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The role of leadership in your church’s vision

| by Ronald Keener

So your church has a vision statement? Good for you. Now what are you doing about making it come alive? Activating it? Making it happen? Actualizing it? And who is doing that?

Bill Easum and Scott Musselman have written a 90-page book, Execute Your Vision: The Practical Art of Ministry Leadership (Abingdon, 2016), and answer that last question in saying that it isn’t the pastor, more than likely.

“The myth is that pastors are shepherds who take care of people,” the authors write. “In reality, that is far from the New Testament plan for pastors. The New Testament expects pastors to equip people to take care of each other.”

There is a leadership vacuum in most churches, since most churches are hardly larger than 75 parishioners. And most pastors aren’t prepared or motivated to act their way into the future. “Taking action is at the heart of being a leader.” And most pastors think, not act, their way into the future (vision) for their church.

Why don’t more pastors implement their church’s vision for its future? The authors say this: “Most pastors don’t have a burning desire to fulfill God’s mission for the church that consumes every waking moment. They enjoy ministry because it makes them feel good, but seeing the Great Commission accomplished is not their highest priority.”

Pastors more often are managers (shepherds) than leaders. Easum and Musselman do their best work in describing why so many churches are dying and why power is not a bad word in the church. Moreover, too few churches have a burning desire for their vision, and that “desire is the most potent weapon we have against an inability to act.”

Whether laity or pastors, the one or two staff members all too common in churches, find their lives to busy to focus, manage, and act on what they know is needed to be accomplished (it’s called ministry on the run). “You see, church leadership boils down to one thing—how badly do you want your church to grow? Or how convinced are you that the church is the sign of God’s kingdom on earth?,” the authors say.

Elsewhere, they write, “there is so much to do; so many meetings; so many people needing care. The pastor knows what needs to be done but isn’t willing to focus on it to the point that it becomes a reality?” What gets in the way of a typical pastor is what they call “the cultural jungle of blur, flux, and speed.”

An easy book to read in one day, in between getting other things done (yet, there is the focus issue), the authors do conclude with this:

“For our churches to thrive, they must be willing to change how they think and do things, even if they are thriving at the moment. Pastors will have to learn new skills and see what isn’t yet seen, trying new ways for communicating the good news, even if they don’t like it.

“New expectations will need to be clearly communicated and staff held accountable to those expectations. Organizations must learn how to execute on the fly without being burdened by rules and regulations. Instead of thinking our way into the future, we will have to act our way into new forms of thinking.”

This is a good and easy read for search committees, if that is what you are facing now, to discuss even before they begin interviewing candidates; it will help force a common understanding of purpose and intent among the team’s members. The search team should discuss the differences in managing and leading, staff delegation, the exercise and abuse of power, the needed skills in growing a church, the differences between a rancher pastor and a shepherd pastor, and what is a new pastor’s “burning desire.” 

Ronald Keener

Ronald E. Keener was editor of the national business and leadership magazine, "Church Executive," for eight years, and writes from Chambersburg, Pa. His church interests lie with congregational transformation, church health movement, church strengthening and revitalization and reporting on churches that have not just survived but thrived. 


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