OK, We Need Both Leaders & Managers (But We Mostly Need Leaders)


Years ago, I read several books telling me that Pastors Should Not Be Managers. Managers make the trains (or liturgies) run on time.  Managers solve problems.  Managers direct.  Managers address needs.  Managers are reactive. Managers placate.  Managers in churches are – if a congregation can afford it – are also called Church Administrators.

The 21st Century Church is craving leaders.

In small congregations, when the Pastor is Administrator, Secretary, Custodian, Christian Educator, Youth Director, Web Master, Music Leader, Volunteer Coordinator, Therapist, and . . . Pastor, being a Leader either 1) doesn’t happen or 2) happens at the expense of the website being updated or the confirmation class getting permission slips, or the piano being tuned.

A classic HBR article explains it all here.

It’s a serious question:  What do we do when a congregation of 20-50 people seeks to be the church in these days?

If they are both well-heeled and committed, a congregation of 20-50 members can – perhaps – afford a full-time pastor.  But chances are they cannot also afford a FT or PT anything else. And nobody doing Everything has the time to also be the Vision Caster or the Global Ponderer or the Equipper of Managers.  And  so we have many smaller congregations (in the PCUSA in 2010, 3,001 churches had less than 50 members) that are floundering because the pastor either:

  1. Is okay with being a manager, but nobody’s looking into the future and the church will probably close when the pastor retires.
  2. Is wanting to Look To The Future but the church has a culture of the pastor managing everything and so she/he is The Frustrated Leader.
  3. Is wanting to Look to The Future but the church has a culture of the pastor managing everything and so she/he is Casting a Vision and nobody can find the pencils.

I was blessed to meet some excellent Small Church Leaders recently and here’s how ministry happens well:  The Leader has the skills to teach members to manage the ministry.  And those members truly want to do ministry.  They do not wear figurative bibs expecting the pastor to feed them bite by bite.  They want to make guests feel welcomed.  They want strangers to find schedules and directions.  They want the sick to be fed and the lonely to be visited.  They want walls painted and floors vacuumed so that the atmosphere is fresh and clean.

We have too many congregations led by Pastor Managers rather than Pastor Leaders.  Smaller congregations can thrive in the 21st Century only if members want to thrive.  Only if Pastors are allowed to ask questions and point to the future.  So, here’s my question:

What’s the best way to teach this to our churches?  (It’s a real question.)

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7 responses to “OK, We Need Both Leaders & Managers (But We Mostly Need Leaders)

  1. “How” is the 64-million dollar question. I believe we’ve learned something about that in our work with small congregations in Pittsburgh Presbytery. It would be good to have a conversation among several of us who are doing this work, so that we could share insights.


  2. It’s a developmental shift (Wilbur, Rohr, Graves, Fowler et.al.). Why/how/when some people evolve their capacity to hold more than one perspective…is different for every person. As long “church” is working for them…the status quo becomes the little “g” gospel.

    Now, expand that to a congregational shift…you see why we are where we are and we will be for awhile. That doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do…just that we won’t see the end result in our lifetime.


  3. I don’t have an answer, but I think it would be worth bringing people who lead small churches together to discuss. Yes, this is a huge and frustrating problem.


  4. Amen and amen. As a pastor to 2 small churches, this is something I struggle with daily. I would love to be part of an ongoing conversation with others about this- not a “prgrams for small churches” kind of thing, but how do we help congregations’ develop enthusiasm for ministry? And truth be told, I think many (some) people do want this- but grew up in a congregational culture in which you needed “permission” or were told “you’re doing it wrong” and so fell back on having the Pastor do it all.


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  7. Andrea Stoeckel

    As a retired Professional Transitional Minister,whose ministry focussed on churches transitioning to closure, boy do I understand this one. Churches in transition need two things: to change their “edifice complex” and to let go of the “seven deadly words”( aka” we’ve never done it that way before”)


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