Avoid the Top Five Reasons for Pastoral Terminations, Part 2: Leadership Style

This is the second of five articles where Bob Sheffield is sharing the top five causes of forced terminations (from the 2006 Forced Termination survey conducted by the Church Minister Relation's Directors network in cooperation with LifeWay) and offering several prevention strategies for each.

Cause 4: The pastor's leadership style is too strong

Church leaders and members can have the perception that the pastor has a leadership style that seeks to have everything his way. In some instances, this is a reality more than a perception. A pastor continually walks a fine line between exercising too little and too much leadership authority. This particular cause speaks to a situation where the pastor steps over this line and exercises more of a dictator style of leadership.

What are some reasons for this happening?

Reason #1: You, as a person, have difficulty allowing others to share in decision making.

  • You feel it slows the process down too much.
  • You don't trust other people to make the right decisions.
  • You have a perfectionist approach to accomplishing projects.
  • You don't do advance planning and have to do too much in too short a period of time.

Reason #2: Since the church is growing, you assume that the church leaders and members approve of your leadership style.

Reason #3: The style worked in your last pastorate and you feel that it will work in every pastorate.

Reason #4: You measure your pastoral success through accomplishing a series of tasks rather than enabling people. As pastors, we sometimes forget that the church is not a task to accomplish but people to lead. In the Bible, the description of the church does not include how smoothly the organization runs but how people respond to Christ and grow in His likeness.

Reason #5: You have a mentor or follow the example of a successful pastor who used a dictator or strongly directive leadership style. A benevolent dictator is still a directive, controlling leader.

How can you guard against having too strong a leadership style?

1. Remember that some people may think your leadership style is too strong because you don't do what they want done at all times.

  • This tension will always exist in your life as a pastor. You cannot completely stop this from happening but you can come to accept this as an inevitable reality.

2. Have a healthy understanding of the difference between a manager and a leader.

  • A manager exercises a sphere of control to insure the accomplishment of tasks. The successful accomplishment of tasks rather than enabling the people involved in the accomplishment constitutes the priority concern of a manager.
  • A leader influences people to follow him in the accomplishing together what they could not accomplish alone. A good leader helps those who follow him to manage the processes necessary to task accomplishment but does not try to control them.

3. Learn to delegate properly. This does not mean you will leave everything to someone else but you will not feel you have to do everything even in a single staff church.

  • Identify and train volunteer leaders within the church.
  • Trust these leaders and be sure they know you do.
  • Learn to begin any project early enough that you have time to delegate.

4. Resist the temptation to exhibit a "Me" complex.

  • The focus of our leadership should be to accomplish God's purposes for the church in order to honor God. We don't do what we do as a pastor for our glory and honor.
  • God calls us to lead as servant leaders. Servant leaders seek to be servants first and let their leadership grow out of this.
  • Jesus serves as our model servant leader.

5. Commit yourself to the discipline of continuing to learn proper leadership principles.

    Consider the following resources:

    Bob Sheffield served as a pastoral ministries specialist in the pastoral ministries area of LifeWay until 2007. In this role, he frequently consulted with churches on a number of staffing issues. Prior to coming to LifeWay in 1985, Sheffield served as a pastor of churches in Mississippi and Texas for 25 years. He has also served as an interim pastor at numerous Nashville-area churches.

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