Preaching as leadership

Dynamic essentials of pastoral leadership

Philip Follett is a general vice president, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.

To pastor is to preach, to counsel, to nurture the flock, to acquire new sheep, to rescue the lost, and to care for the young. To pastor is also to lead.

As a beginning pastor I anticipated that my greatest work would be done in the pulpit. I was convinced that what I would say in my sermons would leave lasting legacies to all who listened.

I believe some of my sermons have resulted in life-transforming experiences, as the Holy Spirit has used human words to minister His life-changing grace. But I have concluded that my greatest contribution as a pastor has resulted from the way I led God's people. Pastors are leaders.

What I say in the pulpit must be reinforced by how I live with my family and in interrelationships with church members. The legacy I leave in a church probably consists more in the direction I point the members, the vision I share with them, and the way I empower them to do God's work than any other contribution I make. Sermons are one instrument I use in accomplishing this, but the process is called leadership.

What lies at the core of leadership? There are probably hundreds of definitions of what leadership is. Here are a few that I like:

  • To influence people to move.
  • To challenge people to achieve a goal, then help them accomplish that goal.
  • To link together a vision with people, resources, and motivation, resulting in achievements that are valuable to all of those who are involved.
  • To help people to reach new heights they would not achieve on their own, while building them in the process.
  • To capture the highest values and noblest aspirations of people, then support them in achieving results that improve themselves, their leader, and their society.
  • To let God use you in developing other people who, together with you, fulfill God's plan and advance His kingdom.

Let's see how pastors practice the art of leadership.

Leaders create a shared vision. One of the core essentials of leaders is to create a shared vision of a better future for their group. A pastor who creates, shares, and brings to reality a vision of a full church on Sabbath mornings, a new sanctuary or Sabbath school wing, new congregations in two or three neighboring towns, and/or a school filled with happy, eager "growing-up Adventists" is demonstrating powerful leadership. Leaders often think in concrete picture language, as Jesus did. They may not be able to challenge their congregations to land on the moon, as John R Kennedy did the American people, but they clearly challenge them to bold new achievements that advance the kingdom of God. Wise leaders don't "push" their ideas on unwilling followers; they talk their dreams, preach about them, and thoughtfully listen to other people's dreams, skillfully integrating key elements of other people's visions within their own. Soon the congregation says, "I don't recall which ideas the pastor first thought of and which were ours, but now they all belong to us."

Leaders build other people; great leaders build other leaders. This principle of great leadership was powerfully demonstrated by Jesus' example. He chose common people from common walks of life, but under His influence they became extraordinary leaders. Pastors measure their success in a congregation not so much in what they talked the people into doing, but by how the members grew in spiritual maturity and leader ship ability during their time together. Wise pastors learn how to delegate (not abdicate) both responsibility and authority, then train, encourage, affirm, and give new challenges to help their members to grow.

Leaders communicate their vision through every means available. Preaching supports the pastor's leadership. But pulpit proclamations must be reinforced by the pastor's life example, by informal conversations, by budget priorities, and by creative communication techniques. One pastor enlisted the church school children to draw pictures to illustrate how they saw the future of their church. When the pictures were posted on the bulletin board, on the walls of the narthex, and in the hallways, parents, grand parents, and children gathered to discuss and admire those visual expressions of the church's future. Some pastors use banners and posters to reinforce what they see as important in worship and in the church's life. Great leaders give attention to communicating their vision, not just at one business meeting a year, but through every avenue possible.

Leaders focus their energies and their church's resources to accomplish the vision. In one church social activities were very important to the members. There were a lot of parties and social gatherings in homes as well as by church organizations. The pastor wisely decided to utilize this "social energy" for soul winning. He challenged members to invite newcomers to Sabbath lunch and use the opportunity to encourage the guests to return. He organized a special night each week when church members and their friends came to the church for supper (dressed just as they came from work), shared a short worship service, then divided into many self-help groups. Computer skills, auto mechanics, handcrafts, and cooking classes were held along with Bible classes and doctrinal studies. Baptisms resulted from all of these activities. This pastor decided that rather than scold the members for being sociable, he would channel that social energy toward achieving the church's mission.

Leaders keep growing throughout their lives and help others to grow. Effective leaders know that they can never stop learning. So they read, ask questions, study colleagues and competitors, and never lose their curiosity. Curiosity and creativity are first cousins. You really can't have one without the other. I recall hearing Francis D. Nichol (longtime editor of the Adventist Review) speak about his taking a walk in a strange city, seeing workers digging a trench, asking what they were doing, and learning about splicing telephone cables. He was past the age when many men retire, but he still had the curiosity of a schoolboy. He never stopped learning. Professional people are never satisfied with their present performance; they spend their lifetimes trying to improve and are always eager to learn. Pastors must be students of the Scriptures, of their churches, of their members, of their community, and of all of life. Never be afraid to admit that you don't know something; just ask to be taught. Other people will ad mire you for your honesty, and they will feel good about being able to share new information with you.

Since pastors are leaders, and leaders love to learn, pastors are lifelong students of leadership. My first study of leadership was in watching other leaders. Leadership, like parenting, is usually learned by watching those who lead us. Early in my ministry I started reading books on leadership. When R. R. Bietz and Del Holbrook started the Christian Leadership Seminar series, I was sitting on the edge of my chair, eager to learn. I attended other leadership seminars and began to teach some of what I had learned. I discovered that teaching was an other form of learning, for I was required to learn more and practice better the principles I wanted to teach.

I have been fortunate in having worked with a number of outstanding leaders in the Adventist Church. Let me mention only a few. R. R. Bietz was my first conference president. Cree Sandefur was my second conference president, as well as my first and third union president when I became a conference president. Charles Bradford taught me many lessons of leadership when he served as NAD president and I was a union conference president.

Now it is my turn to pass on to others what I have been taught by good leaders. For four years I served as director of leadership development for the General Conference. Even though I now have many other assignments, I still accept invitations occasionally to teach leadership classes. I do this because I need the stimulation to keep alive myself. And I need to keep reminding myself of the principles of leadership that are rooted in Scripture and demonstrated in church life around the world.

The General Conference Ministerial Department has asked me to prepare a study course that teaches the principles I have been sharing in classes around the world. Within the next few months, this course will be introduced in the pages of Ministry. I am praying that the written course will continue to bless a new generation of daring and faithful leaders in God's church.

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Philip Follett is a general vice president, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.

November 1997

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