Re-Forming Pastoral Leadership, Part 1

NOTE: This is the first article in this series describing the process of pastoral leadership paradigm reformation.

“We weren’t trained for this.”
Sometimes it’s exactly this statement, while other times it’s a variation thereof. Regardless, a similar theme is rising among clergy and church staff serving in wildly different contexts. Pastors and church staff are increasing awareness their pastoral leadership paradigm is growing less effective by the day. Of course few want to say this too loudly or publicly, for obvious reasons. Yet we hear them quietly expressing their concern in coaching conversations, during breaks at training events, in denominational gatherings, and in crisis calls or texts. Clergy and church staff are concerned about their skills, paradigm, and overall leadership, influencing them to make statements like, “this is not what I signed-up for.”

As we listen, clergy and church staff are recognizing their approaches to ministry are less helpful in this fluid ministry environment than they were just a short time ago. Those with the eyes to see begin to connect the dots from a variety of experiences, leading to insights like these:
• Their previously effective ministry skills, styles of preaching, disciple engagement techniques, and overall approach is declining in effectiveness. They simply do not see the expected positive response achieved in the past by these same high quality activities.
• As they lead their congregations to engage traditional revitalization efforts and programs, the results are disappointing. Given the high investment of time and money, one would think greater renewal would result. These approaches to ministry seem to have aged-out.
• They recognize that what the congregation expects from the role of pastor is very different than what the church actually needs from the role of pastor. Congregational expectations typically lag behind real time congregational needs when it comes to living out our callings in relevant ways. They are caught in a bind, feeling forced to choose between keeping enough people happy enough versus leading the congregation to adapt to its current context.
• They are watching their energy decrease while fatigue increases. Clergy and church staff are working harder than ever, while observing diminishing results.
• They fear the parallel process at play with their congregations. As they observe diminishing returns and increased fatigue, clergy and church staff fear this is the same experience of their lay leaders and congregations overall.

Overall, ministry seems to be producing diminishing returns for clergy and church staff. They are working hard, using all their spiritual gifts and acquired skills….yet, so many find themselves disappointed with the results. So, what’s this dynamic about?

Actually, this is part of what happens when the culture of an organization enters a major transition zone. Here we are 500 years beyond The Reformation (Martin Luther style), finding ourselves in another reformation (Postmodern style). The first stage in reformation is deformation – what was previously effective and viable deforms. This includes the paradigms, approaches, models, and skills of pastoral ministry which were pertinent to the prevalent model of church during the Modern Era.

So when we experience this kind of pastoral leadership paradigm disintegration, we are actually on the brink of breaking out. Those clergy and church staff who have the spiritual strength to recognize and acknowledge these changes are those who are far more likely to move through this transition to fruitful ministry. Sure, some will retire early while others will transition into different vocations. Plenty though will persevere, finding the new energy and vitality which emerge on the other side of major vocational transitions. May we have the courage to recognize our reality, trusting God to shepherd us through this reformation, discovering new vitalized approaches to fulfilling our callings.

Mark Tidsworth
Pinnacle Leadership Associates