Tag: church leaders

The Pastor as Artisan

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Over the centuries of church history, various metaphors have been used to describe the role of God’s chosen leaders. Some metaphors have lodged permanently in our collective consciousness, while others have not passed the test of time. I suggest that there is one more metaphor for the pastor’s role that might be a welcome addition to the others — the pastor as artisan.

Perhaps the oldest metaphor used to describe the pastoral leader is that of shepherd. The second metaphor used in the New Testament for church leaders is overseer. Both of those metaphors are enduring and widely used today.

Another metaphor that emerged in the early centuries of the church was that of pastor as the “physician of souls.” Sin was viewed as a disease and pastoral care was seen as the “cure of souls” with the priest as the administrator of that cure.

As the church growth movement took root in the 1980s, the popular metaphor of pastor as CEO was drawn from the corporate world. Successful churches, church growth advocates argued, concentrated authority in the pastor as CEO because this was the most effective means toward church growth. However, in retrospect the metaphor of pastor as CEO and the church growth movement have both proven to be inadequate for the complex task of shaping and leading twenty-first century congregations.

Of course, there are other pastoral metaphors in use as well. The popular triad of pastor as prophet, priest, and poet brings together several facets of pastoral ministry. From the sports world, the idea of the pastor as coach plays off popular sports imagery with the pastor as team strategist, and church staff and members as team players who execute the game plan.

To this wide-ranging mix of metaphors I would add one more — the pastor as artisan. At their height in the middle ages, artisans were skilled master craftsmen who produced goods that were beautiful and functional. These artisans included goldsmiths, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, weavers, tailors, shoemakers, hatters, tinsmiths, carpenters, potters, stonemasons, and so on. Master artisans took apprentices and trained them to become master craftsmen after apprenticeships lasting seven or more years. Artisans organized themselves into guilds which set standards and ensured that their particular skill and craft would endure.

There are six reasons I believe the artisan is an appropriate metaphor for pastors and their work.

1. Artisans focused on one product. They learned one trade which required them to learn how to select raw materials and how to craft those raw materials into a unique, finished product. Artisans lived in the vertical silo of their own trade. Silversmiths did not work in leather, cobblers did not make barrels, and carpenters did not branch out into stone work.

2. Artisans trained apprentices to continue their craft. Skills, insights, and trade secrets were passed from master artisan to his apprentices carefully. This hands-on training and mentoring assured the continuation of the traditions of each craft, but also allowed for advances and improvements as new tools and techniques were developed. Artisans brought on new trainees each year, assuring their workshops a continuing supply of understudies at different stages of learning.

3. Artisans were successful when their workshops produced both quality products and skilled apprentices. An artisan without an apprentice limited his future and the future of the trade in which he was engaged. Successful master artisans realized that their survival meant not only producing goods today, but continuing the trade for generations through the lives of apprentices they trained.

4. Artisans maintained important traditions while incorporating best practices as they became available. The purpose of the apprentice system was to pass on the skills and trade secrets developed over decades of skilled work techniques. These traditions became marks of pride, honor, and identification for each artisan guild. Guilds guaranteed that standards were followed, while also vetting newer practices. This process assured that the entire guild would continue to be well-thought of, and its products would be valued and purchased.

5. Artisans depended on other artisans for products they did not produce. The carriage maker, for instance, depended on the wheelwright for wheels. The wheelwright, in turn, depended on the blacksmith for the iron bands wrapped around the wooden wheel. Because artisans specialized, they depended on and supported each other’s work and products.

6. Artisans were themselves master craftsmen. While this might seem self-evident, they knew what it was like to be a novice, and then to progress to the more complex skills as their knowledge and craftsmanship developed. Master artisans knew the frustrations of apprenticeship, learned to endure the seven or more years their apprenticeship covered, and valued their training as they set up their own workshops as master artisans. There was no shortcut to becoming a master craftsman, and no absentee ownership of a skilled craft workshop. Artisans were hands-on masters, trained to train others while producing their own quality products.

