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Pastors Who Lead The Way

The good news is that while we may never achieve excellence in administration, we can learn to lead the way.

By Rick Warren

I know my leadership style. I am a big-picture, vision-casting leader. Details don’t hold much appeal for me. In itself, my leadership style will not accomplish much. But surrounded by staff and volunteer teams whose gifts complement mine, I have watched God achieve many milestones through Saddleback Church. He is, after all, both the giver of vision and the giver of those who can handle the details that breathe life into vision.

There is nothing inherently right or wrong about being a vision-casting leader. It is simply the way God wired me. He may have wired you differently. The key, then, is for each person to recognize his or her personal style. Then we can recruit a team with gifts that enhances and supplements our style.

Developing a team is important because God set up the church like a body—with many gifts and many parts. Each part is necessary for the overall health of the body. It is as if God is saying, "Get the message. Help each other." There is no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian. We are together in this. We are a team.

There is tremendous power in cooperation. We do our best work when, instead of jockeying for position or trying to build a base of power, we work together—building on each other’s strengths and shoring up each other’s weaknesses.

What A Biblical Leader Is Not

The pastor sets the tone. If he leads as one who empowers and values individuals on the ministry team (volunteers and paid staff alike), others will follow his example. C. William Pollard, chairman of ServiceMaster, writes in his best-selling book The Soul of the Firm: "People working together to perform a common objective need and want effective leadership—leadership they can trust—leadership that will nurture the soul." If that’s true at work, how much more at church?

In the Bible there is at least one example of a wrong concept of biblical leadership. I like the way The Message translates Luke 22:24–27: "Within minutes they were bickering over who of them would end up the greatest. But Jesus intervened: ’Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant. Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You’d rather eat and be served, right? But I’ve taken my place among you as the one who serves.’ "

Our temptation toward controlling, demanding, and throwing our weight around grieves the heart of our Servant-King. As we begin our discussion of the pastor as leader, we need to recognize how Jesus defines leadership. To Him, serving, educating, facilitating,and equipping are synonymous with leadership.

I think of it this way: You need to decide in life whether you want to influence or impress people. You can impress people from a distance, but you can only influence them up close. We desperately need authentic leaders today who are real and vulnerable. Our greatest life messages come out of our weaknesses, not our strengths.

Pastors are forever looking for better methods, machinery, and motivations. But God says, "I’m looking for better people, people I can use to show the path to my sheep." For God to use us as leaders, we must be men and women who have His heart for the lost, who pray fervently for His direction.

Remember Nehemiah? We have recorded in Nehemiah 1 a sample of a prayer from his leader’s heart. Nehemiah’s prayer, when he first heard about the downfall of Jerusalem, was not casual, shallow, or selfish. He prayed for months. He based his request on God’s character, confessed his own sin, claimed God’s promises, and asked specifically to be involved in the answer.

That is a prayer all pastors can pray for their churches and ministries. That kind of prayer makes us servant-leaders God can use.

Must A Pastor Lead?

Paul told the Ephesians that God "gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers." He was clear about God’s purpose for establishing these leadership roles in the church: "to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (Ephesians 4:11,12). By definition, then, the pastor is a leader. And as pastor, I dare not shirk my responsibility to lead people to prepare for God’s kingdom service.

I think of Jesus’ charge to Peter after the Resurrection. He said to Peter, "Do you love me? . . . Feed My sheep" (John 21:17). As pastors, we show our love for Christ by our love and care for His people. We feed, nurture, and lead. In this way we love Christ.

This makes moot the question, Must a pastor lead? When love is introduced into the picture, we cease to feel coerced into leadership. Rather, in whatever way we are best gifted to do so, we lead willingly. We lead with grace. We lead with honesty and integrity, putting others’ needs ahead of our own.

This brand of leadership is far from controlling or bossy. It is more of a guide, one who isn’t afraid to live as the example of what he preaches. It’s a tall order, but also a worthy one.

Can Leadership Be Learned?

Sometimes this seems a greater task than we feel equipped to accomplish. We may know our gifts are clustered in the areas of preaching and teaching, not administration. Yet our role as church leader seems to call us to administrative tasks.

