Q&A on pastoral leadership

  • Timothy Raymond
  • 22 December 2016

Recently a friend interviewed me for a paper he was writing on the topic of leadership. The interview wasn’t specifically on Christian leadership, but since I’m a pastor the interview unavoidably went in the direction of pastoral and local church leadership. Here are the questions and my answers:

  1. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?

Mr Colin Marshall, author of The Trellis and the Vine. He first mentored me from afar through his books. Then in 2012 he became my personal ministry coach and carefully examined and critiqued my life and ministry. The most helpful facet of his mentoring is his ability and willingness to speak difficult words into my life with sincere love for me as a person.

  1. Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?

Mostly from creative people in my congregation. I encourage people to dream of ministry ideas, I welcome them, and, so long as they’re consistent with our philosophy of ministry, help bring them to realization. As the sole pastor of a 100-person church, you’ve got to unleash the congregation, otherwise you’ll burn out or get ingrown.

  1. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?

Those pertaining to time management. Should I use my day to study, visit shut-ins, work on a project, pray, etc.? Everybody has the same 168 hours a week; how you use those hours makes the difference between a sluggard and an effective, fruitful pastor.

  1. What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

A close experiential relationship with the Lord, cultivated through regular time in prayerful Bible meditation. Your walk with the Lord provides you with the motivation to do what you need to do even when it’s extremely difficult. It also functions as a compass to prevent you from going off-mission.

  1. What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?

Neglecting regular time in communion with the Lord. Most pastors assume they can minister in the flesh and their natural giftedness, so they either skip Bible reading and prayer entirely or make it an insignificant token routine on their daily schedule. People can generally tell when you’re ministering out of a vibrant relationship with the Lord and when you’re a plastic professional.

  1. What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail leaders’ careers?

Sexual sins of different varieties: pornography, adultery, fooling around with youth group girls, having some secret Facebook mistress, etc. In my experience, this generally happens only after pastors have first begun to neglect their time in communion with the Lord.

  1. How do you ensure your organization and its activities are aligned with your ‘core values’?

You’ve got to communicate your core values constantly, otherwise people forget what they are, don’t know what they are, and assume they’re different to what they are. We’ve posted these prominently on our website and people generally read these before they even visit our church. Every January I devote a few sermons to teaching and clarifying our core values and then describing how they’re fleshed out in our particular context. I also take time to reiterate them regularly throughout the year in sermons, meetings, Bible studies, etc. Do this over and over and over again—not only will people not suggest ideas inconsistent with your core values, but they’ll conceive of good ideas that are consistent with your values that you hadn’t thought of.

  1. What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?

Here are four specifics on pastoral leadership:

  • Brothers, We Are Not Professionals! by John Piper—Reminds pastors of what they are: not therapists, CEOs, comedians, or politicians, but spokesmen and representatives of Almighty God.
  • The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne—Helps you develop a clear, biblical, and practical ministry philosophy.
  • Pastoral Ministry edited by John MacArthur—Addresses about every conceivable aspect of pastoral ministry, from doing funerals to building a library to counseling.
  • The Prodigal God by Tim Keller—Not specifically on leadership but vital for pastors. It’s essentially about how to remain steadfast on the fundamentals of the Christian faith without becoming an argumentative jerk. One of the most influential books I’ve ever read.
  1. What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

Other than, as I’ve said, prioritizing your walk with the Lord, nail down a very clear and thorough philosophy of ministry. So many pastors don’t seem to know what they should be doing. This results in wasted time, worthless projects, and meandering meetings. Figure out exactly what you should be doing in your particular role (maybe even write your own job description) and you’ll save yourself tons of stress and confusion.

  1. What are the most lacking traits among the leaders today?

Personal holiness. So many pastors are well-educated, eloquent, charismatic, and gifted, but they don’t really know and walk with the Lord throughout the day. This leads pastors into sin (see question six!), miserable marriages, neglected kids, superficial ministry, going through the motions, guys quitting the ministry, etc. Listen to this relevant sermon: ‘The almost inevitable ruin of every minister… and how to avoid it’.