Who doesn’t believe that effective pastors have something to do with a congregation’s missional vitality? The Towers Watson study had congregations evaluate 1,200 pastors regarding 14 leadership attributes to determine what aspects of leadership most impacts vitality. Four attributes were clearly identified – and seminary only touched on one of them for me!
Of the 16 vitality indicators which the Call to Action Report identified, the following five give us the most leverage in helping pastors and congregations meet the adaptive challenge before us. Since most of them are so intertwined, I’ll mention them together.
· Effective pastors focus on developing, coaching and mentoring to enable laity leadership to improve their performance.
· Effective pastors propel the local church to set and achieve significant goals.
· Effective pastors influence the actions and behaviors of others to accomplish changes in the local church.
· Effective pastors inspire the congregation through preaching.
· When the appointment is working out, effective pastors tend to stay longer – a minimum of 5 or more years in vital congregations.
As I’ve thought about the first four of these vitality indicators, it occurs to me that they really boils down to this. While many pastors were well prepared to be chaplains who provide excellent pastoral care for our flock, what is currently most needed, if our congregations are to be vital, is for pastors to be missional change agents. So, what do missional change agents do?
They develop an expanding coalition of lay leaders who are increasingly effective at helping the congregation stay focused on fulfilling the mission of Christ. It took me years to realize that, as the lead pastor, this is one of my primary responsibilities. I am still learning how to do it well. Empowering laity as partners in leadership through coaching and mentoring is critical to expanding the base of leaders in a congregation.
Some pastors I have spoke to seem to feel that if laity are strong in their leadership, it can only be at the expense of the pastor’s power. It is as if the power pie is only so big and giving someone a bigger piece means someone else gets a smaller piece. My experience has been that when a pastor empowers laity to give missional leadership in their area, rather than taking away from the pastor’s influence, it enlarges the congregation’s territory of influence. The power pie gets bigger as the team of clergy and laity leaders all become more empowered and aligned missionally.
Every pastor might ask: what laity am I intentionally spending time with in order to develop and mentor their capacity to be effective leaders in our congregation?
Missional change agents assist their congregation in setting and achieving missional goals. Three times in the last two days I have heard essentially the same comment from someone. “It is as if this congregation thinks that all they are called to do is have worship on Sunday and take care of each other through the week. They have no sense of purpose beyond doing what they did last year. There is no sense of mission or urgency about helping suffering people in their community or people who are living without knowing how much God loves them.”
Pastors have an amazing amount of influence over time. As missional change agents, they can help people expand their vision of what Jesus calls us to do and to discern the ways in which the Holy Spirit is working in the congregation to stir up people’s passion for God’s mission. One of the key ways pastors can do this is simply by continually asking God questions like:
- What is God calling us to do to bless our community?
- How is God calling us to use the resources we have to alleviate suffering?
- How is God calling us to make more and better disciples?
Out of these questions can emerge prayerful discussions that can grow into discerning God’s call to action. As the congregation’s sense of God’s call clarifies, clear goals can be crystallized. A pastor shepherding this discernment process is critical if a congregation is to be missionally vital.
Every pastor might ask: how am I helping the congregation to hear the call of Jesus to join him in ministry and then to do so obediently?
Missional change agents use their relationships and pulpit to inspire and to encourage persons toward changes that will result in missional effectiveness. It is a matter of helping people remember through Scripture what God is up to in the world. It is a matter of asking again and again, “Where have you seen God at work recently?” and helping people to open their eyes to what Jesus is doing and wants to be doing in your community. It is a matter of sensitively calling from people the best that is in them, as the Holy Spirit softens their hearts and invites them to pick up their crosses in sacrificial service. (Have you recently read Paul’s little letter to Philemon seeking to influence his reception of Onesimus? What an example of using pastoral influence!)
Every pastor might ask: how am I using the influence I have through relationships and in the pulpit to help this congregation accomplish changes for Christ’s mission?
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence