Pragmatic Church Leadership
by Paul Hazelden


Introduction

I don't believe you can sustain a healthy church without a healthy leadership. There are a lot of books about leadership: how to be a great leader, how to be a church leader, and all the rest. They contain a lot of very important material. But in all the detail, it is easy to miss some simple and obvious points.

Church leaders need to be spiritually healthy. They need to be listening to God, guided by the Spirit, resisting sin, and all the rest. But it is possible for church leaders to be Godly, Spirit-led people, and still be very poor leaders because they neglect some of the more pragmatic aspects of leadership.

I would like to mention just three: there may well be others. (Suggestions, anyone?)

  1. The leaders must be known
  2. The leaders must do something
  3. The leaders must articulate a common purpose

1.   The leaders must be known

In some churches, of course, this is not a problem. You can't avoid the fact that this person is our leader.

But in many churches, there is at least a formal recognition of the Biblical principle of shared leadership. The paid Pastor shares the burden of leadership with the elected Eldership. The names vary - the Pastor could be the Minister, Vicar, Rector, Priest-in-Charge, etc., and the Eldership could be the Deacons, the Church Council, or some other name, but the jobs are essentially the same.

The Pastor probably has his name (it is usually 'his') up on the notice board outside the church building, and also on the duplicated notice sheet each week. The senior Elder (or Church Secretary, ...) may also get a mention. But it is comparatively rare for a visitor to the church to have any way of telling who is on the leadership. It is a detail you get to know, perhaps, by asking around if you are interested. Often, it is only at the AGM that people are actually told who the leaders are, and thereafter you are expected to remember it.

And this is when the system works comparatively well. In some of the newer churches, everything is supposed to work on the basis of relationships, and even at the AGM you may not find out who the leaders are.

In extreme cases, not even people who have been church members for years can agree on who is leading the church. Believe me - it happens. One of my sons once did a survey and asked quite a few people (well established members, all of them) this question. There were very few agreements in the answers, no two people gave the same answers, and nobody was identified by everyone.

People need to know who is leading the church because they need the assurance that these people are taking responsibility for what happens. They need to know who they can go to with their ideas and suggestions (it does not always have to be the Pastor). They ought to know who they should be praying for!

2.   The leaders must do something

This sounds obvious, but it is surprising how often this appears not to be the case. The leaders must not only act, but be seen to act.

Often it is the case that the Pastor is seen to act, but nobody knows what the Elders do, apart from having lots of meetings. But I have also known situations where the perception within the church was that the Pastor was not doing anything. Or, at least, not doing anything like the people expected.

I should mention here that, in most churches, leading services and preaching are not seen as tasks that take a lot of preparation. And, to be honest, many Pastors do not give a great deal of time to either of those activities.

The leaders must be seen to do something more than simply turn up to the services and maybe take part in them. They need to be seen to be doing something that is understood by the members as leading.

(Also, in passing... I have spoken with numerous church leaders about preaching, and have repeatedly been surprised by the gap between their perception of the role of their sermons in the life of the church and the perception of ordinary church members. Preachers often see the sermon as a vital means by which they exercise their pastoral and/or leadership ministry; members generally can't remember anything about the sermon the moment it has finished.)

The leadership must be seen to act (not all the time, and not necessarily as fast as some people want!) and if they don't act, the people will become frustrated and discouraged. It is much more important that the leadership does something (is seen to be trying to live up to its responsibilities) than that it gets everything right. You can forgive a leadership that tries and makes mistakes, but it is almost impossible for people to forgive a leadership that seems to be doing nothing.

3.   The leaders must articulate a common purpose

Every church needs to be able to answer a simple question: why do we come together as a congregation? Or, rather, the people in the church need to be able to answer it. And the answer will need to come from the leadership.

In some churches, the answer is very simple. "We are the only church in this village" sounds like a perfect reason as far as it goes. But where there are several churches in the area, some other reason must be found.

For a church that is strongly denominational, this is is often a sufficient reason. "We are the Anglican / Methodist / Baptist / ... church in our area." If you believe that there is something special, unique and distinctive about your denomination - and can articulate what it is! - this is a valid reason why you meet together.

Other churches find the denominational approach difficult - either because they are independent, part of a group with no strong identity (very few United Reformed Churches make a big thing about being a part of the URC or of carrying on its tradition) - or they just don't believe that being part of their group is sufficient reason on its own to justify meeting.

The question is not: why do we (as individuals) bother going to a local church, but why do we (as a church) feel it is worth all the effort of keeping another congregation going? Why don't we close down and strengthen one or more of the other churches in the area?

"We provide something different from the other churches in the area" is not a good enough reason. Exactly what is different? Why is it important enough to justify supporting another congregation? Why should people choose to worship here rather than elsewhere? What is our unique contribution to the Kingdom of God in this area? Unless people know - and believe! - the answers to these questions, it will be hard to motivate them in a godly way for the work of building the Kingdom through that congregation.

There must be a reason why each church chooses to continue to meet, and one of the most important functions of a church leadership is to understand that reason and articulate it simply, clearly and repeatedly. It is hard for a church to grow and flourish if it is not clear about its identity.

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