Congregational leadership can be defined in two primary ways, namely in terms of office and in terms of function.
When we seek to define congregational leadership by focusing on the “office of the pastor,” several key elements of leadership surface.
First, certain expectations coincide with the office of pastor, so pastors must lead by example. While expectations must be realistic, pastors can lead and model behavior simply by striving for faithfulness on a daily basis. Pastors who recognize the importance of their office draw themselves, and others who follow, closer to Christ.
People of high integrity should seek the office of pastor, and only those who are “above reproach” should be “ordained” for the gospel ministry. Integrity is as much about attitude and sincerity as it is about godliness. God often chose people to lead who held a less-than-perfect past, but a more-than-ordinary commitment to follow. Once converted, Paul asked people to view him as God’s letter to the world.
Pastors should be willing to live a life worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No one is capable of leading a sinless life. But faithful pastors seek to become more like Christ in their daily walk, and they show visible signs of being more like Christ as every year passes.
Accepting the office of pastor also means accepting the authority—power and responsibility—that comes with the position. Power attached to positions differs among denominations and cultures. However, all pastors have some authority.
Pastors must recognize the power and responsibility associated with preaching from the pulpit, counseling parishioners, offering blessings upon marriages, praying for healing. For a pastor, perhaps the greatest test of integrity lies in using power wisely.
Like it or not, a pastor leads simply by the way he or she approaches the pastoral office. This aspect of congregational leadership is often overlooked but real. Practicing the spiritual disciplines, reflecting theologically, being a good family member and being a good neighbor are all aspects of congregational leadership.
Thus, the office of pastor is perhaps more unique than any other profession or position in society in that pastors can lead others apart from human interaction simply from the power of the position.
Using the office of pastor humbly, yet effectively, as a leadership tool is only half of a pastor’s leadership assignment. Pastors are also called to function well as leaders. Faithful congregational leaders are very intentional in how they approach the office of pastor, and in how they function as a pastoral leader.
Pastors must fill two primary roles in order to function as a leader: a spiritual role and an organizational role.
First, pastors need to lead others into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Pastors must move beyond a demonstration of the spiritual disciplines to showing parishioners how to deepen their own faith in Jesus Christ and creating an environment in which this can happen.
Research suggests that although church attendance has declined in many congregations, people are not disinterested in God. Congregational leaders are needed to show them how to connect with their Creator.
Members don’t just want to know someone else who is close to God; they need a leader who can guide them as they draw closer to God themselves. They need pastors who can ignite their own personal spiritual growth.
While the first functional role relates more to the personal growth of individuals, the second focuses on the guidance of local congregations as collective members of Christ’s body. Once again, lay people want more than pastoral leaders committed to telling of God’s story, discipling believers and naming God in human experience.
Parishioners want to carry out those same tasks themselves. They want pastors who not only lead by example, but also encourage, train, motivate and challenge them to do God’s mission. A large segment of today’s American population wants to improve the world, not just be a part of it.
For many of these people, action translates into hands-on ministry rather than serving on a committee. Assessing community needs, forming ministry teams, networking with other service agencies and writing grants for community action are all a part of the leadership role for today’s pastors.
And leading in ministry involves more than training others. If the pastor limits ministries to those tasks he or she can do well, many members won’t meet their own ministry potential.
Such leadership requires shared discernment and unreserved reliance upon God’s ability to reveal, renew and re-direct people’s passions toward ministries that make a difference in the community and world.
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