How do Pastors Practice Leadership? | Pulpit and Pew
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By Jackson W. Carroll

When we speak of pastoral leadership, we mean the
work that pastors do in giving direction, equipping, and motivating members
of a congregation to participate in the congregation’s mission in its
local community and beyond. By this definition, almost everything that
a pastor does, whether preaching a sermon, teaching, or engaging in what
some call "vision casting," contributes to his or her exercise
of leadership. But some tasks are ones in which pastors more directly
exercise leadership—for example, administering the congregation’s affairs,
including attending congregational meetings. Also, important is equipping
members for their ministries. As we showed in the last report from our
national survey of clergy, 15 percent of the average pastor’s week is
spent in administering the congregation’s affairs and attending congregational
meetings. Another 13 percent is spent in training or equipping people
for ministry.

Pastors differ, however, in the way they lead. In
this installment of findings from our survey, we look at pastors’ responses
to several questions about leadership style and practice.

  1. Preferred leadership style
  2. We begin with a look at the pastors’ preferred leadership

    Overall, It is clear that clergy describe themselves
    as leading by encouraging and inspiring others to make decisions. Although
    all groups favor this response, there are several important differences
    in the way subgroups rated the other leadership styles. Pastors from
    historic Black churches are more likely than the others to say that
    they make most of the decisions. They are less likely to leave it to
    lay leaders to take the initiative. Clergy in small congregations (ones
    with less than 100 attendees) are significantly more likely than others
    to leave most decision-making to laity (either of the latter two leadership
    styles). Clergywomen are especially more likely than men to chose the
    fourth style of leading, emphasizing lay initiative while seeing their
    role as that of empowering laity to implement their decisions (30 percent
    favor this style in contrast to 8 percent of male clergy). The differences
    are especially pronounced for women who serve as pastors of small congregations.
    Whether it is the size of congregation that makes the difference or
    women’s preference for empowerment is difficult to say.

  3. How program decisions are made
  4. How do clergy and lay leaders go about deciding
    about new programs or ministries? What are the bases for making such
    decisions? Do they discuss the theological rationale for what they are
    considering, or do they think in terms of the desires and needs of current
    or prospective members? The probably do some of both, but which takes
    priority? Overall, clergy told us that consideration of the needs and
    desires of members takes priority by a significant margin.

    Again, subgroups differ. More Catholics (36 percent)
    and Conservative Protestants (30 percent) report that they consider
    the theological rationale for new programs or ministries than is true
    for clergy who are mainline Protestants or in historic Black denominations
    (23 percent each). Younger clergy (under age 45) are much more likely
    to report considering the theological rationale for new ministries (38
    percent) than are those who are age 61 or older (14 percent).

  5. Introducing change
  6. In leading, clergy have different preferred styles
    for introducing changes. Some prefer to keep things stirred up; others
    like to introduce changes gradually.

    Although the majority of clergy prefer to introduce
    changes gradually, mainline Protestants are significantly more likely
    than all others to say that they enjoy keeping things stirred up and
    challenging lay leaders with new ideas and programs (41 percent choosing
    this response). Catholic clergy (15 percent) and clergy in historic
    Black denominations (12 percent), prefer gradual introduction of changes.
    Younger clergy (under age 45) also prefer keeping things stirred up
    (43 percent) in sharp contrast with those who are 61 or older, 80 percent
    of whom prefer gradual change. Congregations where clergy keep things
    stirred up tend, not surprisingly, to report a higher degree of conflict.

  7. What about future directions of the congregation?
  8. We also asked whether clergy and lay leaders regularly
    take time to discuss and define future needs and directions of the congregation,
    or whether they largely focus on keeping things going. Although a majority
    of clergy in all sizes of congregations say that they regularly take
    time to think about future directions, leaders of large congregations,
    those with 350 or more regular attendees, are more likely to do so (66
    percent) than those in small or mid size congregations (52 and 59 percent
    respectively). Conservative Protestant clergy are most likely of all
    denominational traditions to say they mostly focus on keeping things
    functioning smoothly (50 percent). The same is true for clergy ages
    61 or older (54 percent) and African-American clergy, regardless of
    denomination (56 percent).


  9. The challenge of a changing world
  10. We were also interested in how clergy leaders view
    the challenges of rapid change and the implications of change for congregational
    decision-making. Does rapid change make it necessary for congregations
    to be innovative—for example in such things as worship and music styles?
    Or should leaders make an effort to keep their congregation focused
    on the inherited traditions and practices of the church? As the next
    table shows, the majority of clergy choose innovation as their preferred
    response. Nonetheless, there are important differences among subgroups.
    Catholics, for example, give strong emphasis to church traditions and
    practices (62 percent choosing this response). In contrast, mainline
    Protestants (67 percent) and clergy from historic Black denominations
    (66 percent), favor innovation over tradition. Conservative Protestant
    pastors also favor innovation, but by a slightly smaller majority (59
    percent). Though clergy in small congregations also favor innovation
    (55 percent), they are less likely to do so than those in larger congregations.
    Young clergy (under age 45) are the most likely to favor innovation
    (69 percent) over tradition (31 percent).


  11. How satisfied are pastors with their overall
    effectiveness as leaders in their current congregation?
  12. This question was part of a list of items about
    satisfaction. The following table shows the responses. Although few
    report that they are dissatisfied with their effectiveness as
    leaders, almost 60 percent report being only somewhat rather
    than very satisfied. This distinction may seem trivial; however,
    we don’t take it to be so. When asked about most other aspects of their
    ministry situation, clergy overwhelmingly indicated that they were very
    satisfied—but not about their effectiveness as leaders.

    There are significant subgroup differences: Only
    18 percent of the pastors in historic Black denominations and 29 percent
    of the conservative Protestants say they are very satisfied. This contrasts
    with 31 percent of Catholic priests and 41 percent of mainline Protestants.
    Similarly, only 31 percent of the pastors in small congregations are
    very satisfied with their leadership effectiveness. This contrasts with
    those in large and mega congregations (more than 350 average attendees),
    approximately half of whom say that they are very satisfied.

  13. Some final questions?

These findings suggest several questions for pastors
to consider:

  • What is your own leadership style? Are different
    styles needed in different congregations or at different times in a
    congregation’s life?
  • What about the relative primacy of member needs
    and desires over theological reflection when considering new programs?
    Is this a response to what some have called a "consumer" culture,
    where people shop for churches that meet their needs? What role should
    theological reflection play?
  • How do you feel about keeping things "stirred
    up" in your congregation versus introducing changes gradually?
    If such a style is more likely to lead to conflict, is this necessarily
    bad for a congregation? Or is conflict sometimes necessary for helping
    a congregation move it forward?
  • Do you and your lay leaders regularly take time
    to discuss the future of the congregation? What kinds of information
    do you need for this task?
  • While innovations in church practices are needed
    to meet the challenges presented by rapid change, how does one "test
    the spirits" of the innovations to see if they are faithful to
    the Gospel?
  • How satisfied are you with your own effectiveness
    as a leader in your congregation? What resources are available to help
    you to increase your effectiveness? Are you making use of them?



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