Tag: leadership

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.

Picking Up The Mantle of Leadership

prophet-elijah-ascending-to-heaven-on-a-chariot-of-fireSunday I preached on the story of the prophet Elijah and his protege Elisha from 2 Kings 2:8-14. Elijah knew he was nearing the the end of his life, and asked Elisha what he could do for him before he departed. Elisha replied that he wanted a “double-portion” of Elijah’s spirit.

Of course, this is the Elijah who had defeated Ahab and Jezebel’s prophets of Baal, all 450 of them. This is the Elijah that had saved the widow of Zarephath and her son by assuring her that her flour and oil would not run out until God brought rain to end the drought. This is also the same Elijah who raised the widow’s son from the dead. So to ask for a “double-portion” of his spirit was to ask a lot.

In Elijah’s passing of the mantle of leadership to Elisha, there are four things we can learn:

1. To pick up the mantle of leadership, you have to want it.

2 Kings tells us there were 50 other prophets following Elijah, but Elisha was the only one to ask if he could inherit Elijah’s ministry. Of course, back in 1 Kings 19, God tells Elijah to select Elisha, and he does so by temporarily wrapping his mantle around Elisha’s shoulders. Elisha indicates that he wants this mantle of ministry by immediately ceasing to plow his fields, slaughtering his oxen, and building a sacrificial fire from the wooden plows and harnesses he is using. In short, Elisha wanted to pick up Elijah’s mantle.

2. To pick up the mantle of leadership, you have to wait for it.

We don’t know how much time elapses between Elisha’s selection by Elijah in 1 Kings 19, and Elisha’s inheritance of Elijah’s mantle in 2 Kings 8. But, however long it took, Elisha had to wait for the time God had appointed for him to assume his prophetic ministry. When Elisha asked for a “double-portion” of Elijah’s spirit, what he was really asking for was that he would be seen as the rightful heir to Elijah’s prophetic work, just like a first-born son would have inherited the material possessions of his father. An heir has to wait to succeed his father, and Elisha waited patiently for God’s timing.

3. To pick up the mantle of leadership, you have to witness the power of God.

When Elisha asks Elijah for a double-portion of his spirit, Elijah says, “If you see me when I’m taken from you, it will be yours–otherwise, it will not.” But paradoxically, Elijah tries three times to dissuade Elisha from following him. Each time, Elisha says, “I’m going to stay with you.” Unless Elisha sees the power of God, he can’t inherit the mantle of prophetic leadership. While others were intimidated by seeing the power of Israel’s evil kings, Ahab and his son, God’s prophets had to see and embrace the power of God in action. When Elisha sees the chariot and horses of fire, he cries out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horses of Israel!”

4. Once you have picked up the mantle of leadership, you have to wield it.

As Elijah is being carried into heaven, his mantle slips from his shoulders. Elisha picks it up, rolls it up, and strikes the waters of the river Jordan, just as Elijah had done not long before. As he does so, Elisha asks, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” By his action and his prayer, Elisha invokes the power and presence of God as he assumes the prophetic mantle. When Elisha strikes the waters of the Jordan River, the waters part just as they had for Elijah. Had Elisha not wielded the mantle of leadership, he would have never received confirmation that Elijah’s leadership had indeed passed to him.

Leadership succession isn’t always neat or simple. But church leaders can benefit from the lessons of Elisha’s succession to Elijah. By wanting to assume the leadership to which God has called them, by waiting until God’s timing is right, by witnessing the power of God in the transition, and by wielding the mantle of leadership once it has fallen to them, the transfer of leadership from one leader to another will follow an extraordinary biblical model.

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?

Frame This Starbucks Leadership Quote

“What leadership means is the courage it takes to talk about things that, in the past, perhaps we wouldn’t have, because I’m not right all the time.”  — Howard D. Schultz, Starbucks CEO in the NY Times

If you read Pour Your Heart Into It, as I did, you came away believing that Howard Schultz was one of the great entrepreneurs of the new millenium.  And he was.  Starbucks was his dream, even if he almost named it after the Pequod (the ship in Melville’s Moby Dick) rather than the first mate, Starbuck.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Schultz retired from Starbucks to live the life that he had worked so hard to enjoy.  The only problem was, Starbucks took a nose-dive.  They opened too many stores, stocked too much merchandise, lost their appeal to trendsetters, and became another mass-market retailer.  Schultz returned to turn around the company only to find it a much different company than when he left.

But Schultz learned to listen.  And he learned to listen even when his instinct told him differently.  The company’s recovery now appears to be on solid ground, and Howard Schultz is now more “humble” and collaborative than before.