In summary, the pastor as artisan is an apt metaphor and here’s why.

 Like artisans, pastors…

1. Focus on one product — proclaiming and practicing the good news of Jesus Christ.

2. Train others to do what they do, thereby ensuring continuity of Christian witness now and in the future.

3. Are most successful when they not only produce effective ministry results, but when they also work closely with others to do the same.

4. Value age-old traditions, such as doctrinal orthodoxy, while incorporating new expressions of the faith into their practice.

5. Depend on others, as members of the body of Christ, to provide those gifts they do not possess in order to function faithfully as the Church.

6. Have learned important lessons from skilled leaders who have gone before them, and have incorporated those lessons into their own mature practice of ministry.

Viewing pastors and other church leaders as artisans helps us to take a long-term approach to ministry. Apprenticeships that lasted seven years required patience, consistency, and perseverance from both master artisan and apprentice. However, by taking the long view , artisans created beautiful products and an enduring legacy. Pastors could learn from their example.

15 Traits of Innovative Leaders

A few days ago I had the opportunity to participate in a leadership conference with Dr. Greg Jones, former dean of Duke Divinity School, and Dr. John Upton, president of the Baptist World Alliance and the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. Next week, I’ll share Greg Jones’ thoughts on leadership, but today I thought you might like to hear what John Upton had to say.

Dr. Upton listed 15 characteristics of innovative church leaders, which he has observed in his global contact with Baptist leaders, and leaders from other Christian traditions. Dr. Upton said that these are not ranked by priority, but are observable in those leaders he has met in countries where the Church is thriving.

1. Leaders create opportunities. Dr. Upton remarked that leaders live in a context of discovery, exploration, and learning. Out of that inquisitive context, leaders open spaces for new things to happen.

2. Leaders say “I don’t know.” Acknowledging honestly that you as a leader do not have all the answers opens the way for others to explore, experiment, and discover things that even you as a leader might not have thought of. Dr. Upton contends that saying “I don’t know” gives permission to others to “figure it out” while the leader offers wisdom and supports those who are exploring new possibilities.

3.  Leaders are rarely the best performers, but rather are talent developers. Upton used the illustration of an orchestra and conductor. While the conductor may not be skilled enough to occupy the first chair of any section, she brings together all of the talent of those who do occupy the orchestral sections into a beautiful blend of harmony and energy.

4. Leaders cast the vision of hope. While “vision-casting” has come to mean the leader presents a program or concept all neatly tied up, Upton contends that great leaders like Churchill and FDR cast a vision of hope. From hope others rise to the occasion, innovate in their situations, and produce more and better results than one leader alone could hope to.

5. Leaders thrive on paradox. Great leaders are able to hold two opposing views in mind, and come up with a solution that considers all possibilities. A good resource is The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking by Roger L. Martin.

6. Leaders love a mess. John Upton observed that good leaders always have a symbolic supply of duct tape handy, which I thought was a good metaphor for fixing things on the fly. Upton observed that leaders are “comfortable in the craziness,” which is not the same in my opinion as comfortable with lack of focus.

7. Leaders do and then they re-do. There is no absolute solution in any organization. Today’s solution may become tomorrow’s obstacle. Leaders recognize the need for revisiting and re-evaluating an organization’s goals and accomplishments, however those are measured.

8.  Leaders know when to wait. Timing can be just as important as vision. Learning to wait patiently for the right moment, the right atmosphere, the right people to be on-board with a project can be critical to the success of that project. Patience is a virtue, not just in theory, but in leading churches as well.

9.  Leaders are optimistic. Optimism means leaders “believe that this can be a better world, we can make a difference” according to Upton. Optimism is not blind disregard of reality, but a long-range attitude of hope.

