency improvement.
Good pastoral leaders also find ways to manage the inevitable conflicts associated with growth and renewal. As a congregation seeks to achieve God’s vision, such changes will lead to clashes of personalities and divergences of opinion.
Faithful pastoral leaders help the congregation focus on ministry opportunities at hand rather than the latest unsolvable issue. The more a congregation commits to a vision, the more reason it will have to work out minor differences in order to achieve that vision. Such leaders also turn emergencies outside the congregation into opportunities for ministry.
Maintaining the highest form of pastoral integrity
Another mark of good pastoral leadership involves leading by example. Pastors who lack integrity damage their office too often. The best pastoral leaders maintain integrity in their relationships, their boundaries, their finances and their personal lives.
Pastors are not called to be above sin, but they are called to be above reproach. Faithful pastors spend sufficient time in confession, repentance and renewal to avoid patterns of temptation that can lead to the demise of one’s character. The very best of such efforts usually involves agreements of accountability with colleagues.
Faithful pastoral leaders recognize that leading by example requires spiritual growth as well as integrity. They practice the spiritual disciplines necessary to deepen their relationship with God year after year. The results of such work also become visible to the congregation. Without doubt, one must replenish one’s own well in order to invite others to draw from it.
Jeff Woods is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Ohio.
Buy Woods’ books from Amazon!
Better Than Success: 8 Principles of Faithful Leadership
We’ve Never Done It Like This Before: 10 Creative Approaches to the Same Old Church Tasks
User Friendly Evaluation: Improving the Work of Pastors, Programs and Laity