“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”
2 Timothy 4:5
The job of being a pastor is not just theological and spiritual. While preaching and teaching the Word of God and ministering to people spiritually is their primary function, they are also called upon to lead people, oversee many ministries, manage church resources, develop plans & budgets, manage church finances, plan & conduct worship services, arrange weddings & funerals, plan ministry events, develop training materials, provide counseling, manage church properties, and the list goes on. One research study estimated that a pastor generally spends 54% of their time on activities other than preparing for preaching & worship or teaching (Pulpit & Pew, Research on Pastoral Leadership, “What Do Clergy Do All Week?” Becky McMillan, 2002).
Because churches are organizations with people and other resources, they must be led and managed well to be effective and to grow. So it is important that pastors have some level of knowledge about leadership and management in order to do so. John Maxwell, in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (Thomas Nelson, 1998), says that “a person’s impact is only a fraction of what it could be with good leadership.” Sadly, a common reason people have for leaving a church is not theological or spiritual, but rather due to personal conflict, perceived poor leadership, or management disagreements. Consequently, the success of a church depends a great deal upon the leadership and management ability of its pastor.
The following 8 key fundamentals below come from our Management for Church Leaders™ training and will provide pastors with some basic Biblical leadership and management principles. When combined with their theological training it can help them avoid many common problems and conflicts in a church that inhibit growth.
Fundamental #1: Use Your Influence, Not Your Authority
The first thing a pastor should understand is that there is a difference between leadership and authority. They are not the same. Many pastors assume that just because they have the title of Senior Pastor or Pastor that their title alone makes them a leader. It does not. Their title simply gives them authority or responsibility to do certain things or make decisions within the guidelines for the pastor within their church. To be a leader a pastor must be able to motivate those within the church to follow their direction and support their decisions.
Leadership is about influence. John Maxwell also said in his book, the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, that “leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” Leadership is not a position and it is not a title. Leadership is about the ability to influence others to follow you where you are taking them. Just because your title as pastor infers that you are the leader of the church does not mean that you truly are. Leadership is measured by influence. Whoever has influence in the church is the true leader of the church. Pastors need to develop their influence by building up trust and respect among the church members.
Authority, on the other hand, is about power. According to the dictionary, authority is “the power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior.” Notice the words power and command. Authority is the ability to enforce your decisions by use of your power or control. A pastor gets their authority by virtue of their position, and hence their power is given to them by their denomination or the local church body (via a call or election). It is usually earned from something they did in the past that qualified them for their position, such as graduating from a Bible College or Seminary, having been ordained, or having pastored other churches.
So, as a pastor, when you are making a decision or a change affecting your church, you have a choice of whether to use your influence or your authority. It is often quicker and easier for you to use your authority because you don’t have to take the time to convince your church members why you are making the change. But it is always better for you to lead with your influence because when you use your influence, people want to follow you. They come along gladly because they trust you and respect you and know that you have their best interest at heart.
When you use your authority, however, people are forced to follow you, whether they agree with you or not. This has two important implications for you with regard to those who disagree with you. First, you could lose people from your church, leaving you with fewer members to carry out the ministry. Second, and often worse, is that they stay in your church and create opposition. When this happens church members will work at odds with you and try to thwart your efforts. This is particularly dangerous as it can divide the church and cause conflict that paralyzes the ministry.
Consequently, using your influence instead of authority to lead people will always be better for you and your ministry.
Fundamental #2: Follow Biblical Principles
Churches are not businesses and pastors are not CEOs. Trying to run a church based on secular business practices will not work because the goals of a business are primarily financial and their practices are designed to maximize profit. However, there are some business practices that are Biblical and would therefore have application for churches. So before making any decision regarding the administrative side of the church, pastors should always ask “is this Biblical?”, and then proceed accordingly. If pastors follow cultural norms, secular processes, or their own beliefs instead of Biblical principles, they will undoubtedly experience a less effective ministry because it is not in line with God’s Word.
