Dysfunctional pastors

Preaching cartoonPastors everywhere are not doing their job. They’re not doing what they’re called to do and it’s hurting our churches. Not only is it restricting the growth and health of our churches, but it runs contrary to God’s word on the matter.

Pastors are doing the work of ministry. They’re preaching, teaching, visiting, caring, counselling, administrating. They’re running Bible studies, prayer meetings, committee meetings. They’re leading church, leading singing, leading prayers, leading worship. They’re following up newcomers, chasing up non-comers, greeting all-comers. They’re organising dinners, lunches, afternoon teas. They’re holding evangelistic courses, missions meetings, aid campaigns. They do the baptisms, the weddings, the funerals, and all the preparations. They’re in the office, typing up news sheets, photocopying bulletins, updating the website, organising the rosters, snowed under with emails.

Our pastors are doing the ministry. They’re busy with ministry. All kinds of ministry. Exhausted from ministry. Never ending ministry. And here’s the real problem…

God doesn’t call pastors to do the ministry.

A dysfunctional church is where the pastor does all the ministry. It’s not what a church should look like. It’s not what God intends for his church. Ministry is not ‘the pastor’s job’. And if it’s not the pastor’s job, then we’ve got to stop employing pastors to do it. We mustn’t hire pastors to do all the ministry. It doesn’t help pastors and it doesn’t help churches.

God’s design is so much better. Take a look at the picture that Paul paints in Ephesians 4:

11 And He (Jesus) personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ…  (Ephesians 4:11-12, my emphasis)

Here’s the job description, for the pastor and for the church. The original language suggests that pastors and teachers should probably be seen as one and the same in this list. What are they to do? Training, equipping, preparing, getting others ready. That’s their job. Not simply doing, but helping others to get doing. The pastor’s job description is to train the saints (the Christians in the church) in the work of ministry. The pastor is to be the trainer, the coach, the mentor. God calls the whole church to be involved in ministry, not simply the pastor. When the pastor does the ministry instead of the church, he breeds a dysfunctional, disobedient, and lazy church. He robs the people of their opportunity to be ministering to one another.

The stupidity of this scenario becomes clear when we transpose the situation to a rugby team. The coach’s job is to prepare the players to play the game. He must focus on training, equipping, coordinating others. If he decided that he wasn’t going to train others, then the team would lose. If he decided that he would play instead of the team… you can see the problem, and too many churches are just like this.

The picture of a healthy church is very different…

From Him (Jesus) the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.  (Ephesians 4:16, my emphasis)

Ministry is for every part of the body. We’re all called to play our part. We need each other. God’s design for a healthy church is that ministry is to be shared by all. It’s not the exclusive domain of the pastor.

How can we get this happening? One fundamental strategy is to get pastors actually doing their job. They need to spend time on what God wants them to be doing… training Christians for ministry to one another. I haven’t done the research, but I have enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is often the first thing that gets dropped off the pastor’s list of priorities (if it was ever there at all).

If you are a pastor, let me ask you how much time do you spend training, equipping, preparing, apprenticing, coaching, mentoring others in their ministries? Too often, the honest answer is very little or no time at all. This is so wrong. We need to audit our timetables, calendars, priorities. We’ve got to stop neglecting our responsibilities. We’ve got to stop robbing our churches. We’ve got to stop getting in the way of others doing ministry. What is it that you need to change? And how can you make it happen? If we’re not prepared to invest in training others for ministry, then we should do the honest thing and resign as pastors.

If you’re part of a church looking for a new pastor, be careful what you look for. Don’t hire someone who will do all the ministry in your church. Don’t hire someone who is really good at ministry, but who never spends any time mobilising others. Look for someone who will prepare others. That’s the KPI that really matters. Maybe you could help your existing pastor by offering to get more involved in ministry yourself or asking him to help you get equipped.

Let’s pray for healthy churches and godly pastors. God wants pastors who take seriously their responsibility to help the whole church in building one another. God is seeking churches where everyone is involved in ministry.

Building Leaders

Malphurs-Building-LeadersNow that my brief is building leaders, I figured that I should read a few new books in the area. Building Leaders, by Malphurs and Mancini, seemed on topic and came highly recommended. I must confess that I wasn’t looking forward to reading this book. I worry when people have written lots of books on the same topic that they’ll be stretching out material for the sake of more royalties. But I hadn’t actually read any of their books on leadership, so I shouldn’t have been too quick to judge. It took a while, but it was a helpful read. Much in the book was familiar, but it helped to have things organised and spelled out with detail and clarity. I’ve already begun putting into practice a number of its lessons.

