Leadership is not the sum of ministry

Over the years I have argued extensively on the need for leadership in the church. For instance, in the opening words of Dynamic Leadership I wrote:

Leadership is the key priority in the churches of today. Preaching is important, worship is important, evangelism and social action – all these things must come high on the agenda. But uppermost comes leadership.

However, since then the pendulum has swung, and in some places the pendulum has swung too far. Leadership is not the sum of ministry. In my judgment, some ministers are in danger of not living up to the breadth of their call. Let me give three examples of what I have in mind.

First, I am surprised at the increasing number of ministers who no longer seem to see preaching as belonging to the heart of their ministry. I find that extraordinary. I was called to preach. If there was one text which summed up that call, it was to be found in the words of Jeremiah: “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name’, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in and I cannot” (Jer 20.9). In response to that call, I was trained to preach, and over the years honed my gift of preaching in the service of Christ. Yet, as I look around, I see ministers happy on a regular basis to take a break from preaching by encouraging people who have not been called or trained to preach to take their place. There seems to be a feeling that ‘anyone can have a go’. I beg to differ. For me that would be to spurn the calling and gifting of Christ.

Second, I am saddened at the number of ministers who no longer regard pastoral care as central to their calling. They seem to prefer to sit in their offices rather than to be engaging with people. Of if they do engage with people, it is primarily people who come to see them in office hours. There are too many office-bound ministers. I cannot understand ministers who appear to delegate to others the care of the dying and the bereaved. For me there was never a greater privilege than sitting by the bedside of the dying; nor was there a greater priority than visiting the bereaved, even if their loved one had died on my day off. Indeed, just the other day I was being told of a senior bishop who is never too busy to go and pray with a dying member of his clergy –  by contrast I shall never forget a senior minister of a larger Baptist church telling me that he had no difficulty in leaving others to deal with the visiting of the dying.

Third, I am concerned at the large number of ministers who no longer take responsibility for the worship of the church. Instead they have abdicated their role of leadership worship and handed it over to the church’s musicians, without apparently realising that there is a great difference between leading songs and leading worship. Worship is an art and science. It is not sufficient to be gifted in leading worship: such a gift needs to be trained and developed. I am not pleading for others not to be involved in the worship of the church; but what I am arguing is that ministers, precisely because of their training, should still have responsibility for the worship of the church. As it is, all too often there is little direction and often little variation in much non-liturgical worship. All too often worship is simply an emotional experience, which does not meet the needs of the heart.

To return to my theme: leadership, however, inspirational, is not the sum of ministry.  Ministers , amongst other things, need to live up to their calling to be charismatic preachers, compassionate pastors, and creative liturgists.

2 comments

  1. Excellent. With regard to “There seems to be a feeling that ‘anyone can have a go’.” Baptists often suffer from that, when we might say ‘anybody can, but quite a few can’t’ -especially when it comes to preaching and leading worship. It is also very sad when people rather inconsiderately die on someone’s day off, so that the family are left to their own devices for a more convenient time to be visited.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with your definition of what a minister should be, but I think it’s really hard in practice to find people of the calibre desired ! In my experience ministers with all those assets are very few and far between, and most churches have to settle for less or they may get no leader at all.

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