Pastoral Leadership, Part 5: Compassion

I have the joy of teaching in our Doctor of Ministry Program at Southeastern Seminary. It is an outstanding program of study with majors in Expository Preaching, Leadership, Biblical Counseling, Faith and Culture, and Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth. You can learn more about the program by going here or by phone at 919-761-2216.

Recently, I received a very fine paper from one of my students on “Leadership in the Local Church.” The author is a pastor of a very prominent church in the Southern Baptist Convention who is leading it through a time of transition following a long tenured pastor. The focus of his paper was on how to lead a local congregation through a time of transition without blowing up the place. As many of us know this is easier said than done.

With his permission I will share in several blog entries an edited version of his paper. There is real wisdom in what you will read. For obvious reasons the particular church and the pastor’s identity will not be disclosed.

Pastoral Leadership, Part 5: Compassion

The fifth principle that should guide the leader in transition has been the principle of compassion. The leader of any organization facing the anxiety of transition among the followers must understand the principle of compassion to guide him. Some months ago, sitting in a lecture by Dr. David Beck, Professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I heard him ask this question, “Would the world or culture in which we live recognize Jesus as a leader?” Dr. Beck then listed the following traits: One who knocks on doors, waiting to be invited in; One who plays with children; One who washes feet; One who prays for me; One who died for me. Over the course of his lecture, he examined the leadership style of Jesus. Without question, the leadership style of Jesus involved compassion. In Mark 5, one can see the power of Jesus as he has compassion on a demon-possessed man, healing him from his torment. In that same chapter one sees Jesus having compassion on a father’s broken heart at the death of his daughter, when He brings Jairus’ daughter back from the dead. And how could one forget the woman with the “issue of blood.” Jesus had compassion upon her and made her whole. The compassion of Jesus for the brokenness in people’s lives is a leadership quality which must not be ignored. Too many high powered leaders miss this. They may even brag about not having it to their shame.

As a new leader in a new congregation, it is critical that followers understand the caring nature of their leader. A pastor must look at this principle of compassion for people and their needs, and let the genuine concern ring loud and clear as a priority in our leadership. It is this principle that reminds every pastoral leader that as servants of Christ, we are in the people business. When we no longer really have a burden for people, their hurts and their needs, we are essentially out of business.

For our church, the development of a Deacon Family Ministry was a key component to demonstrating the importance of caring and showing compassion in this congregation. While this ministry continues to need improvement (what ministry doesn’t!) its implementation early in the transition was important for two reasons. First, it helped to establish, teach, and train, for what the new leader’s vision would be for the role of deacon. Deacon bodies in the average Southern Baptist church struggle with their role. They vary between being the board of directors, administrating and carrying out all decision of power in the church, and being a ministering body of leaders who pray for, show concern for, and carry out ministry to the body of believers they serve. The teaching and training, along with the assignments of serving as an extension of pastoral ministry to the church, brings the deacons to a more biblical model of their call. Secondly, however, the implementation of an effective deacon ministry to families becomes crucial to keeping up with the needs of a large congregation. The pastor, even with an extensive staff, cannot keep up with all the needs of the fellowship that require some kind of response. The deacons can have a personal touch to a number of families when they face times of distress or times of celebration. They also help the new leader determine where the needs are that could use a touch from the pastor. This is much more effective than a new leader trying to take a shot in the dark as to who needs a touch and who does not. The relationship and bond of the pastor with his deacons, showing compassion together to meet the needs of a congregation, is a powerful instrument.