The Changing World of Pastoral Leadership Effectiveness

Conversations about clergy competencies and effectiveness are breaking out everywhere. We are working with several denominations who are considering what training is helpful to their pastoral leaders, as well seminaries considering their approach to forming pastors. When it comes to really effective, healthy, and vitalized pastoral leadership, what knowledge, skills, and competencies are necessary….now?

The answer depends on something more foundational: your church paradigm. Each of us, including denominations and seminaries, carries a mental model of what we perceive as a really good expression of God’s Church. This is neither positive or negative. It simply is. So then, what is our paradigm?

On the one hand, church-as-we-have-known-it remains the primary expression of church in North America. These churches are based on the 20th century understanding of organizations, complete with boards, committees, buildings, salaries, volunteer recruitment practices, funding mechanisms, and evaluative tools. Denominations and seminaries developed over time to support these kinds of churches, while training clergy to lead them.

On the other hand, we are now 15 plus years into the Postmodern Era, seeing the rise of church-as-it-shall-be. We are not far enough into this new Era to identify paradigms, but we can see movements and themes. Pastoral leaders find themselves doing the Modern to Postmodern Stretch….keeping the Modern church paradigm rolling while trying to lead adaptation to the Postmodern context in which we find ourselves. If clergy feel stretched at this point in history, there’s good reason.

Perhaps the following description from an excellent pastoral leader will illuminate the challenges of leading culture shifts in congregations (used with permission and identifying names and numbers are changed). We received this note after an article on clergy fear.

“I think another part of the fear is the fear I am not as effective as I once was. When I came to (this church), the church started growing. Attendance increased from 800 to 1100 the first 8 years. But since then we have plateaued, then declined to a worship attendance of 800. I have continued to work as hard as ever and tried to keep up with current thoughts about ministry. But the results have not been the same. Every church I have ever served grew significantly. The last eight years have been a real blow to my ego. I have experienced no criticism from laity; not sure they recognized this decline. But I sure have questioned myself and my abilities and for a while felt I was letting God down. It has taken me a while to work through this but God has helped and you have helped a lot through your writings and SHIFT.”

Pastoral leaders now find themselves leading organizations designed with Modern Era 20th Century cultural perspectives, while also leading adaptation to the current Postmodern 21st Century context.

So when it comes to the pastoral leadership competencies needed at this point in the Christian movement, we know
1. They are not the same competencies needed before the year 2000.
2. They are a sophisticated set of leadership competencies designed to move a group of people (local church) with an intact culture into a new expression of their identity and mission. Pastoral leaders now must be experts in initiating, leading, and managing change; helping the church shift into church-as-it-shall-be (watch for my next book on this topic).

Given this reality, the denominations and seminaries which appear disjointed, may be the very ones who are working to adapt. Those which are doing the same thing they always have will likely disappear soon. Ircel Harrison’s article on seminary education which follows describes some of the shifts taking place in adaptive seminaries.

Mark Tidsworth
Pinnacle Leadership Associates