Are Pastors Called to Be Leaders?

By Bob Hiller

There seems to be an inordinate amount of literature on pastoral leadership these days. Some of it is good and helpful. I have personally benefited in wonderful ways from a leadership program I was involved with some time back. But other leadership material is not as useful. I worry that some may even be harmful. I’ve recently found myself thinking: Are pastors actually called to be leaders?

Now, we are fooling ourselves if we don’t think pastors have a leadership role in their respective congregations. Of course they do. They have been granted a particular kind of authority. In the Large Catechism, Luther even calls them spiritual fathers. On a practical level, they will be in charge of most the congregational happenings. Their voice will carry a tremendous amount of influence. So, pastors ought to know some group dynamics and basic leadership skills. It seems strange to deny that this is a reality for pastors.

The question isn’t so much if pastors are leaders in their congregations, but rather how they lead. Perhaps it could be said better this way: Where are they directing the congregation? To whom are they leading the people of God? To Christ and His cross, or to their own personal plans and visions? Further, what are congregations asking for? I’m afraid people aren’t so much looking for pastors anymore, but rather CEOs. Nor are pastors content being undershepards and servants of Christ Jesus, but they long to be visionaries and entrepreneurs.

Perhaps part of the problem is how we’ve begun to speak about the Church, no longer as an institution of Christ Jesus but as a movement. Movement is an interesting word. It implies that where one is needs to change. Every social demographic, it seems, has a movement. There are women’s movements, men’s movements, race movements, gender movements, and of course, religious movements. The Church, lamely parroting the culture, seems to think it should start movements as well. There are fundamentalist movements, liberal movements, confessional movements, liturgical movements, church-growth movements (insert joke about bowel movement). Taking it a step further, I fear the Church sees itself AS a movement. Something is wrong with where we are at, so we need to move, change, adjust, evolve (!). Movements demand leaders. In the Church, then, it only makes sense that we would call upon our pastors to lead these movements.

Upon his recent death, the question has been asked: Who will replace Billy Graham? In other words, who will become the figurehead of the “evangelical movement?” I remember over a decade ago a major magazine asked the same question, proclaiming T.D. Jakes (an anti-trinitarian, word-of-faith preacher) as the next Graham. That was not to be…glory be to God on high! I’ve heard other names over the years: Mark Driscoll, Bill Hybels, Joel Hess. All have fallen from grace over the past few years for one reason or another (well, except for Joel, despite his better efforts!). So, the search for a leader that evangelical Christianity can rally around continues.

But what if the question is out of line in the first place? After all, the Church is not a movement. The servants of Christ, as the authors New Testament called themselves, didn’t see themselves as initiators of movement. If anything, it was the opposite! They saw it as their job to draw people back to the firm, unmovable foundation of Christ’s Word! Jude, a servant of Christ Jesus (Jude 1), writes: Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). The trouble he found was in the fact that false teachers had infiltrated the churches, initiating movement away from Christ and the faith He instituted for the saints. Movements tend to leave behind that which is established and at times even attack it. But the Church has been instituted on the Word of Christ and is never to move beyond it. She is to rest in the promises, pass on those immovable promises to the world, and love as Christ has loved us.

Movements need leaders, but Christ gives His Church pastors. We don’t need a new Billy Graham. Paul rails against this sort of Corinthian thinking when he writes: This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1).

It is curious to me how often the authors of the New Testament don’t refer to themselves as leaders but as servants. Pastors, like the apostles, need not aspire to roles of leadership in the Church. They simply deliver the gifts Christ has for His people. And maybe that’s what we need reminding of. The Church is His people! His bride. She doesn’t belong to the pastor. She is Christ’s. The Lord Jesus is the leader, or better said, the head. And what a headship! After all, He came to serve, not to be served, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Jesus didn’t start a movement, for heaven’s sake! He died for your sake! And then, instead of instigating a movement, He instituted a people with whom you can gather to receive His forgiveness, life, and salvation. He sent you a pastor so you can be confident those gifts will be delivered. Pray for your pastor, that his grandiose ideas of leadership would die and that He would simply and joyfully serve Jesus to you and faithfully lead you away from himself to Christ’s altar.