Pastoral Leadership Re-redefined

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
1 Timothy 5.17 (NASB)

The term “leadership” makes me nervous. It makes me nervous because in today’s climate I’m not a very good leader. I don’t motivate many people toward innovative ideas. I don’t plan events well. I don’t provide many “aha” moments that transform lives. I don’t attract too many folks seeking help. I don’t know all the orgasmic buzz words that seem to excite folks. I wouldn’t last one week on The Apprentice!

The term “pastoral leadership” makes me doubly nervous. It makes me doubly nervous because I do none of the above things within the context of the local church.

“Leadership” is a thorny issue in the NT. Jesus had the Pharisees. Paul had the Judaizers. Likewise, “leadership” had its own parasitic threat: human pride. Talk of leadership was often followed by “but” to stave off pride’s imminent assault on those who loved talking about it (see Mt 18.1-4; 23.1-12; Mk 9.33-37; Lk 9.46-48; 22.24-27; 1 Pt 5.1-4).

This is not to demonize the word “leadership” or those who adopt it. I wholeheartedly affirm its importance and prominence in any organization. However, I have significant reservations about the influence its garnered in pastoral ministry and among pastors.

I discount “Google stats,” but I thought a quick survey might help the cause. A search (as of writing) for “leadership conference church” revealed 700,000 related sites. A search for “pastors conference church” revealed 229,000 related sites. And I’m sure the advertising for leadership conferences was directed mainly at pastors. The larger church culture has (unwittingly?) shifted its emphasis from the pasture to the boardroom. Now the church no longer needs pastors, but leaders. Not shepherds, but executives.

I don’t think this is merely a matter of semantics. Some might say that “leaders” are simply the new “pastors.” It’s a distinction without a difference in the name of cultural relevance. But any drift from biblical language is a slippery slope. For instance, “life partner” is the new “spouse.” “Issues” is the new “sin.” Redefining biblical words leads to redefining biblical categories. Redefining biblical categories leads to redefining the biblical community.

There is something qualitatively different about pastoring than leadership. And we do well to redefine the redefinition of the office.

Enter 1 Timothy 5.17, where Paul instructed Timothy on those who “rule well” (kathos proestotes). (I leave the discussion between any difference between “ruling elders” and “teaching elders” for a smarter blogger. I’m baptist in polity, however, so you do the math.)

Paul used “rule” (proistimi) in 1 Tim 3.4-5, where it’s translated “manage.” He used the same word in 1 Thess 5.12, where it’s translated “have charge” or “lead” (so CSB). We might say the phrase “rule well” sounds much like what we’d call “good leadership” (so CSB, NET).

How did Paul define “good leadership”? Those who exponentially increase Sunday School attendance? Those who baptize increasingly more people? Those who expand the acreage and square footage? Those who improve gross receipts for the stakeholders? Those who grow the bottom line?

Paul said “double honor” should be reserved for those who “work hard at preaching and teaching.” By “work hard” (kopiao) Paul meant laboring and toiling (for example, see 1 Cor 4.12. Phil 2.16; Col 1.29). See also 1 Tim 4.16, where Paul summarized Timothy’s ministry in terms of personal holiness and commitment to the apostolic teaching.

In I appreciate the KJV’s translation of “teaching” (didaskalia) as “doctrine.” This better clarifies the pastor’s “teaching” ministry as more than psychologized biblicism, which talks about issues and therapy rather than sin and repentance. The pastor’s teaching is doctrinal exposition, explaining why Christ’s cross and resurrection is the only answer for human despair.

In other words, the pastor clocks in every morning at the Word of God and he doesn’t clock out until he’s worked hard in it. He may moderate the most efficient meeting. He may run the sharpest administration. But, he’s not worthy of double honor unless he’s strapped himself to the plow and cultivated fallow ground to sow hallowed seed.

I’m tempted to work hard at everything else than preaching/teaching because they promise quicker results. But I don’t need another reason to be pragmatic. Therefore, I don’t need another leadership conference about how Wal-Mart can help my church attract more customers. I need the Holy Spirit to convict and convince me again that the foolishness of preaching is really what attracts saints to Christ (1 Cor 2-3).

In the church, becoming a better leader means becoming a better preacher. Developing leadership “skills” means developing better exegetical skills. Calloused knees mean more in the church than an innovative mind.

Maybe I’m just a cop-out, but. . .

