Preachers have lost the art of leadership through the proclaimed Word. There is too little courage and too much safe predictability, too little confrontation of evil by Christ's power and too much soothing of the already convinced. Fewer people can imagine that revival and renewal could ever come from preaching.
Michael J. Quicke, 360-Degree Preaching
When I first wrote that, it sounded rather dramatic, but I still believe it is true. A burden weighs heavily upon me. I grieve that two driving forces for good have become separated from each other: leadership from preaching and preaching from leadership. This broken relationship and my desire that they dialogue with each other in order to create a powerful working partnership dominate this book.
I picture them as two forceful personalities (the Old Testament provides a good precedent by personalizing wisdom as female in Proverbs 8). Male or female, preaching and leadership stand apart, like giants happily preoccupied with their own spheres of influence. Perhaps glancing at each other occasionally, they mostly focus on their own tasks, never thinking to meet and shake hands, let alone work together in partnership. Their characters are different. Preaching is theologically weighty and boasts long-term spiritual pedigree, giving it an assured place in the weekly cycles of church life. Perhaps it looks slightly smug with traces of irritation that another player has attracted so much attention. Leadership is a robust newcomer with a world of new ideas and language about how to work in the contemporary situation. Maybe it shows some impatience and touches of arrogance.
After all, leadership is well ahead in the popularity polls. Many people see the staple diet of Sunday sermons as solid unattractive necessities rather than magnetic opportunities. Many who were shocked by David Murrow's book Why Men Hate Going to Church nonetheless reluctantly agree with his conclusions that many men (and probably women too) are being bored out of churches. But, on the other hand, leadership radiates excitement and action. For example, consider George Barna's definition of a Christian leader: "someone who is called by God to lead and possess virtuous character and [who] effectively motivates, mobilizes resources, and directs people toward the fulfillment of a jointly embraced vision from God." How attractive and energetic that sounds compared with general perceptions about sermons! Leadership is red-hot, gaining loud applause from enthusiastic fans. Bill Hybels recently claimed: "I believe that the local church is the hope of the world and its future lies primarily in its leaders." Sermons seem to lie cold and blue at the opposite end of the spectrum from dynamic leadership.
My picture of two personalities operating in different spheres of influence reminds me of a famous political relationship. In the cold war between West and East, two people eyed each other suspiciously in 1984—Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of Great Britain, and Mikhail Gorbachev, premier of the Soviet Union. However, in spite of many differences, when they met and began to talk a very significant thaw occurred, and Margaret Thatcher said famously, "This is a man that I can do business with." This was a turning point in relationships between West and East.
At present there seems little positive relationship between preaching and leadership, as this chapter describes. But the situation must change. Part 1 shows the need for developing partnership, and part 2 offers a model for a working relationship so preaching and leading can "do business" together. I believe that by doing business together, preaching/leading will transform local churches.
Local churches have been severely harmed by this non-relationship between preaching and leadership. God has designed local churches to spearhead his kingdom. I know how often they fall sadly short of God's ideal because they are full of unholy people like me. Christopher Idle likens denominations to characters in Winnie the Pooh. Tigger is Pentecostal, Winnie the Pooh is Episcopalian, and Rabbit is undeniably Baptist because of the washings, the organizing of others by "rissolutions," and mostly his innumerable relations, who represent all the splits, persuasions, and separations. I am particularly aware of the failings of my own Baptist tradition. Supposedly, there are forty-seven Baptist denominational groupings in the United States, often not talking to each other. Yet in spite of all of this, by God's mysterious choosing, only local churches can flesh out the possibilities of grace as it works in forgiven men and women worshiping and living in their communities. Only in local churches can people belong under Christ's lordship as family. Only by local churches can whole communities be salted and lit up (Matt. 5:13-16) and missionaries be sent out to the world. Churches are part of God's cosmic master plan (Col. 1:18) and there is no plan B.
As a Baptist pastor serving through the last thirty-plus years, three contrasting personal experiences illustrate my encounters with these two driving forces. The first was in my beginning pastorate, the second in my Cambridge ministry, and the third when I became principal of Spurgeon's College, London.