10. Leaders convey a grand design, but attend to details. Grand schemes are great, and folks need an over-arching vision. But, as the architect Mies van der Rohe is alleged to have said, “God is in the details.” Apparently, this applies to churches as well as architecture.

11. Leaders make mistakes, but create blame-free cultures. “I’d rather reward a great failure, than a mediocre success,” Upton commented. Failure without blame is not a bad thing for organizations, and part of the learning curve of innovative cultures.

12. Leaders are talent fanatics. Great leaders, according to Jim Collins, surround themselves with highly-talented people, and exhibit personal humility when talking about their group’s accomplishments. Great leaders attract, nurture, mentor, and reward talent, according to Upton.

13. Leaders create networks for peer-learning. Really good leaders are not the only generators of ideas or information in their organizations. Peer-learning networks which connect across organizations, departments, or other organizational boundaries create a culture of curiosity and exploration.

14. Leaders know themselves well. This may be one of the toughest qualities of leadership to master. Self-knowledge, coupled with self-regulation, separates the good from the best in leadership. Acknowledging that “I’m not in charge” of everything, which is the cousin of “I don’t know everything” enables others to succeed and communicates that the leader understands his or her own limitations.

15. Leaders take breaks. There are no rewards for pastors who say, “I never take a vacation.” Leaders need a break from the pressures of leadership in order to rest, recharge, and re-evaluate. Think of preventive maintenance for pastors, and you’ve got the idea. Great leaders step away, have other interests, pay attention to their relationships, and recognize their need for perspective.

Those are John Upton’s 15 characteristics of great leaders, based on his experience and observation. What other traits or practices would you add to this list? Or, how would you rank these in order of priority for your ministry setting?

What Do Wisconsin and Egypt Teach Us About Leadership?

Update: BuildingChurchLeaders.com, a Christianity Today site,  cross-posted this on their Off The Agenda blog today.

The news from both the Middle East and the midwest has been interesting lately.  On the one hand, government leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, and now Libya are being challenged by their own people.  On the other hand, here in the heartland of the United States and the home of the Green Bay Packers another challenge is being played out as thousands of demonstrators oppose the budget cuts of a conservative governor.

Before anyone starts siding with or against Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, let me issue this disclaimer:  I am not interested in the politics of either Wisconsin or Libya for the purposes of this discussion.  What I am interested in is what both of these events teach us about leadership, especially church leadership.

Here’s my point:  Egypt’s struggle for relief from the oppression of the Mubarak regime could have ended very differently.  But it didn’t.  Egypt’s leaders realized that common, everyday people had legitimate grievances.  And when an attempt was made to crush the revolution by force, these same leaders were rebuked by world opinion.  In other words, the leaders of Egypt, however reluctantly, listened to the will of the people.

The result in Egypt was a change in direction, and a new future which is still being formed. Other countries followed Egypt’s example when royal regimes in Bahrain and Jordan pledged reforms in response to demonstrations there. Libya by contrast, is a study in the use of force, violence, and propaganda by Gaddafi against his own people.

Here in the United States, conservative governors like Scott Walker are standing firm, refusing to talk with their opposition.  Political intransigence has produced a legislative logjam, and it’s doubtful if either side will get what it wants.  Politics aside, what are the lessons about leadership that we should be learning from these events?

Here are three quick observations:

First, leadership depends upon the consent of followers. Once the majority of the Egyptian people turned on Mubarak, even he knew his days were numbered.  The same is true in churches.  Just because you have the title of pastor, doesn’t mean you can exercise power without regard to the opinions and feelings of your church members.  Leadership, by its very definition, depends upon the cooperation and support of those being led.

Secondly, force succeeds sometimes, but not all the time. China successfully suppressed the democracy movement by killing students in Tiannamen Square in 1989.  Gaddafi is holding off the opposition with force for now.  Pastors can push and cajole to get their way sometimes.  But the toll in both the political world and the faith community can be very high.  I have read that 1,000 pastors leave the ministry each month, and much of that has to be due to conflict.