8 thoughts on “Pastoral Leadership Re-redefined

  1. I agree about the importance of preaching. It seems that everything in the ministry pulls us away from being the PREACHER…which is why 99% of us got into ministry! A preacher/pastor will do well to manage his time wisely so that he can spend the maximum uninterrupted time in the study, and on his knees, that he can.

  2. Amen Barry.
    This is a key text I point to for defining pastoral leadership as teaching. May we have more of this!

  3. There will always be militant atheists, and they do not consern me. My father always used to say that a wise man can learn from a fool, but a fool cannot learn from a wise man.

    A pastor who can explain the Scriptures to me and explain how to learn from them is why I keep coming through the door of that building we meet in.

    And one who will stop what he is doing to look up some discussion point when his word would have been enough.


  4. Very well said. I find the biggest temptation in getting away from preaching/teaching to the gimmicks is quite simply–finances. People would rather be entertained than taught and confronted.

    Therefore, your point needs a qualifier: don’t do this unless you want to be poor! I think that is why Paul makes a point of saying those who teach well should get double honor, because he knows they won’t get it.

  5. Pastor Barry,
    In the context of your well-written post I agree that those with a Greek Worldview espouse a “leadership” paradigm that is incongruent with Old or New Testament examples. Abad is the Hebrew word for Worship, and Serve. In the Hebrew worldview the end result of a “Preacher” measuring himself by growing attendance and growing budgets is incongruent with what our true task is: “Woe unto he that preaches not the Gospel…” However, we are to study to show ourselves approved so that we don’t need to be ashamed at our lack of knowledge to then impart as wisdom to our congregants – and neighbors and such. True enough, however; Post Modernists would tell you that the sheer lack of growth in “butts or budgets” is indicative of a lack of “effectiveness.” Greek worldview = wrong and pagan in its origin. Jesus tells us we will be hated for what we say in His Name and sometimes that hate comes from the butts in the seats that still give their tithes, but not cheerfully. I guess the rubber meets the road when we ask the Holy Spirit to help us get through to people as blind as we used to be… The Holy Spirit asks of us to be real, authentic, not fake, genuine – vulnerable. When we are those things from the pulpit the faces that look back at us sometimes belie their true thoughts. Our job is to bring the TRUTH expertly. There is no better expert than Jesus. When He spoke to people He spoke to their level of understanding, within their culture – Don’t believe me? Read a Hebrew Bible – Jesus understood His audience perfectly and He taught this skill to His disciples, by asking (dejure rather than defacto request) “Follow me.” These rejects dropped everything and followed, watched, and then learned from a “Leader” of epic importance. Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace) gives us, as preachers and teachers of the Gospel the awesome responsibility of presenting accurately and expertly His Word to man. When we go to China, we must either have an interpreter or we must speak Chinese – or they won’t understand us. When in Delaware, we must understand the culture and context of the people or our message will be lost on the page – I do not use manuscripts or sermon notes any longer – If one will Study hard, Practice hard, Pray hard = One will Preach clearly with authority AND Compassion that transcends our intellect. You would be amazed how REAL you can get when you no longer have the chain of notes and manuscripts to tie you down to Greek modeled services… Ultimately, we are called to lead, and in some cases we have to deal with stupid stuff like people’s mixed up notions as to what is reeeeeally important, like oak or pine pews… The first century church had not one pew, but they still fought over stupid stuff sometimes and great leaders had to reroute their passions and understanding toward worshiping and serving God. Yeshua was and is the greatest leader of all time. Not because of His palaces, wealth or bling… No, He is because He is still being talked about and to all these years later. Remember, His Father’s house is to be a house of prayer… Leaders pray, and teach others to pray, and teach others to teach others to pray. Leaders worship, and teach others to worship, and teach others to teach others to worship. Leadership is as important as direction. The problem with post modernist emergent churches isn’t their music, it’s their leaders. The gospel is incomplete without repentance and discipleship and that must come, in equal parts, from the Leaders to the people. We must live lives that reflect God’s grace, mercy, and sense of humor. We must lead by living in the world that doesn’t understand why we are up at 4:30 a.m. typing words on a blog of a dear friend. You are a natural leader with an audience that needs what you know and the only thing outside of the supernatural to teach them is you. Lead them. Some will follow, some will not… A leader keeps leading. Dr. Skip Moen is one of my professors of “Biblical Leadership” and he often says,”What’s wrong with the church starts squarely at the feet of the leadership, they aren’t leading!” It is a tiring task to swim upstream, and our only rest may be at the feet of the Master… It is worth the wait. Much Love, Shawn Michael

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