Pastoral Leadership, Part 7: Communication

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 7: Communication

The seventh principle that must guide any new leader in the midst of transition is the principle of communication. There is much written and said in our day about communication. As we counsel men and women preparing for marriage it cannot be emphasized enough the importance of communicating with one another. As we think about our own relationship to God, the principle of communication is always before us. We teach new disciples that through God’s Word He communicates his plan and His will for our lives. We also teach them that through prayer we communicate our hearts to Him. Thus, we teach the most basic tool of discipleship in a personal quiet time with God each day, emphasizing the importance of communication in the relationship. Well, it is also accurate that a new leader, in transition, must truly understand the importance of communication with staff, with lay leaders, and with the church family as a whole. What must be communicated? There are at least three primary things that every leader must communicate: who he is as a person; what his vision for the organization is and how that vision will be achieved.

Every new leader must allow his organization to know who he really is as a person. We live in a world where privacy has been established as a premium. Yet, there is no substitute for individuals within any organization getting to know their leader on a personal level. This is especially true in the church. As I dealt with the Pastor Search Team, they indicated they were looking for four things in the next pastor. First, they wanted someone who preached God’s Word unapologetically, communicating God’s truth week after week. Secondly they wanted a strong family man, whose wife and children complemented his life. Thirdly, they wanted someone recognized as being a leader in a city where he served. Finally, they wanted a pastor who would love the people, and who would allow the people to love him. There is a desire among believers to know their pastor, and to be able to love him and his family. As leaders of these congregations, we must be willing to open our hearts and lives to people.

There must also be the communication of what the new leader casts as a vision for the organization. Every organization should have core values that clearly define who the organization is and what it considers its primary goals. William Plamondon, author of the article on “Energy and Leadership” writes: “Leaders need to help set the standards to which the organization aspires, to challenge its members with a lofty goal, and to make sure that everyone understands the goal and what he or she must do to attain it. It is the leader’s responsibility to communicate this goal in a clear and compelling way that inspires the organization to move to new heights and at faster speeds that it would ordinarily attain on its own” (The Drucker Foundation, The Leader of the Future, 277). John Maxwell, in one of his Injoy Life Club lessons, quotes the legendary University of Alabama football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant, as stating that there are five things that winning team members need to know: 1) Tell me what you expect from me; 2) Give me an opportunity to perform; 3) Let me know how I am getting along; 4) Give me guidance where I need it; 5) Reward me according to my contribution. Without question the new leader must communicate effectively the vision God has placed on his heart.

The new leader must communicate some specific steps that will be taken to achieve the vision and goals. Each year I have found that our staff retreat has become a real highlight for me and for other staff members. It is a time of vision-casting from my heart as the pastor and it has become a time of reporting what the previous year yielded in terms of successes and lessons learned. One of the greatest responses of feedback that has been received is the gratefulness for specific numeric goals that have been placed before them and specific ideas of programs to be executed. Each staff member has their area in which they are encouraged to dream, plan, and execute programs that will reach out to the lost as well as grow and develop believers. They must not be micromanaged, but rather they must be empowered to lead out in their respective areas. However, there are some major church-wide emphases that must come from the heart and vision of the pastor. They key is for everyone to walk away sensing that they have been valued, heard, and understood. This will be accomplished only by clear communication from the leader.

In the closing words of The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker pens these words: “Only executive effectiveness can enable this society to harmonize its two needs: the needs of the organization to obtain from the individual the contribution it needs, and the need of the individual to have organization serve as his tool for the accomplishment of his purpose. Effectiveness must be learned” (174). The issue of leadership is a multifaceted issue. The new leader moving into a role of transition will find challenges and blessings that will be very unique to the situation where he has been called to serve. And yet, there are some essential principles that will serve any new leader well as they carry out the call Christ has placed upon their lives. These principles that we have discussed are certainly not exhaustive. They have become in my life however, guiding principles that continue to impact decisions made and steps taken as I carry out this call of leadership in my own personal life. I pray that I will continually look toward godliness, integrity, courage, passion, compassion, competence, and communication as principles to lean upon each day.