In 1972, between my call to the pastorate and my arrival in the Baptist church in Blackburn, Lancashire, I received dismal news that extensive dry rot had been discovered in the roof and walls, making the building unsafe. Courteously, the chair of the church management committee wrote inviting me to withdraw from the pastorate. After all, he said, who wants to begin ministry plagued by major building problems and no money?
However, I truly believed that God had called me for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in rot and in health. My first sermons declared: "In the beginning God" (Genesis 1), "In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1), and "Jesus Invites You into His Kingdom" (Mark 1:14). Big themes! I knew that everything depended on God, and during seven years I preached my heart out weekly to a local church community that needed, with me, to grow in faith and vision through a building crisis into a mission for its neighborhood and beyond. Leadership studies were almost nonexistent. I wouldn't have recognized a mission or vision statement if it had come straight at me, announced what it was, and bitten me on my nose. Of course there were the usual Baptist church structures with deacons' boards, committees, and congregational meetings. But truthfully, preaching in worship, as worship, seemed central to all the ensuing events of church life and mission, which turned out to be exhilaratingly untidy and surprisingly eventful. I experienced, and my congregation with me, the mysterious fusion of the spiritual gift of leadership with preaching.
The title of John Killinger's 1969 book best summed up my ministry practice: The Centrality of Preaching in the Total Task of the Ministry. I tasted something of full-blooded preaching. I have warmed to this expression, because full-blooded expresses the vital and invigorating task of being Christ's ambassadors staking the future on gospel truth—"if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation... see, everything has become new!" (2 Cor. 5:17). As Walter Brueggemann strikingly describes it, the Bible world invites us into a contrasting reality as compared to surrounding culture, into "a counterstory about God, world, neighbor, and self." How dramatically such preaching contrasts with anemic, thin-blooded preaching that offers no impelling counterstory. And right there, in Blackburn, Lancashire, I found my preaching was sounding out God's new way of living in a contrasting reality.
My second experience turned out to have immense impact on my development as a preacher/leader, though it began inauspiciously. Having resisted a call to become their pastor for two years (partly because so many positive things were happening at Blackburn), in 19801 reluctantly found myself in a downtown church in Cambridge called St. Andrew's Street Baptist Church. The primary reason for my unwillingness to go to this church was obvious—it seemed to be in the last throes of terminal decline. Founded in 1721, boasting a proud history, the church building seated one thousand people, with a great track record of past members and preachers, but its numbers were reduced to a small group of elderly saints—seventy in the morning congregation and twenty in the evening. They mostly sat in the back pews so that, when the Fenland mist rolled in, I could hardly see them and, perhaps more to the point, they couldn't see me.
Nothing in my seven years of ministry had so far prepared me for this situation. All my experience at Blackburn had assumed a vibrant family community living within walking distance of the church buildings. But what was the mission of this downtown church? Its few members all lived a distance away and commuted in on Sundays. Indeed, some even wondered if it should have a mission. Someone suggested that perhaps I had been called to give the church a decent burial. "After all," they said, "there are enough churches in Cambridge. It is very important to help some churches die!" Another pastor told me he had declined the pastorate in the previous two years because it had no "mission patch" in the city. To some observers it simply didn't seem worth putting any more effort into it. Frankly, I wondered if anything I might say or do would make a scrap of difference. I knew that I was way out of my depth, with meager human resources and nothing in my past experience that I could see working here.
Rereading that last paragraph it might seem that I am exaggerating my sense of helplessness. But I really did feel completely overwhelmed. Questions like, What are we going to do? How will this ever work? plagued me. Yet what actually happened next proved to be the biggest surprise of my ministry. I learned, with this small and mostly elderly group, what it meant to pray and trust in God. To our amazement he worked out his counterstory, on the main street in Cambridge, through us. From 1980 to 1993 a story of congregational transformation unfolded. In this unlikely situation, I found myself practicing a series of principles about following God's guidance in prayer and faith which later on, to my utter amazement, lined up with the findings and conclusions that others propose in the leadership model that I shall introduce in part 2 of this book.
I shall share more of the story of what happened at St. Andrew's Street Baptist Church at the end of the book. But I want you to sense something of the powerful adventure that I, with the congregation, went through. My experience in that church changed my ministry and inspired me to think through what it means to be a preacher/leader. One person who knew the church well said to me later about the transformation, "If it could happen there, it could happen anywhere!" I am convinced that more and more congregations can experience transformation like that, when preachers lead.