Similarly, when Pastors teach they must be careful not to tell their members “what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3) but rather to teach them what the Bible says whether or not it makes sense or is clearly understandable. When pastors rely on their own opinion, intuition, talent, or experience, they often end up in places that not only cause them problems but likely dishonor God as well. Pastors may possess tremendous leadership ability, but if it is not based on the Word of God, then they are likely leading the church in the wrong direction.
The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness”. That means pastors can rely on the truth of the Bible to lead and manage their church as well as to teach others what God wants them to know. Jesus came and showed us how to apply that Word in our lives and in our relationships with others. He then left us the Holy Spirit to guide us where God wants us to go. Following God’s Word is how pastors are called to lead a church.
Fundamental #3: Be Discerning
There is a famous song recorded by Kenny Rodgers in 1978 entitled “The Gambler.” It was a song about the game of poker and for the gambler to know when to take a card, when to keep what they have, and when to give up when they have little chance of winning. In other words: discernment. The lyrics of the chorus say, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. ‘Cause you never count your money, when you’re sittin’ at the table, there’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealings done.”
When we think about spiritual discernment, there is a strong parallel to these lyrics. Pastors must know when to ask for help, know when not to abandon their principles, and know when to submit to the wisdom or ideas of others. Discernment also involves the big picture and focusing on the end result. Just as a gambler doesn’t count their money until the game is over, pastors must not quit prematurely. Jesus has already won the victory! It is important for pastors to look at a given situation or decision they have to make and discern its importance, its potential impact, and how their church members might react. This is called situational leadership. And it requires spiritual discernment.
Discernment is what often allows pastors to be effective and successful in their ministry. And discernment takes patience, prayer, wisdom and compassion. The wise pastor knows to turn to God for these things and that “apart from God he can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Fundamental #4: Develop People for Ministry
The most abundant resource a church has is its people. Therefore, the greatest resource that you have as a pastor is your church members. You cannot always do all the ministry work yourself and you will need others to come alongside you to share the burden of leadership and ministry. Jesus knew this and is the reason he spent so much time with his disciples, teaching and training them for the work they would do in building the church after he ascended to Heaven. The same is true for the church today. It was not designed for you, the pastor, to do all the ministry of the church yourself. You were called to train and encourage others to engage in, and take responsibility for, some aspect of the ministry of the church, whether it’s teaching, praying, evangelizing, or serving the community at large.
So the Lord provides you with people to help you achieve the vision and goals that God has given to you and the church. Here are 3 things for you to keep in mind when you develop people within your church:
- Make disciples first and foremost.
The primary role of every pastor is to focus on discipleship of their church members and attendees. This is the sole purpose of the church and its #1 priority. The command Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew 28:19 before he ascended to heaven was that they should “go and make disciples of all nations.” You should teach and preach the Word in all that you do. It is not just about you assigning tasks or responsibilities to others, but it is also imparting the Word to them through that development.
- Train and equip others for ministry.
A pastor’s job is not just to oversee the ministries of the church, but to involve everyone in its work. Therefore, you will need to encourage ministry participation by others and try to involve your church members in ministries that can best utilize their giftedness. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” And 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Everyone in the church has gifts they were given to help do the work of the church. Only by utilizing all of the gifts that are present in the church can you be effective in achieving the mission and vision that the Lord has given to the church. It is therefore important that you use some form of a spiritual gift assessment to determine the spiritual gifts of your church members. By giving this test to church members you can determine the gifts given to individual church members and direct them into areas of ministry that use those gifts.
- Recruit and develop other leaders.
It takes a leader to raise up other leaders. Every great leader has been mentored by another leader, whether it’s a parent, boss, pastor or someone else. It is therefore important for pastors to develop the next generation of leaders in order to sustain and grow their church. The more leaders there are, the greater the chance for success there will be! So, you should always spend most of your time with other leaders of the church so that they can be equipped to take on more responsibility in the ministry of the church. This will enable the church to grow as the burden is shared among more leaders. If you are the only leader, then the church will only progress as far as your capabilities. John Maxwell refers to this as the “Law of the Lid,” meaning that you will become the limit on how far your church can grow when your abilities and time are exhausted.
