Imagine a Fortune 500 company with no business plan, no strategy, and no organized outlook of what they will do in the next five years. One might wonder how they became a Fortune 500 company in the first place. Even worse, they would be ridiculed for their lack of leadership and management.
This same story plays out in hundreds (or even thousands) of churches across the world every year. In this spiritual realm, pastors often bemoan the struggle, never considering what the root cause may be. It can seem from the outside that most people called to lead God’s Church have been gifted with preaching, helping, compassion, and counseling. But perhaps they lack the more savvy skills of pastoral leadership.
We’re not here to ask people to question their pastor about one more thing, but one must consider what pastoral leadership should look like in the Church. Would God really call men and women to lead the Church if they had no leadership skills?* We believe that every pastor or ministry leader, no matter his unique mix of character traits and spiritual gifts, can be equipped with the tools in order to effectively lead God’s people.
What are some biblical principles to pastoral leadership? We thought of four habits you can start today that will have a direct (and quick) impact on how you can lead more strategically and impact this world for Christ.
You Are Not a One-Man Army
In Exodus 18 we read about Moses getting a visit from his father-in-law, Jethro. Not long into the visit, Jethro sees Moses serve as a judge for the people, revealing God’s instructions from morning until night. He gives it to Moses straight.
“What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” (Exodus 18:17-18)
Jethro went on to advise that other capable men could help carry this burden with Moses. Notice he did not suggest that people shouldn’t bring their problems to find solutions. People and their challenges will always be a given. But choosing to shoulder the burden with other people alleviated the daily burden from Moses. It also gave him the space and the mental energy to consider the difficult cases that were still brought to him. (v. 26)
There is an oft-quoted African proverb that many pastors would do well to heed. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” One of the many ways the Church can continue to separate itself from the world is by not attempting to keep up with the pace of society. Choosing to include others in the work of the Church will not produce speedy results, but it will produce disciples.
Involving people in pastoral leadership decisions gives them insight into the many needs the Church is called to meet. It also prevents people from treating spirituality as a spectator event. Great leaders show others how their involvement makes an impact. This will be a continual reminder of the role they have to play.
Delegation is Key
This second habit is closely related to the first. Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the king of Babylon when he heard about the destruction of the walls surrounding Jerusalem. Deeply bothered, but eventually tasked with repairing the wall, Nehemiah understood this task was too big for one man. He understood he would need to motivate the people still living in Jerusalem to see the need, and then meet the need.
So that’s exactly what he did. Using the resources that were provided to him, (see Nehemiah 2:7-9) Nehemiah then delegated the task to many priests, nobles, officials, and others. (Nehemiah 2:16) In fact, if you read chapter three of Nehemiah, there are thirty-two verses. Almost every verse names a new person, family, or group who repaired part of the wall, a section of the gates, including doors, bolts, and even roof repair.
We know from chapter five, verse sixteen, that Nehemiah himself was part of the repair work, but he made sure that those who had the skills to help repair did so. Because of the skilled labor, and the continued motivation and management from Nehemiah, this wall was built in fifty-two days.
Those who have been given the task of pastoral leadership in the Church will also find people with a variety of skills to come together and do the work. The Apostle Paul referenced this sort of teamwork when he wrote to the church in Ephesus. “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16) Great leaders remind each person that the body of Christ is stronger when they offer their skills to the work being accomplished.
Stay in Your Lane
The next pastoral leadership habit depends on leaders being able to limit their involvement. In the opening chapters of the book of Acts, we see a lot of excitement happening in and around the new Church. The Holy Spirit is coming upon people in powerful ways, the people are experiencing opposition and persecution, and yet we read of thousands coming to join the followers of Jesus.
It would be an easy, and yet fatal, trap for the twelve apostles to assume they needed to be a part of everything that was going on. After all, exciting things were happening in the Church, and people love to be a part of the excitement. Even hard work, like taking care of the poor, can be attractive when you experience the major impact it is having on a city.
But while God was moving mightily, there were still challenges rising up. In this case, we read in Acts 6 of different groups of Jews grumbling against one another, claiming that not all the widows were being treated fairly. The twelve apostles didn’t even appear to blink when presented with this challenge.
“It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:2-4)
In essence, the disciples were telling us they needed to stay in their lane. That’s exactly what they did, and the growth of the Church flourished because of this astute leadership decision. Pastors today do well to remember that they are only one part of the body of Christ, not meant to be the doer of all things. Great leaders understand their unique role within the organization.
Lead by Example
Though there are countless biblical principles that leaders should follow, we’ll sum them up as Paul did when writing Timothy about those who seek to be leaders. “Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.” (1 Timothy 3:1) He then proceeds to list all the characteristics and habits of a good leader. There are do’s and don’ts, of course, but there is nothing so outlandish that all Christian believers shouldn’t be doing the same.
Lead by example. This is practically the golden rule of leadership and management. In fact, we see it being lived out in the first three leadership habits shared above. Pastoral leadership is not something done in private that surprisingly leads to successful outcomes in the Church. These principles are something modeled for each one of us, passed down from generation to generation, seen as a necessity for church growth.
Great leaders know they are being watched and “will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1) Because of this, they work diligently to ensure they are leading well, using tried-and-true principles that have been modeled for them. Biblical principles of leadership and management were not written about as miracles from God but as the best way for God’s people to be a blessing to others.
Are you looking to further your education, knowing you could use some business skills that can be applied in a variety of settings? Check out the newest concentration from our Master of Arts in Ministry Studies program. The Leadership and Management concentration is designed for helping ministry leaders step up with business and leadership skills. It will also benefit business leaders looking to enhance their impact with their local church.
*Please note this is not a conversation about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Rather, we’re talking about the tools every leader can have access to to effectively lead the Church.