Leadership: The Work of Ordinary Human Beings

John ArmstrongLeadership

My edition of Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary says a leader is “a person that directs, commands or guides,” And leadership is defined as “the position or guidance of a leader, the ability to lead or the leaders of a group.” My Webster’s New World Thesaurus says synonyms for leader include words such as: guide, precede, steer, pilot, direct, show the way, shepherd. The last one is particularly apropos for pastors and church leaders. Leadership has less synonyms but the following were found: authority, control, administration, effectiveness, primacy, supremacy, skillfulness and capacity.

Several years ago a Barna Study revealed that when asked to choose from a list of their gifts 92% of our pastors did not pick “leader” as one of their gifts. This number astounds me. How anyone could be called to the ministry, to shepherd Christ’s flock, and not believe they were gifted to lead is beyond my wildest dreams of explanation. It reveals a crisis in the church. Most of our pastors do not feel called or qualified to lead.

To complicate matters I routinely examine seminary curricula and talk about this when I am with educators from seminaries. I am persuaded that leadership is not taught or understood on the vast majority of seminary campuses in America. We have courses on the subject but we are not training men and women to be gifted, God-called leaders. If this is true then is there any wonder why most churches fail when it comes to leadership? Pastors are given the role and many of those who can lead are relegated to the role of “laity,” a concept that is quite foreign to the “priesthood of all believers.”

peter-drucker1 Peter Drucker, an oft quoted writer on leadership and management, for the last four decades, once said, “No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”

So long as we turn pastors of large churches, with great public skills, into “the ideal leader model” we are doomed at the congregational level of mission in most local churches. The rise of megachurches is not the real problem here. The real problem is the tyranny of the “superman” role model exalted before the rest of us. When this happens the good work doesn’t get done and Christ is not truly exalted. Just listen to evangelical programs and read much of what we admire and my point is simply made. Superman is the key to having a great church if our story is believed and practiced.

This reminds me of the elderly African-American woman who used to sit right under the late E. V. Hill’s pulpit in Los Angeles. She would begin to talk to her pastor and say, “Get Him up! Get Him up! Preacher, get Him up!” whenever Hill got off the central message of the supremacy of Jesus. If I talked back like that woman I would have to say in many churches, “Preacher, get Him up!” And while you’re at it encourage the leadership ministry of all those “average human beings” you’ve been given by the Holy Spirit to serve as their pastor.