Sadly in many contexts, pastors either fail to exercise leadership or are stripped of their leadership. Those who fail to lead their congregations are often content to be chaplains who feverishly run from need to need without leading the flock in a particular direction. In other cases, a local church greatly hampers the leadership of a pastor when they hire one — “just to preach and let us lead.” In reality, a pastor is a leader for at least three reasons:
1. Leadership is embedded in the definition.
Leadership is embedded in the very definition of what it means to be a pastor, a shepherd of God’s people. Embedded in the calling to “pastor” comes a clear responsibility to lead. Shepherds lead the sheep. The apostle Paul instructed the pastors in Ephesus to “be on guard for the flock that the Holy Spirit has appointed you to as overseers, to shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:28). In his letter to Titus, he called the overseers “God’s administrators” (Titus 1:7). The apostle Peter encouraged the elders to “shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely …” (I Peter 5:1-2) In other words, both Paul and Peter see a tight connection between shepherding and overseeing.
Martin Lloyd Jones said, “A pastor is a man who is given charge of souls. He is not merely a nice, pleasant man who visits people and has an afternoon cup of tea with them, or passes the time of day with them. He is the guardian, the custodian, the protector, the organizer, the director, the ruler of the flock.”
Because leadership is deeply embedded in the role of pastor, the ability to lead your family is a prerequisite (I Timothy 3:5). It only makes sense that before one can manage God’s church, he must be able to manage his own household.
2. Leadership is in the job profile.
According to Ephesians 4:11-12, the pastor/teacher’s job is not merely to do ministry, but to equip the people for ministry. The “hire a minister to do ministry” philosophy is deeply flawed because it’s unbiblical. It violates the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and shelves God’s gifted people to merely watch “the professionals.” It hampers the growth of the church, as the scope of ministry is woefully limited when in the hands and on the backs of only a few.
When pastors stop merely doing and lead ministry by training and equipping others, the body of Christ is built up–measured by the full stature of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).
3. Pastors will be held responsible as leaders.
Pastors are responsible to lead, have been gifted by God to do so, and will give an account for the flock (Hebrews 13:17). When God rebukes His people through the prophet Malachi, he begins first with the priests in Malachi’s day. God knows that as the leaders go, so go the people.
Spiritual authority is commensurate with the holy responsibility. It‘s cruel to give someone responsibility without the authority to fulfill their responsibility. Thus churches must follow the direction of their leaders, and submit to the authority the Lord has given those He sets apart as leaders.
Leadership in the Kingdom is about sacrifice, not position. It’s filled with humility, not domination. It’s marked by greatness through serving. Thus pastors are challenged to not lord their authority over others, but to be humble examples, and to serve others as the Chief Shepherd has served us.
With the model and foundation for church leadership being the way Jesus has served us, pastors must not neglect their role as leaders and churches must embrace their pastors as their leaders.
Eric Geiger serves as one of the vice presidents at Lifeway Christian Resources, leading the Church Resources Division. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church.