Fundamental #5: Have a Compelling Vision
Vision is about foresight, looking ahead and seeing the possibilities of what could be or where God may be leading you. A vision can be defined as a statement about the future, an imagining of something specific that does not exist today. A pastor needs a clear vision of the future in order to guide and lead the church. Without a vision a church has no direction, and the people “cast off restraint” (Proverbs 29:18), which means to simply go their own way or do what they think is best. A vision provides focus for the church and will enable the pastor to keep church members moving together in one direction towards their ultimate goal.
A vision also quantifies the goal and objectives of the church. It defines what the church’s ultimate objective is and what specifically it is trying to accomplish. Consequently, the vision has to be measurable in some way. Because if you cannot measure it then how will you ever know if you’ve reached your goal? Many churches falter or stagnate because they do not have a measurable vision of where they are going. A pastor with a measurable vision is one who has received that vision from the Lord and understands where God wants him to lead his church.
The primary reason a vision must be measurable is so that you take the necessary steps and plans to see it come to fruition. It must drive your actions and behavior and become the main focus of the church. Without a clear and measurable vision it becomes too easy to drift off course, chase after less meaningful goals, and use valuable resources ineffectively. And the consequence from this is that you end up not achieving the vision for the church.
Fundamental #6: Think Strategically and Plan Accordingly
It is not enough to simply have a vision of where you are going. A pastor must also have a strategic plan on how to get there. The vision provides the goal a pastor is trying to reach and the plan provides the means and strategy on how to get there. Without a good strategic plan pastors will likely not achieve the vision that God has placed before them. A simple way of saying this is that pastors need to manage God’s resources for God’s vision.
So what exactly is strategic planning? Strategic planning is the process of setting goals, organizing activities and deploying resources to achieve a vision. A Strategic Plan tells you what resources you are going to use, when you are going to use them, and how you are going to apply them, in order to accomplish the vision God has given to you. All of your available resources are provided by God (James 1:17) and His desire is that you invest and manage them wisely in order to grow His Kingdom. A strategic plan helps the pastor and the church to do just that.
Your objective, then, is to plan the work and then work the plan. Some plans will be long and detailed, while other plans may only need to be short and summarized. A strategic plan is meant to be flexible so it can adjust to current trends and changes in the environment in which it was made, so that as the situation changes the plan can be modified to take those changes into account. Failure to do so will result in completing plans that are no longer viable or fail to achieve their objective.
There are two more points that are worthy of mentioning. First, a good plan helps you make better decisions. When you have a plan and something changes or a new opportunity arises, you can more easily assess the impact of the change based upon the existing plan. Second, a good plan avoids wasting God’s resources. Having a plan gives you the ability to put God’s resources to the best and most effective use possible at any given point in time.
The strategic plan is not for God’s benefit, but for the church’s benefit. It is a tool that will help pastors and churches stay focused on the vision that God has given to them and enable them to manage their resources wisely and effectively.
Fundamental #7: Optimize Your Resources
Besides people, Churches and pastors have several other resources that God has given them to help grow the church. These resources include time, money, and information. The key to managing these other resources effectively is to optimize them. In other words, to use them in such a way as to maximize what they can produce for the Kingdom.
The Bible says that we cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). So it is clear that we can only have one Master, and that is God. It also means that money, or the love of it (1 Timothy 6:10), is what often draws us away from God and into sin. And often money can represent other things that we worship or covet instead of God. So how you act with regard to money is a key indicator of how you worship, obey and honor God.
The key to optimizing money is to see it as God’s first and foremost. When we see money as ours we begin to worship it or treat it differently than what God intends. When viewed from His perspective it allows us to think more clearly about how God would have us manage and invest His money. It puts the focus on God and not us. God tells us this truth in Luke 3:13-14 when He says, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to. Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely-be content with your pay.” He is saying to be content with what He has given us to use for His purposes. He also tells us to invest it to produce a return (Matthew 25:14-30).When we treat money as our own, our sinful nature will expose our hearts and lead us to covet what money can give to us, rather than what it can produce for God.
Time is one resource that can never be bought or refilled. Once time is gone, it is gone forever. Therefore, we must be very careful as to how we spend our time and what we use it for.
