From Faithful Ministry to Fruitful Leadership

From Faithful Ministry to Fruitful Leadership

A Confidential, Online, 360° Leadership Development Instrument Designed for Pastors.

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.An ecumenical gathering of church and seminary leaders reflected on this question. “What is your ideal picture of the excellent pastoral leader of the future?” The first person to respond described the ideal pastoral leader as deeply grounded in the faith tradition, strongly connected to God, steeped in ongoing prayer, and faithful in taking weekly Sabbath time. This picture of pastoral excellence resonated with many in the group.

Something, however, is glaringly missing from this picture. Hundreds of congregations in my denomination are in serious trouble. Children are not being taught the faith. Disciples are not being made. Lives are not being transformed. The poor are not being visited. Communities are not being redeemed. These congregations know something is terribly wrong. And in most cases, the problems have little to do with the pastor’s prayer life or whether the pastor takes weekly Sabbath time. In fact, in many of these churches, members deeply respect their pastors as sincerely spiritual people of the utmost personal faith and integrity. But they also know more is needed from their pastoral leaders.

The Bible talks about accountability in terms of fruitfulness. For John Wesley, “fruits of ministry” was a key concept. He liked to ask three questions: 1) Is there faith? 2) Is there fire? and 3) Are there fruits? Wesley’s attention to fruits was one factor that led him to permit women and other lay people to preach. Wesley had reservations about such preaching — reservations that were common in his time. But he saw the fruit it bore as evidence that it was of God.

Character, Competence, and Contribution

The Lewis Center for Church Leadership has analyzed descriptions of clergy effectiveness developed separately by numerous denominational judicatories to identify the most common recurring features. Three primary categories seem to capture virtually all the specific descriptors of effectiveness: 1) “Character” or who the leader is; 2) “Competence” or what the leader does; and 3) “Contribution” or what the leader accomplishes.

The first two categories are normally associated with faithful ministry. “Character” captures those characteristics of the leader as a person. These include matters of spiritual authenticity, integrity, and wholeness. “Competence” captures those characteristics of the leader as a religious professional. These include matters of biblical and theological knowledge; life-long learning; ministry skills in preaching and other pastoral areas; relational skills; the ability to empower the leadership of others; judgment; and accountability.

How Faithful Ministry Becomes Fruitful Leadership

The third category, “Contribution,” may hold the most potential for revitalized pastoral excellence. Contribution captures those characteristics of the leader as steward of the church’s mission. These include working with a congregation to discern God’s vision for them and guiding the implementation of the vision so that the congregation bears fruit — experiencing God’s presence, transforming lives, growing disciples, and serving others.

Not surprisingly, this third component is the least developed in the effectiveness descriptions studied by the Lewis Center. Serving institutions, such as churches and schools, tend to focus on “who we are,” “what we do,” and “how we do it.” Very little attention is given to “what we accomplish.” There is often resistance to the whole notion of results in such settings, as if to focus on results takes something away from the work. The opposite is actually the case. By giving attention to accomplishments, we will tend to channel our efforts in the most beneficial ways for those we seek to serve.

To the Power of Grace

No model can adequately capture the power of fruitful leadership. The seemingly ordinary components of character, competence, and contribution are raised to the power of grace by God. The Holy Spirit takes all of our best efforts and plans, as well as our failures and limited visions, and converts them into something far more than a human achievement. Fruitful leadership depends on the vigorous and responsible use of the talents God has given to each of us. It also depends on the work of the Spirit weaving those talents into a rich tapestry. And it is grace, the marvelous and mysterious working of God through our lives and work, that converts the sum of human effort made by ordinary people into an exponentially greater reality.

By: Lovett H. Weems, Jr.