What makes a pastor?
You’d think we would know the answer by now. There are endless books, websites, conferences and resources devoted to the subject. We are obsessed with leadership in the American church.
We watch, yet again, the rise and fall of a prominent leader. Sooner or later, another leader will fall. Even in our churches (or maybe especially in our churches), bad behavior is tolerated at the highest levels. Egos are allowed to run wild. Maybe you are experiencing this in your own church. The fact is we have brought this on ourselves. We promote people with huge egos to places of leadership where they do not belong.
I have no doubt that most of our churches are led by humble, godly men and women. But I also have no doubt that the “Christian leadership industry” is trying to sell us something.
They are trying to sell us a new kind of leader. They are trying to sell us the kind of leader we do not need, and convince us that this is the kind of man we need at the helm. The definition of “leader” and “pastor” has radically changed in the American church. Anyone who says the American church at large is interested in creating biblical leaders must be joking.
Don’t believe me?
Think about what our idea of “leadership qualities” is.
Then go to your Bible.
When I think of the leadership culture in America today, a few characteristics come to my mind, characteristics which are undoubtedly essential to be an “effective” leader in today’s churches. When I think of the books I have read, the conferences I have attended and the qualities that are most idolized in America, this is what I think of:
This is the primary qualification for just about any leader in any realm. If you are not energized by social interaction, if your charisma does not fill a room like a gust of wind, you are probably dead on arrival. We need personalities, people. If our leaders are not impossibly smart, engaging, funny, gregarious and charismatic, then what good are they?
Yes, a leader today must be able to be a self-starter, must have a “salesman” personality, with a silver tongue, able to move perfect strangers to action. Entrepreneurship is practically synonymous with pastoral leadership. Sales = leaders.
Yes, a leader must be able to start a ministry in his garage and build it into an empire, be the kind of guy who can administer a large, multi-faceted ministry machine. A leader must be able to think like a businessman, be as wise and shrewd as a CEO. We don’t need a pastor, we need a president.
Finally, a pastor must be a spot on speaker, must be able to deliver eloquent sermons that are able to be broadcast to a dozen campuses, and repackaged into online podcasts. A pastor must have a dozen resources to his name which promise other lowly pastors that they too can replicate his charm and charisma. If the people do not leap out of the chairs every time the man speaks, what good is he?
We Have Missed the Boat on Leadership
I think about all of the things that pastors are told they have to be today, and it’s a tall list. There is a reason there are only a few elite leaders, a few guys who are the most visible at the top of the stack. It’s because hardly anyone can achieve all of those things. And meanwhile, bad behavior is tolerated from so called “leaders.” Egos are fed. Leadership is packaged and sold like a commodity.
But I go back to the Bible, curious about what it has to say about marketing, PR and executive leadership. The apostle Paul writes twice about what it takes to be a pastor. He lists things like this:
Wait a minute. I don’t remember any of those things being discussed at any leadership conference I’ve attended. I have seen very little ink spilled on these things in the books I’ve read. Where is the charisma, the charm, the showmanship facade and the CEO brain? It’s not there. We’d probably demand our money back if we paid for a conference and they lectured us about “peacefulness.” I want to learn how to dominate! I don’t care about self controlled when I can settle for just being controlling.
In fact, Paul gives about 25 or so qualifications for someone to be a pastor. What should come as a shock to any of us is that virtually all of these qualifications have to do with character, not gifts. Virtually all of them are internal, not external. Out of the whole two lists that Paul gives to Timothy and Titus, he lists one attribute that is not a character trait but a gift. He says a leader is “able to teach.”
That’s all he says. “Able to teach.” The rest of it, we just made up.
You wonder why egos are fed and bad behavior is tolerated from leaders? Because our definition of leadership is a lie. You wonder why you feel inadequate as a leader? Because our definition of leadership is a lie. You wonder why so many pastors burn out while the top “leaders” only seem to gain influence? Because our definition of leadership is a lie.
Leadership happens, simply, when a person humbly, quietly guides another person in love. No spectacle. No show. That’s leadership, period.
What do you think? Have we missed the boat on leadership?