The Type of Statesmen Southern Baptists Need, Part 2

1. We need leaders who balance orthodoxy and Christian piety.

As with almost all groups, at times in our history Southern Baptists have had leaders who were committed to sound doctrine but were not always careful to “watch their life” (1 Tim. 4:16). At other times we have had leaders who rejected, or at least questioned, historic orthodoxy, though many of them were seemingly model Christians in terms of their spiritual walk. This is not the way things are meant to be. Doctrine without piety leads to dead orthodoxy, which is in fact unorthodox. Devotion without theology leads to either liberalism, unbridled pragmatism, or both, which is in fact impious.

Healthy Christians, including Christian leaders, think rightly about God and live rightly before God. They affirm and defend the fundamentals of the faith that are revealed in Scripture and have been confirmed by the consensus fidei of the wider body of Christ. They cling to an evangelical gospel that is rooted in the grace of God and grounds our salvation in the person and work of Jesus Christ. They mortify their sins and pursue godliness by the power of that gospel. They live as those who have been redeemed and not like the world from which they have been rescued. Their priorities are godly priorities and their values are biblical values. Their commitment to Christian sanctification is infectious, inspiring others to fight their sin and daily look to the cross of Christ. We need SBC leaders who are diligent to balance theology and practice.

2. We need leaders who are convictionally Baptist.

Though this may sound strange to post-denominational ears, in a Baptist denomination it is necessary for our leaders to be committed to a uniquely Baptist vision of the Christian life. Though I do not believe that our leaders must agree upon every nuanced debate within Baptist thought, there should be a basic consensus concerning what constitutes Baptist Christianity. As convictional Baptists, our leaders must model a commitment to the lordship of Christ in all things, including the nature and ministry of churches that seek to conform to the New Testament.

Southern Baptist leaders must affirm and model regenerate church membership, which entails unambiguous gospel proclamation, a commitment to discipleship, and the practice of redemptive church discipline. They must practice and defend believer’s baptism by immersion alone as the only baptismal practice consistent with the New Testament witness, the nature of the gospel, and a commitment to a believer’s church. They must affirm a pastor-led congregationalism and a cooperative, non-isolationist version of local church autonomy. They must defend liberty of conscious for all people, not for the sake of plurality of conviction (as if that were an end in itself), but for the sake of the freedom of gospel proclamation in a plural society.

3. We need leaders who pray for, evangelize, and lead others in sharing the gospel with non-Christians.

The SBC exists as a Convention of autonomous churches for the sake of preaching the gospel to all people. Southern Baptist leaders need to be the type of people who weep over the souls of men and women who do not yet know Christ. Our leaders need to be people whose lives are characterized by a personal commitment to evangelism. Our leaders need to be people who support our denomination’s foreign and home mission endeavors, preferably in more ways than merely giving financially to the Cooperative Program and other mission causes (though giving is important).

Let me be clear: I am not arguing for uniformity in missional strategies, emphases, or approaches. Not every person or church evangelizes in the same way or even the same “type” of lost people (in terms of worldview, station in life, geographical context, etc.). Our hope is not in more programs, humanly conceived statistical goals, or standardized methodology. It is certainly not in demonizing churches that embrace different programs than yours, baptize fewer new converts, or have differing convictions about how to best engage in evangelism. The vast majority of Southern Baptist churches (and presumably pastors and other leaders) are not concerned enough with reaching lost people, and this is true regardless of their respective traditions, programs, emphases, and theological convictions. To say it bluntly, let’s quit shooting at each other and start sharing the gospel with non-Christians, even as we have family discussions about the best way(s) to do so.

4. We need leaders who know how to contextualize the best of our history in their own setting.

Let me explain. It is popular among many contemporary Baptists to look back to an imagined golden era of Baptist (or at least Free Church) history and wish we could bring it back. Some want us to recover the radical nature of Anabaptism, often overestimating the historical relationship between Anabaptism and the Baptist movement. Some of us want to recover the theology of the founding generation of Southern Baptists, often overestimating the uniformity of consistent (“five-point”) Calvinism in the mid-19th century. Some of us want to recover the ecclesiological emphases, if not always the presuppositions, of postbellum Landmarkers, often overestimating the ability (or willingness) of Landmarkism to tolerate other opinions. Some of our moderate friends want to recover the progressive emphases of the era between World War II and the Reagan Administration, often overestimating the spiritual value of modern or post-modern theological trends.

