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"When a pastor primarily feeds, people enjoy the church but lack a corporate sense of destiny. They graze comfortably in the valley and never climb to new heights. The church has a warm fuzzy feeling, and people enjoy the inspiration and fellowship, but they're not trying to achieve anything. Sheep don't want to climb mountains. They're happy as long as they have a patch of grass.

If a pastor emphasizes leading, on the other hand, he or she may drive the sheep into the ground, pushing them up the mountain without allowing them to stop and eat. If the flock makes it to the top, they're dizzy with weariness, and the burnout quotient increases.

I want to be the warm and gentle pastor who comforts and the visionary leader who challenges. I've found, although difficult at times, it's possible to do both." (Jack Hayford, "How to Lead and Feed," found in Who's in Charge? Standing Up to Leadership Pressures, 28.)

I think the above quotation from Hayford is extremely insightful. How do we balance being a challenging, forward-focused leader with being a warm and gentle pastor who comforts? 

It seems that this is a question that every pastor and every church should ask often. Yet, it is so easy to remain busy keeping the programs going, preparing for next week, meeting with the "urgent" needs of parishioners, and trying to find personal space amidst all the chaos, that working toward balance seems impossible. With all of this going on, who has time for strategic planning, visionary prayer, and space to gain perspective on what God wishes for the future?

I think the real reason why this balance appears to be so difficult is because it does not match the expectations of many pastors or parishioners. In fact, how well a pastor does often is directly related to the experiences of the one "judging" performance (either the pastor or the parishioners).

What if our expectations were set so that we looked for and encouraged pastors to be balanced between challenging leadership and pastoral presence? What would we look for? How would we judge whether this balance is being kept?

Furthermore, how would a church community be able to help promote this type of leadership?  It appears to me that many church communities actually discourage such leadership by setting and promoting different expectations. How do we change the "church culture/expectations" to promote and encourage this type of leadership?

I guess I have more questions than answers today. Too many discussions with fellow pastors are ringing in my ears! Would love any comments.


Good thoughts and questions.  I think that the key passage in Hayford's quote is "I have found, although difficult at times, it's possible to do both."  The best place to be in other words, is to live in the tension between the two and not try to "simplify" things by choosing to be either/or.  Circumstances usually force a pastor to wear both hats, simply because many pastors are GPs who are the only full time employed person on a church staff and don't have the ability to specialize.  True, some pastors lean too far in the direction of being a pastoral presence.  But I have also seen some who lean too far in the other direction, and for whom the congregation becomes a means to an end.

It seems to me that a quality that connects both the pastor/visitor and the "visionary" leader is the capacity of listening.  The older I get the more cautious I am of the Barna style "pastor goes into the desert and gets a vision that everyone should fall behind" model, and more open to the idea that the Holy Spirit is truly working through the entire people of God and that it is the pastors task to be listening (through visitation?) for where the Spirit is already at work.  If we take it seriously that Jesus is the real pastor of our church, this will always be taking place somewhere...but we have to be faithful to lead by listening.


Hi Greg,

Thanks for writing this blog.  I resonate with it.  It is certainly challenging to be pastoral and visionary.  Not sure how to strike a balance here, or if that's even the right approach.  But I do find that spending daily time with the Lord in solitude and silence essential to nourishing my soul and becoming more visionary.  The challenge I have is carving out time for the longer monthly or annual retreat(s), that would allow greater soul refreshment and visioning to occur. 

Again, thank you kindly for writing the article.


Thanks for the post. I appreciate you brought up an important and relevant issue in terms of pastoral identity. I also appreciate both comments of Jeff and Leon.  I believe both pastoral heart and visionary leadership arise from the intimate union with Christ. That's inseparable from loving Him and His church. In my experience as pastor and missionary, I found earning people's trust and respect by loving them who they are and where they are in their relationship with Christ is extremely important. That takes time and genuine efforts (especially deep listening to people and praying with/for them). A common mistake is to skip or hurry that trust building process. Once there is trust and respect, on that we can build the visionary leadership more effectively (and smoothly). As John Maxwell put it, "People buy into the leader, then the vision." In our cross-cultural mission setting, we identify "trusting relationship" and "a common vision" as two essential elements to build a team or a network of people with various backgrounds. I think it applies to the church setting as well. 