While I realize that not all business leadership principles can be translated to church, this one can.  I’m talking to pastors here, because I’ve learned this lesson the hard way myself.  Learn to listen.  Because, as Howard Schultz says, you’re not right all the time.  Good advice.

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)

Leading Your Church To Change

“How can I get them to change?”  As a small church pastor, I think I’ve asked myself that question at least once a day in every church I have pastored.  Wanting the churches we pastor to change is part of our DNA.  We see opportunities for improvement, expansion, growth, outreach, and progress, and we think everyone should see things the same way we do.

Of course, it doesn’t take long to realize everyone doesn’t see things the way we do, and that our members like things just like they are.  How does a pastor, whose heart beats to the sound of change, lead his congregation to make the changes necessary for the future of that church?

Here are five keys to leading change in the small church that I’ve learned, mostly the hard way:

1.  Listen to the stories of the past. Our church is 153 years old.  Three years ago we celebrated our 150th anniversary in a 7-month long sesquicentennial emphasis.  During that time I got to hear the stories of our past.  Leaders, traditions, memories, and accomplishments were highlighted each month.  I developed a new appreciation for the 150 years our church had existed before I arrived on the scene.  Your church has a history B.Y. — before you.  Listen to and celebrate the stories of the past with your people — that will go a long way toward leading them to change in the future.

2.  Link the past to the future. The theme for our 150th anniversary was “Praise for the Past, Faith for the Future.” The steering committee came up with that theme, and I thought it was great.  They sensed that the past was important, not just because it was history, but because it was a link to our future.  Mark Lau Branson of Fuller Seminary has written a helpful book, Memories, Hopes and Conversations, about how his church built on the traditions of their past to find a way forward for the future.

3.  Learn what type of church you have. By church type, I don’t mean “Baptist” or “cantankerous.”  Israel Galindo’s book, The Hidden Lives of Congregations offers several clues to learning about church types.  After reading Galindo’s book, I learned where our church was in the typical life cycle of churches, and I understood the particular challenges we faced more clearly.  There are other church characteristics that Galindo covers that can be helpful in learning how to lead you particular type and style of church.

4.  Love your people. This is advice everybody gives, but too few pastors follow.  Loving people means spending time with them, getting to know their stories, learning what’s important to them, and genuinely caring about them.  The old saying, “People don’t care what you know until they know you care” is still true.  If you care, and your members know it, they’ll respond to your leadership enthusiastically.

5. Lead with patience. Change takes time in a small church.  Actually, I think changing small churches is more difficult than changing large churches.  Traditions and memories are the stuff of small churches, and change threatens both.   I wrote a chapter in the LifeWay book, Deacons As Leaders, that tells the story of how one church I pastored changed our deacon structure to a more positive, servant ministry.  Pastors that lead with gentle patience can look back years later to see progress that is steady and sustainable.

Change comes in fits and starts in small congregations.  But it can come.  In churches I’ve pastored, we built buildings, bought property, revised our by-laws, hired staff, altered schedules, moved classes, created new programs, and started new groups.  Your leadership as pastor is the key to transformative change in your church.  Take the time to listen, link, learn, love, and lead, and you’ll reap the rewards of positive changes in your church.

What Energizes You?

What energizes you?

One of the things I like about ministry is that a pastor gets to do a variety of different things.  In one day you can spend time alone studying and praying for your next Sunday’s sermon; then visit the hospital to celebrate the birth of a new baby with a family in your church; after lunch stop by the local nursing home to chat for a few minutes with a dear senior adult member; in the afternoon counsel a young couple who are planning their wedding; and,  finish the day at a committee meeting where you deal with the realities of the economy and budgets.

But in the mix of all the things that pastors do, there are some things that energize me more than others.  I enjoy most of the work a pastor does, but I’m energized by some of it more than others.

I believe those aspects of ministry that energize you are God’s great gift to you.  Those energizing areas are different for different pastors.  Some love to spend lots of time pouring over Greek texts, and exegeting scripture passages.  Others believe their ministry in face-to-face settings is vital.  Still others find fulfillment in hanging at the local coffee shop making friends with total strangers.

Whatever your passion, God gives you those special, energizing moments.  God doesn’t give them to you so you can spend all your time doing just one thing.  After all, pastors are generalists, not specialists.  But God gives you the energizing moments to keep you going through the times that drain you.

In Psalm 23, God leads the sheep to the green pastures and still waters before the valley of the shadow of death.  The times of energy and refreshment are to get us through the times of difficulty and despair.

Ministry has to be balanced.  We do some things because we have to.  Whether you’re a pastor or a postal worker, some things are have-tos.  But we do a few things because we want to.   For our lives to have meaning and purpose, we need those energizing moments.  Those are God’s gifts to you.  Enjoy them when they come.