Finally, how you get there is just as important as where you’re going. The journey is just as important as the destination, especially in churches.  While dictatorships are a sure way to keep things under control, eventually that kind of government becomes unbearable for its citizens.  The same is true for churches, and especially small churches.  How we deal with difficulty, how we treat each other, and the means we use to accomplish our goals are just as important as the final outcome.

I do understand that churches need to change, that new people ought to be reached, and that sometimes the process is painful.  But world events offer us a ringside seat on lessons of leadership.  Listening and learning gets my vote.  How about you?

CAIRO, EGYPT - FEBRUARY 11: An anti-government demonstrator weeps with joy upon hearing the news of the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. After 18 days of widespread protests, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has now left Cairo for his home in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik, announced that he would step down. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The Five People A Pastor Needs In Church

With apologies to Mitch Albom, here’s my take on the five people a pastor needs in church.

  1. A friend. Because pastors are human beings, we need a social network of friends.  But some pastors continue to believe that a pastor can’t be friends with people in his or her congregation.  A pastor should not play favorites among church members, but that is far different than valuing the friendship of some members.  Friends are the ones who keep your kids, invite you out to eat, drop by unannounced, and care about what’s happening in your life.  Friends know the real you, and pastors need friends in church who know us in all of our humanity.
  2. A counselor. Pastors need friends, but they also need counselors.  Usually you only need one or two, but you need a wise, thoughtful person in the congregation who will give you an honest assessment of your ideas, vision, and goals.  The Bible itself presents the idea that there is “wisdom in many counselors.”
  3. A pray-er. Not a prayer, but a pray-er — someone who prays for you and the church.  Daily.  Regularly.  Fervently.  Paul encourages young Timothy to offer prayers for leaders, and church leaders need people who pray regularly for them.  The legendary story of Charles Spurgeon’s “power plant” — the prayer room at his church — needs to be realized in our churches today.  Pastors should be at the top of somebody’s prayer list.
  4. A critic. Of course, critics seem to be in abundant supply in many churches.  But pastors do need critics, too.  We need critics to offer the counterpoint to our ideas, vision, and dreams.  While praise is wonderful, we learn from criticism, especially when it is honest, helpful, and loving.
  5. A supporter. In every church I have served, I have enjoyed great support from wonderful people.  Supporters aren’t just fans of the pastor.  Supporters are genuinely enthusiastic about the pastor’s leadership, the direction of the church, Continue reading “The Five People A Pastor Needs In Church”

Silly Titles For Serious Topics

Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed how silly Christian book titles have become?  Zondervan is in a dust-up with Soong-Chan Rah and other Asian-American church leaders over the book Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership.  Dr. Rah’s beef, and rightly so, is with the cultural insensitivity of the book.  But, if you don’t already know the subject matter of this book  (behaviors that can lead to moral failure in a church leader’s life), then you’d never guess it by the title.  The fact that it premiered at Catalyst, an event targeted to young pastors, might be a clue to the title.  However, if I were a young pastor, I think I would be insulted.

I also ran across Frank Page’s book, The Incredible Shrinking Church, online the other day.  Page, former SBC president and now North American Mission Board evangelism head, seems to be a very nice guy with some serious things to say about church decline, growth, and evangelism.  Yet B&H Publishing, a Lifeway imprint, titled the book for 7th graders rather than church leaders.

While these are two examples, they are not the only instances of trivial titles used to sell books on supposedly serious topics.  I’m all for a little light-heartedness, but is this dumbing down of Christian leadership books a trend, or am I just getting too old and grumpy to get it?  Actually, I never buy books that look like they are written for the lowest rung of the church leadership ladder.  What about you?  Do these catchy, and somewhat silly titles put you off?  Or, are you not one to judge a book by its cover?

