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Where Preaching and Leadership Meet

What is the goal of preaching? According to John Calvin, the highest purpose of preaching is to give glory to God. But the act of praise is never a preacher’s solo performance—he or she seeks to edify the body of Christ as well. In preaching and in leading, the pastor seeks to call people to faith in Jesus Christ, grow the congregation’s collective commitment to holiness and righteousness, and increase their awareness and understanding of their role in the kingdom of God. Preaching that edifies is preaching that shapes and moves the body toward a faithful, corporate witness to Jesus Christ in the world today.

Preachers, therefore, aim to build, shape, and move the entire flock entrusted to their care. While those of us who rise to preach do so confident that the Holy Spirit is about the work of transformation in the heart of the listener, we also dare to speak with the expectation that God is at work in the corporate life of the community. All preachers know that it is the Spirit of God that inspires the hearts of individual listeners of the Word. But we seem to pay less attention to the Spirit’s work among the collective whole. If God calls the church to be on the move in terms of vision, strategy, and mission, then we ought to be pondering how to help, push, guide, and point along the way. We ought to think more about what it means to be leaders responsible for the growth, shape, and movement of the body of Christ.

In my experience, leadership styles are not a common topic of study in seminaries, where pastors-to-be are preparing to serve and to lead congregations. But you can bet that executive leadership style is a well-worn subject in business school classrooms and corporate meeting rooms where professional development necessitates attention paid to such skills. Organizations that flourish amid change depend on leaders who consistently work on the characteristics and styles that best serve the collective whole. Every pastor today is being called to serve a changing church—that’s not an oxymoron but a fact of life. Preachers are called to be leaders.

In their book Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman and his colleagues introduce a variety of leadership styles based on assessments of strengths and weaknesses in emotional intelligence. A visionaryleader, for example, focuses on the big picture, encourages shared dreams, and allows others to work on necessary administrative details. In contrast, a commandingleader gives clear direction and expects all team members to follow along. There is no consensus building, and most feedback would be negative. The authors argue that variable contexts could require a particular leader to lean toward different styles at different times. The best leaders draw upon a toolbox of styles, adapting to challenge and change while constantly seeking critical feedback on their own effectiveness.

I have been thinking about the various leadership styles and how they may be revealed in the preaching life. Pastors may not have the language to easily reflect on leadership styles; however, reflecting on and evaluating one’s own sermons is an important discipline. It’s worth reflecting on which leadership style is most evident in your preaching and whether cultivating a different style might be helpful.

Visionary Preachers

Visionary preachers, for example, are kingdom preachers. They present the big picture of the kingdom of God. Working with biblical texts, imagery, and example, kingdom preachers point the body of Christ toward a world of justice and righteousness. They consistently inspire listeners to dream dreams and see visions, calling them to be servants of the kingdom here and now. These preachers point to the sure and certain signs of the kingdom that surround us, all the while empowering the congregation to have “eyes to see and ears to hear.” Rather than sitting back and waiting for the kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, the church goes forth in hope and peace, joyfully working for the kingdom and yearning for that great day when lions and lambs will lie down together and swords will become plowshares.

“Commanding” Preachers

These preachers take seriously their identity as individuals ordained by God for leadership. Their “because I said so” style of preaching may take the shape of inspiration (God has placed this upon my heart) or education and interpretation (this is how I read the text). These preachers are able to move congregations along by telling listeners what to think on matters big and small. Like a coach who inspires loyalty and motivates performance by convincing the team it is “us” against “them,” commanding preachers shape the body of Christ over and against the world rather than shaping it in service to the world. Effective preachers who invoke this style can instill high levels of commitment and loyalty as community identity takes shape. The likely movement may be hunkering down together rather than journeying along the way.

Those are just two examples of leadership styles evident in preaching. Regardless of style, an additional challenge for pastors to think about is the continuity and authenticity of their leadership as it is embodied in preaching, pastoral care, committee work, and other pastoral roles. Does the congregation experience the same kind of leading from the pastor all through the week? Can the pastor effectively adapt his or her leadership style to the complex contexts that arise time and time again? What resources does the congregation have to give feedback and encourage the pastor to develop leadership skills?

These are questions worth thinking about, both by pastors and congregations. After all, it takes effective leadership to build, shape, and move the body of Christ.

This column is provided in cooperation with the Center for Excellence in Preaching. For more on the CEP, its upcoming events, and its online resources, visit http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/.