Pastoral ministry: management or spiritual leadership

How should a pastor show leadership?

Stanley E. Patterson, Ph.D., is vice president of pastoral ministries, Georgia-Cumberland Conference, Calhoun, Georgia.

The search for effective spiritual I leaders extends back to the earliest record of God's people. The effort, I of course, continues today now in a world dominated by organizations governed through complex management structures, which are often imposed upon the church by well-meaning people. This imposition prompts a reapplication, to the church, of the vexing challenge presented by Harvard Business School professor John Kotter, who asserted that most secular corporations are "over-managed and under-led."1

How do we know when the church is being led as opposed to being managed? What is the difference between the two? And which one must a truly Spirit-led pastor be?

Management and leadership

The critical difference between leadership and management, even in the secular milieu, is found in the quality of relationships within a given organization. Management relies upon control to achieve compliance, while leader ship relies upon interdependent relationships that lead to heartfelt commitment. Both have a similar focus and objective, but they drive to that destination upon different tracks. To lead, especially from a spiritual base, the pastor must avoid depending upon the control structures that are available to and customary in most management settings.

The biblical concept of stewardship is broadly equivalent to management. Both stewardship and management involve conferred responsibility and the authority to control human or material resources. As such, the steward is afforded appropriate management structures that allow for the necessary control of that for which he or she is responsible.

Eliezer, Abraham's steward, had the management responsibility of his master's household and was entrusted with weighty decisions, as illustrated in his search for Isaac's bride (Genesis 24). His management authority was limited only by Abraham and the boundaries that encompassed Abraham's "house."

Similarly, we find the New Testament steward, or oikonemos (Luke 16:2, 3; 1 Cor. 4:1, 2; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10), to be a manager, nemo; of the oikos (house); one who dispenses or manages his master's house. "The word is used to describe the function of delegated responsibility, as in the parables of the labourers, and the unjust steward."2

Management assumes a transactional relationship that allows those being managed to exchange their time and skills for financial or other rewards.

Managers are vested with coercive authority aimed at efficiently guiding the operations of the organization. This relationship of exchange is contractual in nature and is generally limited to prescribed hours and formal job descriptions.

Russ Moxley notes in his book Leadership and Spirit that such a relationship, governed by rules and policies, seeks conformity and may or may not involve the commitment of those being managed.3

Leadership may or may not happen in the context of a managed environment; it can just as easily occur in the context of free association. Leadership is not dependent upon coercive structures, and is only seen to be so by virtue of what management has commonly come to be known for.

The relational model of leadership (as distinguished from the coercive model) involves people freely associated in a common endeavor. Furthermore, such relationships are nontransactional; that is, there is no giving to get in such a leadership process. Instead, there is a leveraging of the commitment of the group or community to provide the incentive for involvement.

Thus, a manager who chooses to lead rather than manage must rise above the organizational structures that force conformity; he or she must, instead, establish relationships with the participants based upon respect, trust, and empowerment.

What about the pastor?

What about the pastor? Is he or she meant to be a leader or a manager? Are there control structures available to the pastor that allow for management? Is the pastor vested with personal authority that permits managerial behavior intended to produce conformity to a set of rules, policies, or standards? Are those he intends to motivate bound to any transactional contract that allows control over their behavior?

No! The church member is associated with the church by choice. There is no management relationship there. The exception is the pastor assigned the responsibility of managing personnel in a multi-staff church, but even in this setting the management does not extend beyond the staff.

The pastor is not afforded personal power over the members. He or she may choose to extend his or her influence toward a given end or objective, but the church body actually holds the decisive power and thus the authority.

In attempts to influence the body, a pastor must respect those being served. The pastor is not a manager; he possesses no mandate for control over those being served.

The pastor is, by default, part of a leadership process, but his success as a leader depends upon building healthy relationships. To ignore this reality and assume control without the necessary authority results in frustration and detachment from the process. The relationships critical to good pastoral leadership cannot thrive in the context of coercion devoid of the rewards and punishments of a normal, legitimately recognized management arrangement.

The desire of professional clergy to manage by means of personal power has contributed negatively to the history of the church. Doctrinal positions such as purgatory and an eternally burning hell gave great power to the medieval clergy over a generally ignorant church membership. These and similar fear-based teachings provided the coercive structures desired by a management-based church. The history of the church illustrates the consistent tendency to shift toward control-based methods of ecclesiastical management, the kind that marginalize the individual member who is a vital building block in the living church spoken of by Peter.

Spiritual nature of pastoral leadership

Leadership in the context of the church is spirit-based. It differs from the corporate model. Intentional care must be exercised to maintain the differentiation between the two. The corporate model, even the kinder and gentler kind, remains embedded in a managed environment.

The church (not to be confused with denominational employment structure) operates outside the parameters of corporate structure. It was born of the Holy Spirit and exists in large part as a means of influencing the human spirit.