6 Practices for High Impact Churches

I’m reading Forces For Good: Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather Grant.  The authors studied hundreds of successful nonprofits and distilled these six practices of the best ones:

  1. Advocate and serve.  High-impact nonprofits do both — serve through programs and advocate for systemic change in their field.  Churches can do the same — offer programs while also seeking to transform their communities.  For example, our church hosted a Boys and Girls Club which was ethnically diverse.  As a result, we were asked to host the Martin Luther King Day celebration in our community last year.  Our culture was changed by our openness to program for the entire community. 
  2. Make markets work.  Hi-impact nonprofits partner with businesses (markets) in ways which are good for both.  I’ve written about this before.  Many churches are partnering with businesses, or even starting businesses, to engage their communities.  These partnerships are mutually beneficial, not one-sided corporate sponsorships.
  3. Inspire evangelists.  Great NPs inspire their volunteers, who in turn tell others.  Interesting that business has taken over a New Testament concept — evangelism.  If any group should inspire its volunteers/members to go out and tell others, it’s churches.  I’m not talking about evangelism training, but enthusiastic church members who spontaneously talk up their church to others.
  4. Nurture nonprofit networks.  Rather than seeing other NPs as competitors for the same dollars and volunteers, great NPs collaborate and cooperate with other NPs in areas where they share common cause.  Did you ever notice how hard it is for churches to work together?  We’re often not much better at this than secular organizations, but we should be.  If we focus on Kingdom-building, rather than turf-protection we might have more impact on our communities.
  5. Master the art of adaptation.  Change when change is necessary is what high-impact NPs do.  The ability to adapt to changing circumstances is essential to any organization’s survival.  Of course, churches are notoriously poor at change and adaptation, and that’s part of the problem.  Successful NPs adapt.  Others die.  Same for churches.
  6. Share leadership.  Great nonprofits share leadership throughout the organization even when they have a charismatic leader.  Throw away all your “be-a-leader-like-Moses” books and share leadership in your church.   That, after all, is the point of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ — we all have something to contribute.

I think all of these concepts are translatable to churches.  We’re actually trying to employ several of them in our church.  Oh, one more thing — another characteristic is that high-impact nonprofits often do not excel in traditional measurements.  In other words, high impact churches measure more than buildings, budgets, and baptisms, and may not set records in those traditional areas of measurement.  What do you think?

Leadership is changing — are you?

“It is no longer the time of the heroic leader — the leader who walks in and takes up all the space in the room.  The job of today’s leaders is to create space for other people — a space in which people can generate new and different ideas…”  The Changing Nature of Leadership, p. 19

That’s one of the conclusions in a report from The Center for Creative Leadership.  The bottom line:  leadership is changing and leaders that adapt to the changing times will:

  1. View leadership as a collaborative process.  The lone visionary is out, the collaborative leader who listens and empowers is in.
  2. Recognize that 21st century challenges require adaptive, not technical, changes.  Adaptive changes are systemic, and require new solutions that we may not have thought of yet.  Technical changes are improvements or adjustments to strategies we already know.  Sunday School might be a good example.  Does Sunday School need an overhaul (technical change) or is there a better strategy for teaching the Bible in the 21st century than “classes” on Sunday morning (adaptive change).
  3. Develop a new skill set for leading.  Participation, building/maintaining relationships, and change management replaces the old skill set of resourcefulness, decisiveness (“lone-ranger decision-making”) and doing whatever it takes.  
  4. Reward teamwork, collaboration, and innovation.  Collaborative, participatory teamwork emerges as the preferred strategy of the future and successful leadership will reward shared team efforts.
The CCL report is geared to secular organizations, but the same principles can apply to churches.  Typically, churches are behind the curve in understanding and incorporating new leadership strategies.  Eighty-four percent of leaders surveyed by CCL agreed that the definition of leadership has changed in the last five years.  Several months ago I wrote about “Vision: An Overblown Concept” because I thought church leadership needed to move from the “visionary leader” model to the “collaborative model” of leadership.  Looks like someone else agrees with me.  What do you think?