The Rookie, Leadership & Culture

Most pastors believe that when they were called by the Lord to be pastors it came with the mandate to lead the church. On the other hand, most lay leaders believe that the pastor’s role is simply to provide pastoral or spiritual care for the members. Leading the church, especially with regards to organisational matters, finance, direction of the church, policies and staff issues are supposed to be under the purview of the Board or Council. In the end, the pastor has a very limited leadership role.

One way to mitigate the clash of expectations is for both pastor and church leaders to iron them out before the pastor comes on board. Candour and honesty are indispensable elements. Terms and conditions, role and expectations, and especially the leadership role of the pastor, need to be spelt out and agreed upon; and put into writing. This is not a guarantee that there won’t be problems later. Still, it is better to have this done. If all parties are people of integrity, the agreement will be honoured. If not, the parties will know where they have erred.

Clarity and agreement are vital if the pastor, the leadership and the church are to avoid confusion and second guessing about the pastor’s role. What is his leadership mandate? Who leads the leadership team? Who sets the direction for the church? Who is the staff accountable to? Who determines how the resources of the church are to be utilised? And more.

That’s a lot of ground to cover. And most churches have not even begun to consider these things, or, think it necessary to deliberate on them. But they will still function—according to the culture of their church—the set of beliefs and values they hold in common that causes them to do things in a certain way.[1]

If culture is so critical to the life of a church, the most sensible thing to do, then, is to establish a good church culture; including a culture of leadership that honours the leadership role of the pastor.

How does this work out for a rookie pastor? It is unlikely that a church would be prepared to entrust leadership to a newbie. I can understand that. So, what should he do? For starters, a rookie pastor shouldn’t join a church where he is the only pastor. Rather, he should work under a Senior Pastor who is serving in a church that has given the latter the mandate to lead.

Following his time of apprenticeship, one of two things can happen. One day, the Senior Pastor may move on or retire. The rookie pastor has blossomed and come into his own. If he is suitable he may be asked, either by the Senior Pastor or the Church Board, to take over as the new Senior Pastor, in a church that already has a culture that understands the leadership role of the pastor.

A second option for the rookie pastor is go out and plant a new church. After having served a number of years under a Senior Pastor he is no longer a rookie. He knows how to “do” church and lead the church. It is very likely that his fellow-lay church planters will give him the mandate to be the lead man. If this happens, the culture of leadership by the pastor is already set at the beginning of the church plant.

While it is not impossible to change the culture of the church, it will, however, take a lot of hard work, patience, grace, wisdom and prayer—if we don’t want to see a church-split, people leave the church or the pastor’s services prematurely terminated. Getting it right—right at the beginning—is a far better way of tackling this problem. But it calls for Senior Pastors, rookie pastors and church leaders in these “enlightened churches” to understand and work together on this.

[1] Read my blog posting dated 29 Feb 2016 on Church Culture