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«What is Pastoral Leadership? A Review of the Relevant Literature on Approaches and Understandings of Pastoral Leadership at the Beginning of the 21st ...»

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© 2005 by Roland G. Kuhl. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission of the author.

What is Pastoral Leadership?

A Review of the Relevant Literature on Approaches and Understandings of Pastoral Leadership at the Beginning of the 21st Century.

© 2005 by Roland G. Kuhl

INTRODUCTION

What is pastoral leadership? This is a poignant question because it is becoming apparent as we feel our way around the 21st century, pastors are in the midst of a crisis. As David Fisher remarks, ―Being a pastor today is more difficult than anytime in memory.‖1 Fisher notes that ―the personal and professional identity crisis is the symptom of a systemic ecclesiastical disease. There is no accepted theology of ministry in our time.‖2 He traces the root of this crisis back to Seward Hiltner‘s Preface to Pastoral Theology (1958) in which ―Hiltner proposed a psychological/sociological base as a unifying theory for ministry‖3 rather than a biblical/theological one. This focus of Hiltner‘s seemingly shaped the therapeutic understanding of the pastoral role in the 60s and 70s and opened up the door for a focus that brought the concept of leadership to the forefront of shaping the pastoral identity in the last two decades of the 20th century.

As a result in the past two decades, pastors seeking to participate in what has been considered to be effective pastoral leadership have involved themselves in almost an 1

David Fisher, The 21st Century Pastor: A Vision Based on the Ministry of Paul (Grand Rapids:

Zondervan, 1996), 1.

2 Ibid., 9.

1 obsessive fixation with leadership. There was a time when the topic of leadership in the life of the church focused on nurturing the different roles and responsibilities of members in various functions on committees and boards. However, over the past two or so decades, the topic of leadership has shifted from enabling membership in their various ―leadership‖ roles, to leadership being the primary responsibility of the effective, successful pastor.

Due to this narrowing focus, pastors have turned to whatever resource they might find to enable them to be more effective leaders in developing the church. As one pastor expressed, ―I read anything I can find on leadership, its that important.‖ Pastors have also turned to resources that are not limited to an ecclesial context, but have sought out leadership literature primarily from the corporate business world. The literature on leadership is voluminous4 replete with insights from ―well-known military commanders, presidents, martyrs, and prominent business executives‖5 presenting numerous understandings and approaches. J. Thomas Wren has commented that Leadership has become one of the hot topics in the popular consciousness.

Bookstores are filled with ‗how to‘ books on leadership, and colleges and corporations have discovered that the study of leadership is both popular and potentially quite useful. Ultimately, leadership remains an ambiguous, amorphous, and frequently misunderstood concept, and is often portrayed in a negative light.

Indeed, the well-respected commentator James MacGregor Burns once called leadership ―one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.‖6 3 Ibid., 10.

4 A quick perusal of the literature shows that until 1987 books on leadership remained under a publication rate of fifteen hundred volumes per year, however since then, publication has grown to over two thousand volumes per year, peaking at over two thousand five hundred volumes per year in 1997. Data drawn from the WorldCat database using the terms ―leadership, leader, leading‖ covering the years 1980 through 2003.

Accessed on August 2, 2004.

5

Charles C. Manz, The Leadership Wisdom of Jesus: Practical Lessons for Today. (San Francisco:

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1999), 6 6

J. Thomas Wren, The Leader’s Companion: Insights on Leadership Through the Ages (New York:

The Free Press, 1995), ix.

–  –  –

crisis of leadership crisis. Wren expresses that there is ―a widespread perception of a lack of leadership in our society.‖7 Yet, the plethora of books on leadership does not seem to be ameliorating this crisis. Even within the church, congregations have followed the lead of the culture and express a similar crisis in leadership. Pastors, in response, immerse themselves in learning leadership skills and strategies in order to become more effective leaders in directing the affairs of the church.

–  –  –

The struggle for leadership, rather than a struggle for discerning a theology to guide pastoral ministry, has become a key area of concern and focus in the area of Christian

ministry. George Barna relates:

Having spent much of the last decade researching organizational behavior and ministry impact, I am convinced that there are just a handful of keys to successful ministry. One of the indispensable characteristics of a ministry that transforms lives is leadership.





This may sound simplistic. Unfortunately, relatively few churches actually have a leader at the helm. In striving to understand why most churches in this country demonstrate little positive impact on people‘s lives, I have concluded that it is largely due to the lack of leadership.8 Numerous others would be in agreement with Barna on this dire need for leadership within the church. For example, Robert D. Dale has authored numerous ―how-to‖ books on leadership in keeping up with the growing demands and changing focus.9 In keeping current

–  –  –

order to be effective leaders and to do effective leading. He draws on Scripture to support perspectives on leadership that blend biblical, sociological, and managerial understandings and he is aware of how the changing culture impacts how leadership needs to be thought about and enacted. Yet, what has suffered in this undeterred emphasis on leadership is an orientation of what it means to be pastoral. Eugene Peterson, in Working the Angles: The

Shape of Pastoral Integrity, describes the kind of pastoral leaders we have become:

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper‘s concerns – how to keep the customer happy, how to lure customers away from the congregation down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shopkeeping;

religious shopkeeping, to be sure but shopkeeping all the same. The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs;

while asleep they dream of the kind of success that will get the attention of journalists.10 To make matters worse, Norman Shawchuck and Roger Heuser indicate that this crisis is further exacerbated by a growing distrust of church leaders by the membership.

