I begin by stating what I hope is obvious to my regular readers. I was trained to be a pastor, planted a church I served for four years and pastored another for sixteen. I owe everything I now do in mission to my pastoral experience and training. On most days I loved being a pastor and I often miss it. I have had numerous opportunities to return to the pastoral ministry and served for eight months as an interim pastor in 2004. Many of my best friends are pastors.

Now, I have formed many impressions about churches and pastors from my wide range of experience over forty years of service to the church. I have witnessed major changes. I believe we are in a time in which major changes are taking place and very few pastors understand this or have the important skills to navigate this change well. This is not an indictment, it is an observation. I am committed to doing something about this which is why our mission statement is: “Equipping leaders for unity in Christ’s mission.”

Working with Tom Burns for the last four months has helped me focus on the leadership part of our mission more than ever. Tom is a leader and understands leadership. When we began working together Tom would routinely mention that only 8% of the pastors in America see themselves as leaders. I was so astounded by this figure that at first it did not sink in at all. After hearing it form him over and over (what is that saying about hearing something seven times) it sank in at the end of 2010. If this is remotely true we are in deep trouble.

51mPkIFT69L._SL500_AA300_ The source for this statement is Experiencing LeaderShift: Letting Go of Leadership Heresies, by Don Cousins. Don cites The Barna Group, "The Year's Most Intriguing Findings, From Barna Research Studies," December 17, 2001,  http://Barna.org/, where this number arose out of their research.

Don writes, " . . . only 8 percent of America's pastors see themselves as having the spiritual gift of leadership." (19)  And he adds, " . . . If 92 percent of America's pastors don't possess the gift of leadership, yet occupy positions of leadership in their churches, then they must be mis-slotted.  Maybe the Holy Spirit didn't make a distribution error, but many of His servants must have made an application error. . . . They're confused about what leadership looks like on a day-to-day basis.  'What should I be doing?  What is my role?  What priorities should I be focusing on?…

[These questions] come not only from pastors but also from team members who serve under their influence.  'How can we help our pastor become a better leader?'"

Tom adds: “This introduction has opened many doors for me in coaching pastors over the past three years.”  I believe, with Tom, that there is a tremendous opportunity for ACT 3 to walk through these doors by equipping and coaching true leadership. If we are to “equip leaders” then it starts with understanding what leadership is and how those who are leaders can actually be coached to become excellent leaders.

Before many pastors will desire help in this area they must become disturbed by the roles they have been assigned, namely managers of a system we call a church. When a man or woman is called by God to serve the church in ordained ministry of the Word and sacrament then they have been called to lead people. If the church is a “spider” organization where the pastor is the “head” and everything depends on him/her then the church will never thrive as God intended. This takes us right back to Ephesians 4. The pastor is to “equip” the people, not manage the organization. I find many pastors want out of the church so they can lead. We need nothing less than a full-scale reformation in our understanding of the laity and of leadership if there is to be a change. I will be writing a new series of articles on “A Theology of the Laity” for the ACT 3 Weekly series in 2011. If you are not a subscriber sign up and you will get these each Monday. 

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  1. John Rowland January 11, 2011 at 5:44 am

    Great topic, John. I look forward to “Theology of the Laity”. In fairness, if the role of pastor is derived from the role of the father in a household, he is both leader and manager, but not one without the other.

  2. Craig Hardinger January 11, 2011 at 9:46 am

    I agree. Great topic John. I can perhaps see why Pastors don’t see themselves as leaders due to our contemporary definition of what a leader is and what a leader does. Would it be a better question, though not as cool, to ask, “Do pastors see themselves as Elders in a 1 Timothy 3 kind of way. Our culture’s version of what a leader is matches more of a John Maxwell model and in that vein I would say along with the other 92% that “no” I don’t see myself as a leader either. But I’m OK with that because I aspire to an elder model not a 21st century version of what a leader is. And before the culture police blast me for being “not with it” – there has never been a culture where the kind of humble servant-like leader described by Jesus and Paul played well. And besides…the SF Giants still rule.

  3. larry January 12, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Gerald Hiestand’s essay in First Things (http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2011/01/the-pastor-as-wider-theologian-or-whatrsquos-wrong-with-theology-today) seems to me to be (only in part) a reaction against the idea that pastors should be “leaders” in that John Maxwell sense – what pastors can do that laity do not do is be the theological voice; the right laity can certainly lead as well as or better than pastors. This is an important topic – looking forward to more of what you have to say.

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