Time is always a matter of priorities. If we ask someone to do something for us, or do something with us, a common response is often, “I don’t have time for that.” But that is not really true. They do have the time. What they are really saying to us is that they have something more important they need or want to do with their time. It may be getting rest, spending time with their family, working on a major project at work, or something else. Whatever it is, it is what they believe is the most important thing they can do with their time at that moment.
Optimizing time is about managing priorities – the importance and urgency of what you need to do. The problem with time management arises when we attach too little or too much importance or urgency to an activity. When that occurs we end up spending time on one thing when we should have spent our time on another. It is always a matter of our own choices. So in order to make better choices, pastors need to thoroughly think through the importance, urgency, and impact of each activity so that they use their time effectively.
The Bible says in Proverbs 10:14 that “Wise men store up knowledge.” One of the most overlooked resources of the church is information. This may be information on church members, or information about its ministries, activities or available resources. There is a wealth of information available to help pastors do the ministry they are called to and it is important to know where that information is or how to access it. Some information must be collected and stored by the church, especially information on its members and their activities or giftedness, etc. Other needed information is often available on the internet, at a library, or at a bookstore.
Many churches assume they know where information is or how they can access it only to discover that it is not being collected or stored or it is more difficult and time-consuming to find. In order to optimize information, you need to access it in a timely fashion. That means you must have it readily available or know where it is to get it. A computer comes in very handy for doing this, but you don’t need a computer to store or access information. You can use other methods that can be just as effective, such as paper files or individuals.
For you as a pastor, information, or knowledge, gives you an advantage in decision making and use of your resources. The Bible says in Proverbs 16:13 that “Every prudent man acts out of knowledge.” Additionally it says in Proverbs 24:5 that “a wise man has great power; and a man of knowledge increases strength.” So there is wisdom and power in information and God is encouraging you to pursue it.
Fundamental #8: Focus on Accomplishment
Setting goals and working towards them is what enables successful people to achieve their goals. Lou Holtz did not all of a sudden become the head football coach at Notre Dame in 1986. After an early setback in his coaching career he made that one of his goals. So he kept working and progressing as a football coach for 20 years before being hired for that position. He kept his vision in focus and kept working at it daily until his goal was reached.
So as a pastor you must maintain your focus on achieving the goals and producing the results that God desires. You know that Satan wants to distract you (1 Peter 5:8) and so you should always keep the vision in mind and keep pressing forward. To do that, you must measure success by the results that you produce. You know that God is the one who produces the fruit (1 Corinthians 3:7), but it is through you and the church that the fruit is produced. You cannot be effective for God, or the church, if you are drawn away or distracted from your goals.
To make sure you are progressing towards your ultimate goal you must also track your results. This enables you to channel resources into areas of greatest success, because that is obviously the place where God is at work in the ministry. And you should abandon non-fruitful ministries for the same reason – that God may not be at work in those areas. Spending time in unproductive areas of ministry generally waste resources and do not produce tangible results or move your church towards its ultimate goal.
There is an anonymous saying that says, “Those who know, and yet do not do, do not yet know.” In other words, we all learn to a great extent by doing what we have learned. The 8 fundamentals for church leadership and management contained in this article are primarily Biblical principles and tools. They must be applied and practiced in order to be learned effectively. We call them fundamentals because they are basic and foundational to understanding leadership and management as they relate to a church. And it is my belief that when these fundamentals are practiced, pastors will experience less conflict, more ministry participation, church growth, and greater effectiveness in their ministries.
“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” – Philippians 4:9
*For a free copy of our Management for Church Leaders™ Training Book, please click here!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barry Voss is the President and co-founder of FaithLife Ministries. FaithLife Ministries is a ministry dedicated to training and equipping pastors and church leaders around the world. Barry has been training pastors and church leaders in the mission field since 1996 and was the developer of the Management for Church Leaders™ training manual in 2001. He has trained more than 12,500 church leaders in over 40 nations. Please visit their website at www.faithlifeministries.net for more information. He is a member of Christ the Shepherd Lutheran Church in Alpharetta, GA and serves as an elder, a guitarist & worship leader, and as an adult ministry teacher. He and his wife Kim live in Cumming, GA and have two adult children and four grandchildren.