Jesus calls His followers to a transformational relationship that asks them to forsake all. The process of transforming the disciples into a community of leaders was predicated by their simple willingness to follow and learn. Jesus nurtured their human spirit through a bonded relationship with Himself. They willingly followed, experienced transformation,and then were empowered by the Spirit to lead in the context of a likewise gifted and called body. Jesus led, not managed, His disciples. Even more so, He taught them to be leaders, as opposed to managers. Peter's willingness to take up the sword (Matt. 26:51), John's account of the disciples forbidding the one who cast out demons in Jesus' name (Mark 9:38), and the act of rebuking the children who tried to approach Jesus (Luke 18:16) suggest coercive control as natural for the disciples. In each of these instances, Jesus strongly encouraged a different course.

The transformation of their hearts was necessary if they were to abandon the ruler mentality and adopt a community-based leadership role.

Spiritual leadership is profoundly dependent on who a leader is as opposed to what a leader does. The key word is "character." A trans formed character is necessary for effective spiritual leadership. While a management relationship can treat character as a variable as long as conformity and productivity are achieved, spiritual leadership cannot happen without Christ-like character.

In the absence of transformed character, the default behavior is command and control. That might work in a corporation but not in your local church.

The Holy Spirit provides every member of the body with that which is necessary to participate in the leadership process of the church. Though our common leadership model emphasizes one person or at most a few people in charge, the spiritual model emphasizes leadership as a function of the Spirit-filled community with each member transformed and gifted to contribute to the leadership process.

The positional leader (denominational officer, pastor, etc.) is an important part of the leadership process but only part of a greater whole. The management model is so ingrained in our concepts of leadership that it is difficult to divorce our thinking from the individual leader or ruler and accept the incredibly inclusive New Testament concept of leadership.

Leadership in general requires the merging of two basic elements: (1) a committed relationship with one or more persons and (2) competencies necessary to the accomplishment of the mission. Spiritual leadership is marked by the following: (1) commit ted relationships governed by the fruit of the Spirit, and (2) competencies imparted by the Holy Spirit that equip the church for effective service.

Fruit of the Spirit as a mark of spiritual leadership

Leadership requires a modification of the truism "It's not what you know, but who you know." Instead, it's what you know (competency), and who you know (relationships). These are the ingredients for true spiritual leadership, and of course, the Holy Spirit addresses both.

The spiritual transformation of the Christian character is evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22, 23). These character or behavioral qualities are then combined with Spirit-chosen gifts or competencies, which provide the means by which the transformed person contributes to the mission of the church and the wholeness of the functioning body.

The fruit of the Spirit become a standard by which all Christian leadership behavior is measured. Spiritual leaders, whose vocation is practiced in a management context, are man dated by God's Word to manage in a manner consistent with these characteristics, even when administering discipline. There is never a situation that allows the spiritual leader to lay aside the expectation to serve according to the behavioral standards depicted as the fruit of the Spirit.

Unlike the gifts of the Spirit, which are distributed among the members of the body without intending to provide all the gifts to any one person, the fruit of the Spirit as a whole are a standard for all who participate in the leadership process. The relational health of the body is maintained by consistent demonstration of these qualities.

All the fruits are relational in nature and flow from the transformed heart. This principle is concisely codified in the words of Jesus: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (NKJV).

Loving behavior, as demonstrated through the fruit of the Spirit, is not an option for the spiritual leader. It is an expectation. Circumstances do not allow the behaviors identified in the fruit of the Spirit to be set aside, even temporarily. Loving behavior, even under the most trying circumstances, marks the transformed character of the spiritual leader.

The pastor as spiritual leader The pastor is called to spiritual leadership on the same basis as are the members: (1) a transformed character that demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit and (2) specific leadership gifts that allow for effective contribution to the growth and success of the church. Both aspects find their source in the gracious service of the Holy Spirit.

Because "self" is forsaken in the transformation process, the focus of the pastor is others-centered rather than self-centered. The character of his ministry to the church mirrors that modeled by Jesus in His relation ship to the disciples.

As a model of spiritual leadership, Jesus patiently and consistently demonstrated a life that nurtured and molded His followers into a community of spiritual leaders. His service was never ego-driven; rather, it demonstrated a passionate love for each one in His care.

Jesus calls pastors to the same servant-leadership role. The pastor facilitates both aspects of spiritual leadership with the members by supporting the process of character transformation that leads to consistent demonstrations of the fruit of the Spirit and the discovery and implementation of the gifts that the Spirit confers upon each member.

By this ministry the pastor encourages the ongoing transformation and preparation of the church in the inclusive process of communal spiritual leadership.

In summary, spiritual leadership is about participating in a process of change with those called to the service of the Master. It's about contributing to that process in a manner that draws people into the community of faith and assists in their assimilation into the body. It's about intentionally enabling others to take up the mantle of spiritual leadership and join in the reproduction process of building God's kingdom. It's about becoming a "paraclete" in partnership with the Spirit, who is building a global community of spiritual leaders not managers.

How important that we know the difference!

1 J. Thomas Wren, ed., The Leader's Companion (New York: The Free Press, 1990), 114.

2 D. R. W. Wood and I. H. Marshall, New Bible Dictionary (3rd ed.) (Downers Grove, 111.: InterVarsity Press, 1996).

3 Russ S. Moxley, Leadership and Spirit (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000), 51, 85, 100.



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Stanley E. Patterson, Ph.D., is vice president of pastoral ministries, Georgia-Cumberland Conference, Calhoun, Georgia.

July/August 2005

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