Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Great Leaders, Great Churches: A Discussion about Leadership Competency in the Church

On October 2, our Association will host our annual session with the theme "Great Leaders. . .Great Churches." The next day, we will host two Pastor's Forums in two different locations in our area to continue the conversation.

Thus far, the response has been roughly twice what we usually receive at this time, and I think I know why.

Instictively, pastors and the people they lead are aware of the crucial importance of skilled leadership. Though they tend to lag behind the curve, even colleges and seminaries are now acknowledging the need to address this issue from an academic standpoint. For the past 10 years, programs have been developed to better prepare aspiring church leaders for the seas they will have to navigate once they leave the academy and accompanying study of the church as it should be, and enter into service in the church as it actually is. The Editor of Preaching magazine said only a year ago that "there is a desparate need for more training in leadership."

Those who study the church have long recognized this. George Barna noted six years ago that "our ongoing research continued to show that churches do not act strategically because of a paucity of leadership."

Yet still the question remains, "What is a competent leader?" The need for such has been widely acknowleged, but a Biblically sound, clear and succinct description of what it looks like is scarce, if it exists at all.

The lack of clarity on this issue leaves many pastors wondering if they are truly effective, if they are spending their time in the wisest way, if they are accomplishing anything of eternal value. It also leaves many churches without a clear way to evaluate their pastor's service. For some churches, this means there is no accountability for their pastor. Other churches make up their own rules, and usually end up crucifying a guy.

If pastors were simply C.E.O.s of a business, the "bottom line" would be a sufficient marker of success, and of course in the church, the "bottom line" consists of attendance, baptisms, and giving. Church leaders are correct to point out that while these are incredibly important markers (those numbers, after all, represent the souls of people Jesus died to save), they are not the only ones that should be used to judge the competency of a ministry leader. The Scriptures bear out in many contexts that faithfulness sometimes means less numbers instead of more.

On the other hand, I have over almost 20 years of vocational ministry seen the occassional pastor who did not want accountability at all. "We aren't about numbers" is sometimes simply a cover to hide a Hyper-Calvinist aversion to evangelism, or laziness, or outright incompetence. These men take personal advantage of the church's nebulous approach to how competency is judged. I've also seen churches use the ambiguity on this issue in order to pick virtually anything they can find to criticize, demean, and even destroy a faithful pastor.

On October 2-3, we will begin a conversation that I hope at least for our context, will provide our pastors and churches with the tools to evaluate their leadership. Until that time, I will be posting leading questions here for discussion, as well as taking suggested questions back to our panel of pastors who will lead us on October 2.

In my next post, I'll be introducing that panel to you. These are all men who are faithful and effective pastors within our Association, and I'll be giving a brief profile of each of them so you can see for yourself the kind of men who will be fielding these questions. After this, I'll spend a few weeks discussing some of the subject matter we hope to cover in October. If you are in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area you are welcome to join us, and you can find details and sign up online here.

But no matter where you are, this is a critical issue for all churches, and I hope you will join in the forthcoming discussion.

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