In his book What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Marshall Goldsmith points out that certain skills may enable a person to reach a specific level of responsibility, but those same skills will not necessarily carry that person to the next level of leadership; in fact, those skills may get in the way. This came to mind as I reflected recently on the situation that many pastors find themselves in. Some senior pastors are in “over their heads.” A certain skill set has carried them to places of senior leadership, but they often find themselves stymied as they attempt to lead at that level of responsibility.
Most pastors in Baptist life start in smaller congregations and move to larger ones. As they move from church to church, the number of parishioners increases, the staff becomes more numerous, the facilities become larger, and the budget grows. The minister who was called to increasingly larger churches due to good pulpit skills and the ability to get along with the people in the pew suddenly (it seems) finds himself or herself with major administrative and leadership responsibilities that require a different set of skills than those that got the pastor there.
There are exceptions, of course. Some ministers have the opportunity to serve in a staff position as an associate pastor, minister of Christian education, or minister to students and gain experience working in a larger church, but this is not always seen as the kind of experience needed to pastor a church. These folks are often passed over by a pastor search committee because they have not been THE pastor of a church.
The pastor of a good-sized church (you can define the size) needs skills that were not taught in seminary and he or she has probably not acquired in smaller congregations. A key example is staff team leadership and supervision. It is one thing to supervise part-time staff—ministerial, administrative, or custodial. It is quite another to work with trained, experienced people who may be senior to the pastor in tenure.
Another ability that many pastors have not acquired is casting a vision. Although “the vision thing” is often the subject of satire among ministers, a church suffers is the pastor is not able to align the staff and people and move them toward a goal that they all can embrace or at least accept!
Developing and maintaining momentum is another skill that pastors need and often have not acquired. Once a vision has been identified, the pastor becomes the “cheer leader” or “drover” much like Moses leading the “mixed multitude” through the wilderness—from here to there.
Where can a pastor acquire these and other necessary skills? Fortunately, theological institutions have become aware of this need and are beginning to provide leadership development resources for present students, alumni, and other interested ministers. Other organizations provide peer group, training, coaching, and mentoring opportunities. Of course, these resources only help if a pastor takes advantage of them! An old Chinese saying is, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” If you are ready, the teachers are available. Take advantage of them.