The authors have identified a lack of churches committed to training leaders. Most would claim to be, but closer analysis shows that it isn’t really happening. It’s not that ministry isn’t happening, but that these ministries aren’t developing leaders who will continue and grow the ministry. People aren’t taking the time to train others to lead. Sometimes we don’t feel the effects of this until people move on and there’s no one to replace them or until the ministry becomes too big for the current leader to lead. When we compare the attitude of the military who make this an ongoing priority, or when we look at the model of a teaching hospital, we can see how much churches can take leadership development for granted. Unless we plan to grow leaders we won’t.

Malphurs and Mancini offer a definition of a Christian leader:

A servant who uses his or her credibility and capabilities to influence people in a particular context to pursue their God-given direction.  (p20)

They define leadership development as:

The intentional process of helping established and emerging leaders at every level of ministry to assess and develop their Christian character and to acquire, reinforce, and refine their ministry knowledge and skills.  (p23)

It’s important to recognise that this is intentional. We have a responsibility to make it happen, not simply to hope that it is. Notice also the emphasis on character, together with knowledge and skill. Christian character is essential for Christian ministry leaders, for this is what God is seeking (and producing) in his followers. You can’t follow what you don’t see in the leader, so all these things matter.

They also discuss the importance of empowering leaders to lead, describing empowerment as:

The intentional transfer of authority to an emerging leader within specified boundaries from an established leader who maintains responsibility for the ministry.  (40)

This contrasts with directing, abdicating and disabling. For leadership to develop it must be applied. You can’t simply learn to drive a car by reading a book or sitting in a classroom. People need to get into the driver’s seat and give it a go. Likewise leaders learn to lead by leading. Good tuition, support, ongoing guidance, feedback, and praise will all be helpful, but ultimately the emerging leader needs the opportunity to give it a go.

Malphurs and Mancini seek to ground their understanding of Christian leadership in the Bible. I don’t think this is the strength of their work. They are careful to avoid teaching that the model of Jesus or the apostles gives us principles of leadership to follow, but they highlight the practices they see for us to learn from. This boils down to a model of recruitment – selection – training – deployment. These chapters feel a bit like things are read into rather than out of the text, but they offer wise processes to follow nonetheless.

The book is divided into 4 parts and it’s the 3rd part, The Process for Developing Leaders, that takes us to the nuts and bolts for making it happen. The strength of these chapters are how things are broken down into identifiable strategies. I realised that we have implemented many of these ideas and suggestions, without always thinking through why or how things fit together.

It’s been particularly helpful reading this book in close proximity to The Trellis and the Vine. There’s much overlap between the two, with this book being a lot more prescriptive, descriptive and highly structured. One interesting point of comparison relates to what to we are seeking to develop in a Christian leader. The Trellis and the Vine highlights conviction, character, and competency, whereas Building Leaders identifies character, knowledge, skills and emotions. Or, to put it another way: being, knowing, doing and feeling. The extra emphasis on emotional intelligence is helpful, because it’s a good indicator of someone’s capacity for healthy relationships in an intensely people focused area (ie. ministry leadership).

Malphurs and Mancini identify four types of training:

      1. Learner-driven training
      2. Content-driven training
      3. Mentor-driven training
      4. Experience-driven training

This breakdown is very helpful in helping us to think about how we train and why. Some methods of training overlap or integrate the different approaches, and they each have different strengths and weakness.

Learner-driven training

The up-coming leaders effectively take responsibility for their own training. It focuses on what they can do on their own. Listening to talks, watching DVDs, interviewing other leaders, attending classes or seminars are among the possibilities on offer.

Content-driven training

This focuses on the transfer of knowledge. It often flows from a pre-determined curriculum and tends to be one-way communication where important content is delivered. This is often the ‘go to’ strategy because we want to make sure people have the right information before they are let loose. However, it is rarely sufficient to equip people to lead.

Mentor-driven training

The distinguishing feature of this training is the trainer. This approach combines relationship with information, and modelling with teaching. Such mentoring will normally involve a loop of instruction, modelling, observation and evaluation.

Experience-driven training

The emphasis here is hands on – actually doing ministry. It’s on the job training. Experience prevents us becoming theoreticians, knowing lots about leading without actually being able to do it.

Recognising these different approaches to training opens up new opportunities  and contexts in which to train prospective Christian leaders. Building Leaders identifies 16 different ‘venues’ – what I’d prefer to call ‘contexts’ – for training leaders, and it demonstrates some of the strengths and weaknesses of each. For example, a classroom is good for content-driven training, but weak on showing how things actually happen. Apprenticing is ideal for relationally-based training, but it’s harder to stick to a syllabus.

