Andy Stanley got lot of slack for saying not all pastors are leaders. He welcomes that controversy, and stands by his claim, rightfully so. We pastors lament becoming a “beast of burden” with the burden of meeting every need. It crushes the spine. But then we cry foul when someone tries to remove one of those sacks of expectations, which makes you wonder if the sacks that breaks the back of pastors have been picked up by their own two hands. Andy is offering to remove one of those sacks.
A pastor is not automatically a leader. Leadership requires a different set of skills. And in the current church models, the lead pastor should also be an organizational leader. For he needs to — following familiar business mantras — cast a vision, gather leaders, train a team, inspire people and implement that vision. Not all pastors do those things well. So they should not expect it of themselves.
But I want to make a differentiation too. As not all pastors are leaders, not all leaders are spiritual leaders. Just because one runs a big church does not make him the authority on spiritual issues of the day. Confusing organizational leadership with spiritual leadership is not only unhelpful but detrimental as assuming all pastors are leaders.
Many of the media-enamored church leaders, who run conferences because they have shown the knack for organizing and marshaling many churches, are great organizational leaders. But they are not spiritual leaders. Some of them can be, but not necessarily so. To confuse the two is to actually sell out to the business modeling of the world. You are no longer adapting business methods to a Christian principles, but adapting Christian language to the core of a business philosophy. At its worst, you simply have a church which is a successful business, growing and producing a service that is useful to the society and the individuals who are purchasing that service, but not necessarily producing disciples.
I enjoy Andy Stanley’s podcast. He is upfront about the leadership he is speaking of, which is organizational leadership. So his podcast is applicable to other industries outside of the church (such language assumes that the church is also a particular industry which the church should not deny since it is in this world, but which the church should not accept as the only language because church is also not of this world). I use his podcast for leadership training of our church’s leaders.
However, Andy, or any other mega church leaders, must not claim spiritual leadership, at least, not by the credential of their successful churches. Sorry Andy, and I hope you hear this as you wish all other pastors to hear your challenge, with humility.
I also hope this is not heard as a gripe session. It is simply the same call towards honesty and humility which Andy makes to pastors. Andy says if you are a pastor and not a leader, to step down to let others lead. Likewise I say to those organizational leaders, don’t take up the mantle of spiritual leadership when you don’t have it. Step down and let spiritual leaders lead spiritually. It will save you from your messianic complex but also the people under you.
So what is the difference? Intuitively, we know. But here, rather than listing principles of spiritual leadership, I want to share some whom I consider spiritual leaders.
Thomas Merton is a spiritual leader.
People still seek him through his writings when they desire to seek healing for deep spiritual maladies, be it an individual or societal disease. You go to an organizational leader and you will get talks about finding one’s passions and gifts and how to work on your strengths and so on. All helpful, for they do engage us at one level of our human existence. They will help us in living well in human organizations. But that does not ultimately engage our spirit. Thomas Merton gives nourishment to my spirit.
Eugene Peterson is another who comes to mind. You don’t just get practical tips on how to be a well adjusted Christian. You return from Eugene with eyes that see the world differently, as if the world became more transparent and you see more of God in them.
Now, it is not that they are merely writers — though I think part of spiritual leadership is to be able to cut through clichés and not get glued to regurgitated language which calls for writing — but that they are people you would seek out and meet beyond just their writing persona.
Another difference is that they do not simply offer spiritual help for the individual, but they seem to have their pulse on larger spiritual shifts.
We need our pastors, and we need our organizational leaders, but we also desperately need our spiritual leaders. Not only must we plant more churches so more people can be plugged in, but we need more people to be aware of the spiritual reality of human lives and societies.
Church leaders are fond of Paul, and lift him up as the pastor who was also an entrepreneur. Paul is definitely a leader, launching all those churches in just few years of missionary trips. He gathers people, forms a team and empowers them to lead. But is Paul the only type of leader in the New Testament even if he did write most half of its writings?
Not many of church leaders lift up Jesus as a leader — though they lift him up as a savior — because actually he was not a leader. Jesus was not an organizational leader – contrary to the popular Jesus as CEO books and movements. He did not start a movement. He did not write instructions, like Paul does, on how to run things. This was not one of his giftings. But he was a spiritual leader. This was what the people saw immediately. He was not like the Pharisees — some of them pastors of the people, some of them organizational leaders. But Jesus, he was more than just a pastor who cared for the individual, and he was more than an organizational leader who helps individual to work together to accomplish more. He was a spiritual leader. He lifted the people to see the spiritual reality that is often invisible but more real than what is visible. After his presence – which included his preaching and his leadership — people could not sow the ground the way they did before. Their scattering of seeds came alive with divine calling.
We cannot all be Paul, and we cannot all be Jesus. Not all pastors are church leaders. Pastors, let’s accept that. Church leaders are not all spiritual leaders. Church leaders, accept this sober reality and do not dispense spiritual judgment (what might be worse are church leaders who believe their success qualifies them to be theologians, but that is an article for another time).
Now gifts are not merely nature. There is a great deal of nurturing to the discovery and the development of a gift. A whole society can be skewed towards one gifting through processes and rewards that favor one over the other. My Princeton experienced skewed me towards the pastor as the teacher. I came out knowing a whole lot about the Bible, but knowing nothing about managing the church. But with the glut of leadership conferences, with each other getting more ridiculous in their need to be cutting-edge, and seminaries trying to cater to what they see as the demands of the new crop of leaders, I see a skewing towards training pastors as organizational leaders. Many pastors will now be familiar with terms thrown around in HBR. I think it is a great layer. I listen to HBR weekly. But how many pastors and leaders are being trained with the language of spirituality?