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Church leadership---I: leadership versus lordship

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Archives / 1992 / May



Church leadership---I: leadership versus lordship

W. Floyd Bresee

Floyd Bresee, Ph.D., is a former secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association, and continues to pastor and preach in Oregon, where he and his wife, Ellen, live in retirement.


Pastors may be many things, but there is one thing they must be: spiritual leaders.

Research indicates that growing churches usually have strong pastoral leadership. This does not mean dominating or manipulative leadership. We must not confuse leadership with lordship.

The Jesus model indicates that, whereas worldly rulers are over those they lead, Christian leaders are to be among those they lead. "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great .exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to be come great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matt. 20:25-28).

Leaders as servants

Christian leadership is servant leader ship. The Gospels speak of servant leadership at least seven times. When tempted to use their leadership role to exercise power over their people, ministers need to remind themselves of how contrary this is to the teachings of Christ.

Servanthood, of course, is not servitude. Servitude is demeaning because it is a status forced on you by others, depriving you of the freedom of choice. Servanthood, on the other hand, is a voluntary action. It is choosing to be of service to others.

Personality and leadership style Personality and leadership are so intimately related that we seldom adopt a leadership style different from our personality. To the best of your ability, however, you need to adapt your leader ship style to the church or churches you lead. When your present leadership seems much less effective than your leadership in a previous congregation, you need to ask yourself if it is because your present church requires a different leadership style. Servant leadership demands the flexibility to adapt your leadership to meet the needs of differing congregations.

We could hardly imagine a stronger leader than Paul. He understood this principle of servant leadership: "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews;... to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I may be partaker of it with you" (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Servant leadership demands adaptation and flexibility.

A church board made up of educated, professional people who are used to weighing big issues and making important decisions may not allow the pastor a dominant role in decision making. A board made up of people who work for others and are accustomed to obeying orders may accept a very different style of pastoral leadership.

We sometimes say there are four types of leadership style: telling, selling, consulting, and participating. The telling or selling style may work fairly well with the second group above. The consulting and participating style is much preferred and will work with both groups.

Management principles

Here are four management principles well adapted to pastoral leadership:

1. Visualize. Arriving in a new church or church district, you need to ask a lot of questions. Where has the church been? Where is it now in terms of mission, programs, facilities, and finances? Where does the church want to be a year from now? Five years from now? Visualize what is and what ought to be.

2. Organize. How can the church get from where it is to where it wants to be? What programs are needed? What personnel are available? There's little value in making plans unless the church has the personnel with the skills and interest to carry them out. How can these programs be most effectively organized?

3. Deputize. One reason pastors don't delegate more responsibility is that it requires that they also delegate authority. This they are reluctant to do. Servant leadership does not feel threatened about sharing authority.

4. Supervise. Give assistance at crucial times. If someone is failing, find a way to help him or her succeed. Reward performance. "Let us have real warm affection for one another as between brothers, and a willingness to let the other man have the credit" (Rom. 12:10, Phillips).

In summary, leadership must be based on the Christian concept of Servanthood. Management mechanics are important, but leadership style is not nearly as important as leadership spirit. How you lead attitudinally is far more important than how you lead mechanically.

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Unless otherwise stated, all Bible passages in this article are from the New King James Version.

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