Some training will deliberately utilise a number of strategies and contexts together. For example, we are reshaping how we equip and support our growth group leaders and there are a number of aspects to the training. People will meet with a mentor at least once a term for a personal catch up and feedback. They will be part of a vision meeting with all the leaders once a term to prepare for the new program ahead. Leaders will be encouraged to find one or two core members of their group to apprentice as leaders for the coming year. These apprentices will be offered a small group leaders course later in the year which will impart important information on our expectations of leaders. By breaking down our thinking about training and what we are seeking to achieve, be can be far more effective in preparing our leaders.

There are some excellent, if not overwhelming, ideas in these chapters on developing leaders. If you are a leader of leaders, then I’d recommend you spend some time in this book. You could use it help you audit what you are doing in training, how you’re doing it, and why. This book could help you to add to your armoury of training strategies, to be more focused, and to rekindle your excitement for training. The authors urge us to build evaluation into our leadership development strategy. For me, this is the place to begin, but once we make changes and try new things we’ll need to keep on evaluating. Most churches had good strategies and programs once. We just forgot to evaluate them and many of them stopped working. Time to lift our game again.


I’ve just taken on the role of developing leadership within the church I serve as a pastor. It’s a wide role and open-ended. What type of leaders – do you mean pastors and ministry apprentices? Will it include members of the congregation? Is this about growth group leaders? What about children’s and youth leaders? Aren’t they someone else’s responsibility? Will this involve women as well as men? Shouldn’t each area of ministry be doing this anyway? Will you be creating new opportunities for leadership? And these are just some of my questions! I’m sure you can think of dozens of others. The role is really about making sure we’re recruiting, training, equipping, supporting, and multiplying our leaders across the church. The answer to every question above is ‘yes’!

It’s easy for us to be very monochrome when it comes to thinking about leadership. We might limit our focus to paid staff for example and say that they’re our leaders. We could think of the governing body of the church as the leaders. Or we might limit our thinking to all the people who have the title of ‘leader’, such as our growth group leaders, kingdom kids (Sunday School) leaders, youth leaders, service leaders, and so on. If we think role as well as title, then we have leaders (or at least we need leaders) in all kinds of places. Every ministry team needs a leader. The growth of a church requires a corresponding growth in the numbers and calibre of leaders. Leaders need to understand God’s agenda for church, the church’s vision for ministry, the needs of the people they lead, and the importance of continually replacing and reproducing themselves.

This may seem like common sense – and it is! But, as someone once said, good sense isn’t that common! It’s easy to assume that leadership will arise naturally, that people will automatically understand what’s expected of them, that they’ll step up to the plate, do a great job, and all will go well. In the real world, leadership needs to be taught and caught. It needs to be encouraged, supported, resourced, and held accountable. We have to develop pathways to move the right people into leadership, and equip them so that they’ll lead people in the right way.

The Scriptures are the foundation for understanding leadership. God made people. He knows us inside out. He knows how we tick psychologically and engage relationally. Jesus, Paul, Peter, Moses, Joshua, David, and others, show us and teach us God’s purposes for leading his people – why to lead them, where to lead them, how to lead them, who should lead them. My plan is to draw on the riches of God’s word to build and inspire leaders in our midst. And, more importantly, for each of our leaders and yet-to-be leaders to dig deeply into the Bible, to shape and equip their leadership.

large_einsteinAnd yet, I don’t subscribe to the view that says “If you can’t find it in the Bible then it’s not worth knowing.” The Book of Proverbs shows how much can be learned by astute observation of this world we live in. God has created sharp minds who have much to teach us in many areas including ‘leadership’. We can learn from great leaders throughout history. We will be warned to avoid the mistakes of the past and inspired to reproduce the wisdom that worked. Bookshops abound in leadership books and, while many aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, there are some real gems out there. Leadership happens in all areas of life and organisation and we can draw on our experiences in other contexts and the experiences of others in similar situations. All this must be firmly bracketed by the understanding that leadership in church should be fundamentally about leading people in their relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, in the strength of God’s Spirit. No Harvard Business Review best-seller will take you there.

olddogI’ve been in this leadership game for years and years, but I’ve still got so much to learn and apply. My hope is that this old dog can learn a few new ‘tricks’! My goal and prayer when it comes to leadership is to develop God-informed and worldly-wise, practical and principled, organisational and personal, uncommon and common sense.

I’m keen to grow in my ‘leadersense’.

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