Models of Pastoral Leadership


The pastor, by virtue of his or her position, will influence, to one degree or another, the life and ministry of a congregation. Many refer to this influence as leadership, though I prefer the former rather than the latter word, as the former word identifies the fruit of the latter.

The pastor influences the life of his or her congregation — actively or passively, intentionally or unintentionally, strategically or haphazardly. If done actively, intentionally and strategically, the pastor will discover many ways to biblically, authentically, and honorably influence the ministry of his or her congregation.

In their new book, Leading with Strategic Thinking, Aaron Olson and B.K. Simerson provide some handles for understanding the different ways individuals influence their spheres of responsibility. This book emerged from their research study of 300 Aon professionals and Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) students. Kate MacArthur offers a succinct book review here.

In Leading with Strategic Thinking, the authors describe four styles of leadership or influence. In addition, they encourage individuals to adapt their style for different situations, citing that the most effective leaders use the right leadership style at the right time. Here are the four styles identified by Olson and Simerson:

Visionary Leadership – This model is about leading with the power of an idea. It is best employed when the leader knows the preferred outcome and, then, motivates others to own it.

Directive Leadership – This model is best employed when both the process and the outcome are clear. The leader, then, guides the process to the preferred outcome.

Incubating Leadership – In this model the leader positions him or herself as one who empowers others to take the ball and run with it. It requires more prompting than prescribing, more guiding than driving.

Collaborative Leadership – In this model the leader takes his or her place among others as together they create processes and outcomes that could not be created alone. In other words, this style assumes that the answers are in the group.

Why is this book important to those called to pastors? Most people discover that they gravitate to one of the styles of leadership. It seems that it has even become commonplace for pastors to identify their leadership style and, then, limit themselves to that style.

But inevitably pastors will find themselves in situations where the best way to exercise positive influence requires a switch from their preferred style to one better suited for the situation. If they fail to make this switch, they will fail to influence their congregations in a positive manner. In some cases, they will even bring great harm to the church and, perhaps, find themselves looking for a new field of service. (Do I have a witness?) In contrast, when pastors adapt their leadership style to each situation, they experience more effective ministry while enjoying the fruit of a healthier congregation.

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