The good news is that while we may never achieve excellence in administration, we can learn to become effective. Management guru Peter Drucker explains in The Effective Executive, "Effective executives . . . differ as widely as physicians, high-school teachers, or violinists. . . . What all these executives have in common is the practices that make effective whatever they have and whatever they are." He says the word practice indicates these successful habits can be learned if repeated over and over, just as a violinist repeats her scales.

Many of the practices Drucker identifies as leading to success at work translate well to a church setting. "Effective managers," he says, "know where their time goes, focus on desired outcomes, build on strengths of others (and themselves), concentrate their efforts where they’ll have the most benefit, and are careful, decisive decisionmakers." We could say the same about effective pastors. Practicing these habits can enhance our effectiveness in the pulpit, in staff meetings, and even in interactions with our church boards.

Leading With Limited Resources

Although I do practice most of these habits on a regular basis, less than 3 years into my work at the then-fledgling Saddleback, I recognized the need for administrative leadership from an individual who would roll up his sleeves and carry out the vision. We recruited Glen Kreun to come as executive pastor. Glen’s gifts are in the area of detail management, administration, and keeping the team on track every day.

Your church may have the resources to pay someone like Glen to take the administrative reins. If you do have the resources and that gift is lacking on your leadership team, then by all means recruit someone who can help. But if resources aren’t there to create a paid position, it can be just as effective to recruit and equip trustworthy, gifted volunteers to fill the gaps.

At Saddleback, we use the acronym SHAPE. By that we mean that as we recruit and place individuals on the team—whether paid or volunteer positions—we find out several things about them:

Once we know their SHAPE, we can help them find the best places to use all of those areas in ministry. We can delegate tasks to them with confidence. We can take our hands off the projects and allow workers freedom to accomplish goals themselves.

Time To Lead

One of the best reasons to delegate comes straight from any book on time management. We can’t try to be and do everything. We must accept our limitations. The quickest way to burn out is to try to be Superman.

Take that idea one step further. Our highest calling as pastors is our responsibility before God for the spiritual health and growth of our people. If we are wrapped up in who’s printing the bulletins and who’s staffing the nursery, we may be sidetracked from our primary calling. We need to keep ministry and administration in balance. Delegating helps us do just that.

I have found a few keys that help me delegate effectively:

Delegating is more than just passing off work; you need to understand what the task is about and what the person is good at, and then get them together. Delegating is about freeing and equipping people to be creative in the ways they accomplish the goal.

We have some great volunteer teams at Saddleback. I benefit from some of them on a regular basis. My chief of staff, David Chrzan, coordinates a number of volunteer teams, including a research team made up of gifted individuals who scour printed and electronic sources for examples and stories I can use in my sermons.

Another team creates executive summaries of books as a ministry. This book summary ministry is one that the team members suggested and created themselves. The man who heads that team is a retired advertising executive. He knows where he’s gifted. And he sought out a way to use that gifting to lighten his pastor’s load.

In delegating, leaders give up some control. But they gain far more in benefits from the limitless creativity and energy created by surrounding themselves with willing, gifted helpers.

A Leader’s Measure Of Success

In our ministry we have identified five purposes that God gives to the Church:

We can measure our success as pastors, as leaders, if all five of these are in balance. Balance in these critical measures indicates a healthy church. Imbalance, on the other hand, indicates a sick church.

I have said it before, but it bears repeating: no one leader can give his all to all five purposes. It is our responsibility as pastor/shepherd to discern our gift and then select gifted believers (laypeople or staff) to fill those other purposes.

You see, pastor as minister is really a misnomer. Every believer is a minister. Every believer is responsible to use his or her gifting, heart, abilities, personality and experiences to benefit God’s kingdom. It is the leader’s responsibility to identify that SHAPE and help fit it into a compatible ministry. That is when we are at our most successful as under-shepherds. That is when we are most closely following the servant-leader example of our Master.


Rick Warren, pastor, Saddleback Valley Community Church, Lake Forest, California.

 

 

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