During the 1990s, my ministry took a further turn as I left Cambridge to become principal of Spurgeon's College. It was here that I was introduced to my first business leadership book. A new college administrator thrust Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras into my hand and urged me to read it. This classic business book analyzes eighteen world-beating companies compared with their closest, less successful rivals. I read it carefully with deepening fascination. It demolished myths of successful leadership and advocated accepting "both/and" choices rather than the "tyranny of the or." Successful organizations need a BHAG—a "big hairy audacious goal" (though why "hairy" I never understood). The book failed to mention God, yet I could relate so many of its principles to Christian leadership. After all, isn't the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) the biggest BHAG? So much in the book made sense.
Since then I have read many such books and attended several conferences on Christian leadership. So have most pastors. A 2003 survey of U.S. pastors found that 94 percent of those surveyed had participated in some kind of leadership training or used leadership resources. Over three decades, interest in leadership has gained ascendancy in the Western church.
Many positive results have flowed from this, as we shall see later. But there has been one disastrous consequence—the eclipse of the preacher/ leader. The older model of the local church needed a preacher/leader within a complex organism focused around Sunday worship—Word and sacrament. Such public ministry both focused and initiated other church activity and community life. However, any organization structured on business principles has no critical need for preachers as leaders. Preachers still have a teaching role, but increasingly it is not deemed to be one of leadership. Their preaching has become thin-blooded, a sickly substitute for the real thing of being Christ's ambassadors of new creation.
Much of the extensive literature on church leadership has little or nothing good to say about preaching having a leadership role. Some authors even seem hostile. Thomas Bandy critiques traditional preaching for its wordiness, its precious ego, and its rejection of new technologies. Such preaching separates clergy from laity and acts like a CEO to stockholders and senior pastor to associates. In contrast, Bandy encourages the model of good coaching that relates as friend-to-friend, team-to-team, explorer to spiritual travelers, and mentor to apprentices. He looks for animation, synergy, and passion in his team-building model for the future church, but there seems to be no room for preaching.
Many who write on leadership make scant reference to preaching. One of Kennon Callahan's Twelve Keys to an Effective Church is "corporate, dynamic worship." He describes five factors as important: warmth, music, preaching, liturgy, and seating. Preaching receives minimal attention. He briefly commends "preachers who are the shepherds, leaders, and prophets in their churches and community,... shepherds in caring and sharing, leaders with wisdom and judgment, prophets with thoughtful and insightful critique," but he gives no direct guidance about how preachers lead.Similarly, Christian Schwarz identifies one of eight characteristics for "natural church growth" as "inspiring worship" yet fails to give preaching a primary place in strategy. Leith Anderson also urges models of leadership without developing preaching's role.
Sometimes books on spiritual leadership imply preaching in every chapter yet fail to name it explicitly. For example, Henry and Richard Blackaby's Spiritual Leadership has immensely helpful insights (which I shall draw on later). They stress God's call of the leader and the leader's responsibility to listen to God's agenda and communicate it. Page after page sounds as though it is especially about preachers yet, in their understandable desire to include other kinds of leaders, preachers end up as missing persons.
Strangely, even gifted preacher/leaders seem to emphasize other aspects of leadership rather than the role of preaching itself. Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Church is dedicated to bi-vocational pastors, and he briefly extols the "primacy of preaching" at the end of a chapter on "preaching to the unchurched." However, in much of the rest he fails to make clear just how much preachers are involved in the tasks of leadership as preachers. His programs such as "40 Days of Purpose" link small group work with daily readings of his book and viewing video films. He provides tools for preachers in order to mobilize church communities to form small groups and sustain the program, all the while presuming the leadership role of preachers but never spelling it out.
Bill Hybels similarly presumes preaching's contribution to leadership and offers some examples, but he does not seem to develop a clear practical strategy for preaching/leading. Jim Herrington, Mike Bonem, and James Furr offer one of the most realistic models for congregational transformation, and I shall draw heavily on their work in part 2. But even they rarely mention the role that preaching uniquely has to play in terms of leadership. Aubrey Malphurs's Values-Driven Leadership actually presupposes preaching but only addresses the significance of preacher/leaders briefly and late in his book.