I thank you all for the comments.  I think each comments looks at the question from different angles, and each perspective is important.

Since I wrote this post, I have continued to think about the question of pastor/visionary leader.  I think most of us as pastors are not well balanced with both traits.  God has formed us in certain ways.  We have different personalities, gift mixes, and abilities.  As I would tell my Council members as they travelled to Classis meetings, notice how their is a pastor for every situation.  We are so different and it shows that there are different ministry contexts for each pastoral type.

Or is there?

This past weekend, I met with the denominations Strategic Planning folks who are looking for feedback from those outside of the denominational offices.  They shared that in a CRCNA Pastoral Excellence Survey from 2011 CRC pastors described themselves as having the following top three leadership skills: Listening and encouraging, Communication, and maintaining an non-anxious presence.  The same survey shared the lowest pastoral leadership skills as: Stategic Planning, Conflict management, and motivating people to perform at their full potential.

On the surface, these two skills sets/gifting could be seen as dividing between being a Pastor and being a visionary leader.  I know one can be a visionary leader with any gift mix!  Please do not take offense.  That is not my intention.  

What I find interesting from the survey is that the CRC culture must promote and encourage those with the top three pastoral leadership skills.  What does that mean for how congregations view pastors?  What does that mean for our established churches as they look for visionary leadership to help them reach a new generation?  What does this mean for our self understanding as we go about the task of being a pastor?

Again, I have more questions than answers.  

Chris Schoon on November 8, 2013

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I certainly resonate with this conversation as well. I wonder what role modelling or mentoring plays into the formation of our own pastoral identity. 

As I've engaged with another pastor in my city, we've shared a bit about how our vision for what church can look like was deeply shaped by one or two other pastors who served as mentors for us. My friend commented that he has come to realize that his expectation of what makes for a healthy size church (budget, # of members, scope of programs, ministry staff, etc) is quite closely related to what he saw modelled by one of his mentors. It seems to me that to a certain extent our understanding of the appropriate balance (or imbalance) of the pastoral-visionary roles will also be impacted by the way our mentors carried those roles.

For myself, I have a particular pastor who served as a mentor for quite some time. Though I don't connect often with him these days (we're living in different countries at the moment), I still keep an eye and an ear out to watch how he is leading within his community. It's not that I simply strive to replicate whatever he is doing, but that I am attentive to his approach to leadership.

One of the key things, I've learned from him is the idea of knowing my own gift mix, personality quirks, strengths, etc. and the need to build teams of people (both staff and lay leadership) that flourish in areas I don't. I reecognize that my gift/personality mix is weighted more toward the visionary, big-picture approach to leadership. I can do the detailed admin work and I can extend personal pastoral care, but I am not as strong in those areas. In that vein, one of the more significant I have needed to learn is that it's not healthy, effective, or beneficial for me to attempt to provide all things pastoral to our congregation myself. For the good of the people I am serving and for my own well-being in ministry, I need to make room and invite others into significant leadership capacities where they will be able to utlize their gifts in providing the full range or scope of "pastoral leadership" that the congregation needs.    

Jeff Brower on November 10, 2013

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


Your mentioning gift mixes brings in a whole other aspect of leadership formation that I have a divided mind about.  On the other hand, we are supposed to lead from our strengths.  At the same time, leadership growth, it seems, requires that we "play against type".  Roy Oswalt, of Alban Institute, talks about how his research findings showed that one of the marks of vital long term pastorates was "minding your growing edge"...that is, leaning the hardest into the area that you are the weakest at, and devoting good effort at improving at that.  How do we balance the two?

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