By Steve Lemke, Provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
The most insightful article I have ever read on pastoral leadership was written years ago by Calvin Miller in Leadership Journal. Entitled “Growing Pains,” it is crucial reading for every pastor.
In it, my old racquetball partner Calvin Miller (he might look nice, but he’s mean on a racquetball court!) surveys the changes in his own leadership style that were required as he led Westside Baptist Church in Omaha from being a church plant with a half dozen families to a megachurch.
The first stage, while it was a church plant begun by a half dozen couples, Miller describes as the “You Get the Pizza, and I’ll Bring the Guitar” stage. Every charter member had immediate and virtually unlimited access to the Pastor for counsel on any issue or answers to any questions. Everyone knew all the details about the church, and was involved in every decision the church made. Fellowship was the hallmark of this almost cliquish group. Everyone knew each other intimately, and there were many times of fellowship at the Pizza Hut after church or at the Pastor’s house.
As the church began to grow, Miller found himself in the “Should We Let People Sing in the Choir if They’re Not Members” stage, because new members were coming into positions of leadership that previously were all held by the founding core group. As more new members joined and there were more time demands on Miller to minister to them, it became impossible for the Pastor to continue to invest as much time with the original members. The charter members lost what had meant so much to them – to be a part of the Pastor’s intimate inner circle.
One by one, some of the core families who had started the church began to leave. Yet the congregation as a whole continued to increase in membership.This exodus of core group members is common in growing churches. It is a difficult but necessary moment in many growing church plants and missions. The very intimacy, access to the Pastor, and sense of personal significance that attracted these people to the mission or small church is what goes away when the church increases in size. As Miller describes, this is hurtful at a personal emotional level, but it is a necessary step if the church is to grow.
Then, as the church began calling additional staff members, Miller experienced what he called the “Oops, I Didn’t Know We Had a Softball Team” stage. The Pastor discovered that not only did Westside have a softball team, but they were doing well in the city league. A transition had taken place in leadership that the Pastor was no longer directly involved in every ministry. The church’s ministry was expanding because the staff was initiating ministries that the Pastor had delegated to them that he was not directing personally.
This is one of the key transitions in leadership that some pastors never learn to make. For most of us, our first pastorate is a single-staff church. We are engaged in every aspect of the church’s ministry, every Sunday School class, etc. One of the hard but necessary steps in leadership is to realize that multiple people can do more than a single person. If the pastor must be directly in control of or engaged in every ministry of a church, the church will always be small. The pastor only has so much time in the day. He can’t do everything. But if he can learn to delegate responsibilities to effective staff members, the ministry of the church will multiply.
This stage of leadership also corresponds to one of the major plateaus that churches get “stuck” on – the 150 in attendance plateau. About 60 percent of Southern Baptist churches have 100 or fewer in attendance each week, and another 18 percent have fewer than 200 in attendance.
So, approximately three-fourths of all Southern Baptist churches struggle to get over that 150 barrier. There are many reasons for the smallness of these churches, including realistic limits due to low population in small towns.
But one of the other challenges is just having single-staff leadership. I believe that adding a second church staff member in church plants, missions, and small churches would be the best investment we could make in helping them get beyond the 150 barrier in attendance.
The second staff minister can lead ministries that multiply the attractiveness and outreach of the church. But there is a second issue – if a church gets a second staff member, can the pastor truly delegate authority to him so the church can multiply in its ministry?
As the church attendance continued to increase, Miller experienced the “But You Married Us, Remember?” stage. Miller found himself introducing himself to persons whom they reminded him that he had baptized or married them. The church’s membership had grown so large that it was impossible for the Pastor to remember each person, even though he may have ministered at a key moment in their lives. It was simply impossible for Miller to have the time to be intimately involved in each member’s life, or even to know all the thousands of names of people to whom he had ministered over many years. These memory lapses are embarrassing, of course, but the Pastor’s increasing isolation is necessary if the church is to keep expanding. Otherwise, the church would have to limit itself to the names the Pastor could memorize and have ready to mind when he met any of them at the grocery store. The Pastor engages those he can on a personal level, of course, but he simply does not have time to offer that to everyone at the same time.
The final stage Miller described as “If the Flag Is Flying, the King Is In” (taken from the fact that when the Queen is at Windsor Castle, the flag is flying). As Miller became a nationally known speaker and writer, he was often out of town speaking at Pastor’s Conferences and other such events. The church staff largely did the ministry of the church in lieu of the Pastor. He preached on Sundays, but the staff oversaw the primary daily ministries of the church.
So, the point of the article is, if a Pastor is going to do his part in helping a church grow, he is going to have to change his leadership style from time to time. He can’t be everything to everybody. Some pastors have ego needs such that they need that sort of personal affirmation, but those pastors will not grow churches beyond a set circle of people.
The pastor will have to make some tough choices, and realize that some people may leave the church because in order for him to be available to all the church’s members he cannot be at their beck and call at every moment.
For the church to change, the pastor’s leadership style must change. Think on these things!
Reprinted with permission from SBCToday.com, a blog that describes itself as existing “to restore unity in the convention around biblical discipleship and our historic Baptist distinctives.”