―[L]eadership in religious organizations has fallen into greater distrust and skepticism‖ because people have become disappointed by the moral failings of their leaders.11 Henri Nouwen relates that such moral failings are largely connected with the temptation of power Leadership (Nashville: Abingdon, 1986); Leading Edge: Leadership Strategies from the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996); Leadership for a Changing Church: Charting the Shape of the River (Nashville:

Abingdon, 1998).

10 Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1987), 1.

11 Norman Shawchuck and Roger Heuser, Leading the Congregation: Caring for Yourself While Serving the People (Nashville: Abingdon, 1993), 18.

–  –  –

these pastors ―... do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships... [they] have opted for power and control instead.‖12 However, Alan E. Nelson states that though ―it appears that on the topic of leadership, we Christians have kept pace with those in business and secular fields‖13 there seems to be little hope of alleviating the stated leadership crisis within the church, whether it be due to lack of giftedness in leadership or due to moral failings. Our focus on leadership seems to be undeterred. Instead of questioning whether the ―leadership‖ metaphor is the best one for dealing with the pastoral crisis, we double our efforts in preparing clergy to be leaders in the pastorate. Gregg S. Morrison, project director for the Leadership Development for a New Millennium research project, articulates that ―the nature of pastoral leadership is surely a major issue for seminaries and divinity schools whose very reason for existence includes the equipping of ministers for the church of Jesus Christ.‖14 In this vain, Bob Cooley, president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary ―recognizing the need for stronger, biblical leaders in the local church...‖ initiated a Lilly Endowment funded study to examine leadership involving 62 evangelical seminaries.15 But in the midst of all this frenzied focus, there is growing doubt whether anything will really change. Recently, George Barna has expressed 12 Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1989), 79.

13 Alan E. Nelson, Leading Your Ministry (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 46. The ATLA Religion Database reveals that books and articles on leadership relating to the Christian context have grown immensely since 1986. Prior to 1986 published books on leadership remained under ten volumes per year, but after 1986, published books on leadership doubled and even have tripled the pre-1986 rate. Drawn from the ATLA Religion Database using the keywords, Aleadership, leaders, leading@ for the years between 1980 and 2003.

Accessed on August 2, 2004 14 Gregg S. Morrison, ―Being a Pastor Today,‖ Christianity Today, 5 February 2001, 88-90.

15 John Eric McDonald, ―Teaching Pastors to Lead,‖ Christianity Today, 5 February 2001, 80.

–  –  –

leadership necessary to have an impact upon the American culture. His ten year strategy to revitalize the church has failed and he blames it on the lack of pastoral leadership.

The strategy was flawed because it had an assumption. The assumption was that the people in leadership are actually leaders. [I thought] all I need to do is give them the right information and they can draw the right conclusions.... Most people who are in positions of leadership in local churches aren‘t leaders. They‘re great people, but they‘re not really leaders.16 And so, with all this focus on leadership, one has to wonder how this preoccupation has shaped an understanding of the pastoral role? Is leadership the primary role of the pastor, as Barna and so many others would have us believe? Is the term ―leader‖ to be synonymous with the term ―pastor‖? Does being an effective pastor mean that one has to deal primarily with leadership? If leadership is the primary facet of effective pastoring are the leadership models espoused through numerous publications conducive for effective pastoring? It seems that the term ―pastor‖ has been relegated to the function of an adjective to describe leadership, rather than being a term which describes the essence, the central focus, of what many have been called to in the life of the church. It is as if all leadership is cut from the same cloth and only the context in which it is exercised is different. But, if in fact leadership in the church is to be different than leadership elsewhere, then it is important for the church, at the beginning of the third millennium, to engage in discerning what it means for its leaders to be pastoral. The question needs to be raised whether this emphasis on leadership is the primary focus in being pastoral, or have we missed what Jesus Christ intended when he reinstated Peter and commanded him to ―Take care of my sheep‖ (John 21:16)?

16 Tim Stafford, AThe Third Coming of George Barna,@ Christianity Today, 5 August 2002, 34.

–  –  –

Insights by Henri Nouwen on the hecticness of the pastoral role in the 70s seems to shed some light on the ―knee-jerk‖ reaction of embracing a take-charge style of leadership.

Pastors bought into a ministry agenda that was overwhelming and was seemingly brought under control through a particular model of leadership that thrived in the business world.

Nouwen related:



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