By Dr. Ben Martin
Effective leadership is the current buzzword in pastoral ministry. It is hard to dispute the theory that the key to effective churches lies with effective pastoral leadership. The critical question, therefore, lies in what is necessary to create effective leaders for the Church. There are many pieces to the puzzle and it is easy to get focused on one piece at the expense of the others. I'll suggest three of the critical pieces that need continual attention by leaders themselves and those called to recruit, assess, deploy and support them.
The first piece is giftedness or natural ability. Some argue that leaders are born and others argue they are made; I would say it is a combination of both. But it begins with some measure of natural ability, intellectual ability, a personality or relational skills compatible with the job, an emotional stability equipped for the challenges of ministry and energy/passion to succeed. I know some fairly argue that “God qualifies the called” (i.e. the giving of Spiritual gifts), but it may equally be true that being “qualified” (as in natural ability) is a part of calling. Personal and institutional understanding of where a person’s giftedness lies and matching it to the situation is a critical for success (I Cor. 12:27-30).
The second piece of the puzzle is vital personal discipleship. We can’t expect to lead others into discipleship without having an ongoing personal practice of discipleship. We can’t give people what we don’t have (John 7:37-39) or understand from personal experience, nor can we be sustained in the challenges of ministry apart from that connection (John 15:4-5). Vocational ministry can easily take its toll on the leaders’ relationship to Christ by robbing us of the time, energy, and attention needed for practicing the spiritual disciplines necessary to keep ourselves spiritually connected, nourished and growing. Included in the discipleship area of leadership development is our connection to other leaders (“as iron sharpens iron”). The practice of fellowship and accountability is vital for isolation created in vocational ministry.
The third piece is educational (2 Timothy 2:15). Through theological education we are supposed to learn to think theologically, to study the Bible critically, to counsel carefully and to administrate effectively. However, seminary’s rapid overview of the multiple knowledge areas necessary for a “generalist” vocation like pastoral ministry is intended to only begin our educational journey in ministry. Effective leaders are lifelong learners and not just from the realm of “sacred study.” Theological education does not equip a leader with the management, organizational, evaluative or technological knowledge and skills necessary to organize for success (Wesley’s genius was organizational). For growth in those areas we need to look to the business world where many of the world’s most gifted, trained and effective leaders are enabling institutional success in changing environments (which really is the church’s challenge).
I lift up these three pieces of the leadership puzzle (there are others) to remind all of us who have found our way into leadership positions in vocational ministry that self-assessment and self-improvement are our responsibility if we are to be all we can for Christ and the Church. We can never be satisfied with what we know and how we are leading, for the accompanying complacency is tantamount to death.
Dr. Ben Martin is District Superintendent of the Statesboro District. He shares his thoughts on faith, leadership and following Christ at www.statesborodistrict.blogspot.com.