Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Challenge of Pastoral Leadership: The Program-Sized Church

We all know pastors who are wonderful friends, good in pastoral care, and effective preachers, but they are not good team leaders.  Maybe you are one.  These individuals find themselves in a church of 150 to 350 in attendance and find that “they are not in Kansas anymore.”  They are now in a church that has so much going on that they cannot keep up with it all.  What has worked for them before does not work now. What has changed?

When a church passes the 150 mark in Sunday worship attendance, programs and ministries have multiplied.  The pastor can no longer be the coordinator of everything but must depend on others to take the lead in specific areas. This requires a different leadership style.

Some consultants refer to this as the program-sized church.  I would welcome another title because I believe that this term fails to describe all that a church this size does.  Such a church is not just running programs, it is developing people, growing disciples, and reaching out in community ministries in ways that a smaller church cannot.  Perhaps a better term is “distributed leadership” or “team-led” with the pastor as the one who points everyone in one direction.

The pastor in this type of congregation must not only be a caring preacher but an effective preacher, calling worshippers to a deeper level of commitment and involvement.  Members of this congregation want a pastor who is a master teacher, providing insights and guidance that they have not found elsewhere.  In conducting pastoral care of members, the pastor is much more dependent on trained and equipped lay leaders to help shoulder the responsibility of checking on shut-ins, visiting the hospital, going to nursing homes or assisted living facilities, and helping those with special needs.  Such tasks may be carried out by the deacons, Sunday school or small group leaders, or another group of responsible volunteers as well as other ministry staff.

When a pastor either moves to such a church or the church he or she is serving grows into this stage, there are certain challenges.  First, the pastor has become a team leader who supervises, coaches, and encourages either paid or volunteer staff to carry out the work of the church.  The level of expertise required to do the work of this church takes more time and concentration that the pastor can provide, so the pastor is now dependent on others to lead. Very often the persons on the ministry staff are area specialists with abilities and skills developed over years of ministry. Sometimes they are new to ministry and seek a mentor or coach in the pastor to help them make the transition.  This is often the point where the pastor exclaims, “I never learned this is seminary” and is probably right. Unless the pastor has experience as an associate in a congregation like this or has a good background as a manager in the secular world, he or she has probably not acquired the skills necessary to lead effectively.

The second challenge is to align various segments of the congregation around a common mission and vision.  Just as the staff is more diverse, the congregants tend to be as well.  Very often, both staff and members are motivated to move forward, but they are going in different directions!  Whether the vision of the church is that of the pastor or one birthed through a congregational discernment process, the pastor becomes the point person responsible for aligning everyone toward achieving that vision.  The pastor must use all of the resources at his or her disposal—the pulpit, administration of staff, leadership of committees and teams, personal persuasion—to accomplish this.

Quite honestly, some have the skills to do this (or can develop them); others do not.  The pastor must not only be aware of his or her own personality and communication style, social and emotional intelligence, and spiritual gifts, but his or her deeply imbedded strengths.  If a pastor has not gone through a personal career assessment or developed a relationship with a trained life coach, this is the time to do both.  Doing so will save the pastor a lot of frustration, disappointment and despair.

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