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Effective Pastoral Leadership Isn’t What It Used To Be

I hear pastors frequently share that they are unsure how to be effective.

“I used to know what to do to be effective as a pastor, but now it seems like what I used to do doesn’t achieve the same result,” they lament.

Appointment-making denominations are highly interested in this topic, as are seminaries whose mission includes preparing students for pastoral ministry.

Even more, pastors themselves are laser-focused on this question: What makes a pastor effective now?

It’s fascinating to observe how individuals and groups begin answering this question. Their answers quickly collect around their particular mental model or church paradigm.

Many continue to view the church in its Modern Era expression, prior to the year 2000, describing the pastoral competencies that were associated with effective leadership for then.

Others, though fewer in number, describe emerging pastoral leadership competencies that look very different, obviously designed to effectively lead a different church paradigm.

The reality for most churches is that they are on the journey, trying to shift and adapt from the world they have known to the land they know not of.

One way to bring clarity to this dilemma is to consider the culture that we are trying to create within our congregations.

Many theologians and practitioners provide helpful analogies to describe the church: greenhouse, holding environment, pressure cooker, crucible, hospital, garden, etc.

Whatever our metaphor, what ingredients contribute to a healthy cultural environment in our congregations, resulting in disciple development and missional engagement?

Those who are staffing to the Modern Era church paradigm describe a church culture with these following words: stability, contentment, familiarity, comfort, security, safety, organization, incremental change, harmonious relationships and predictability.

Those congregations whose culture is in a period of transition, moving toward the Postmodern Era expression of church, describe themselves with these terms: adaptation, discovery, fluidity, restlessness, stimulating relationships, experimentation, learning, energy, movement and challenge.

So what does the church in North America need at this point in history in order to thrive, accomplishing its calling from God? What kind of atmosphere does it need to breath for healthy living in its context? What is our essential challenge at this point in time?

Our answers to these questions directly influence what we expect from leadership.

Looking at the two word lists above, these describe very different kinds of church cultures. It follows then that the pastoral leadership competencies needed for each culture are significantly different.

The second culture calls for leaders of movements, while the first calls for a statesman.

Perhaps this cultural difference would make for helpful conversation in your next lay leadership team meeting. Perhaps this discussion could inform denominations who are tasked with placing or supervising clergy.

Perhaps this discussion could help seminaries consider curriculum. Perhaps this discussion could guide a pastor’s selection of the next continuing education experience.

There is no way I want to miss out on this next expression of God’s church in our world, and discerning these church trends is essential to discerning and joining in God’s work.

Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his personal blog.