We need leaders who can take what is good and useful from each of these (and other) baptistic sub-movements and “translate” them for 21st century Southern Baptists. Our hope does not rest in Balthasar Hubmaier or Pilgram Marpeck, but in contemporary Baptists who share their commitment to costly discipleship and a believer’s church while rejecting their cultural separatism. Our hope does not rest in Basil Manly Sr. and John Dagg, but in contemporary Baptists who share their commitment to sound doctrine and cooperative missions while rejecting their captivity to Southern culture. Our hope does not rest in J. R. Graves and J. M. Pendleton, but in contemporary Baptists who share their commitment to distinctively Baptist Christianity while rejecting their sectarian tendencies. Our hope does not rest in Duke McCall and Louie Newton, but in contemporary Baptists who share their commitment to the Convention’s growth and success while rejecting their indifference to theological consensus.

5. We need leaders who inspire and equip future leaders.

Authentic leaders are like rabbits-they multiply. Their character and giftedness is an inspiration to younger men and women who possess leadership potential. Furthermore, real leaders recognize that potential and invest their lives in mentoring future leaders. Healthy leadership is replicated in the rising generation. (So is unhealthy leadership.)

If Southern Baptist leaders do not inspire future leaders, then some of our best and brightest seminarians and pastors will gravitate toward non-Southern Baptists who do inspire them. I would contend this is already happening; ask present and future ministers under age 40 whose sermons they are downloading, whose conferences they are attending, and whose books they are reading. You might be surprised at how disconnected many of our potential future leaders are from many of our current leaders. We will lose a generation to other movements if we do not inspire them to want to exercise their gifts within the Southern Baptist Convention.

But inspiring future leaders is not enough; current leaders must equip young potential leaders so that they will know how to lead well when the opportunity comes. Pastors and other church leaders should spend time mentoring young people, especially those who are wrestling with a call to some form of “vocational” ministry. Seasoned pastors need to spend some time with less experienced ministers, helping them to work through some of the thorny issues and life experiences that cannot be taught in a classroom or read in a book. Seminary and Christian college professors must take the time to pour their lives, and not just their lectures, into students-they are hungry for someone who cares enough to spend time with them outside of class. Agency administrators must figure out which of their subordinates have the potential to eventually assume greater leadership responsibility, give them some opportunities, and then offer some constructive feedback to help sharpen future leaders. Leaders need to prepare others to one day take their place.

These are the type of statesmen Southern Baptists need as we press on, by God’s grace, toward a Great Commission Resurgence in our churches. Join me in thanking God for our past leaders, praying that God would have his way in the lives and ministries of our current leaders, and trusting that God will raise up future statesmen who will honor him and strengthen the people called Southern Baptist.

The Type of Statesmen Southern Baptists Need, Part 1

In honor of our national elections, I want to offer a reflection on the type of statesmen I believe Southern Baptists need. I think this is an important issue because Southern Baptists are in the midst of a transitional era. I assume there are few who would question this. And there is perhaps no greater evidence that we are a denomination in transition than the hopes expressed and concerns raised about Convention leadership (both present and potential) over the course of the last decade.

Over the past five years we have witnessed the passing of some of the key leaders of the Conservative Resurgence from the denominational spotlight. Adrian Rogers is now with his Lord. Jerry Vines and Jimmy Draper have retired from their noted positions (though not from gospel ministry). It is likely that in the next half decade or so we will witness the retirements of Paige Patterson, Morris Chapman, Ed Young Sr., and Charles Stanley. Men like Jack Graham and O. S. Hawkins are likely in the final decade of their current ministry positions. The younger pastors and agency leaders of the 1990s are now middle aged, many with grandchildren. This means we need some new younger leaders, or at least godly and gifted men who have the potential to be future leaders.

This need has not gone unnoticed on the part of some of our current leaders. Draper took several steps during his final years at LifeWay to reach out to younger pastors. The past two SBC presidents, Frank Page and Johnny Hunt, have called for a greater investment in future leaders. Hunt, who is the current president of the SBC, has long been known for his personal commitment to mentoring men for pastoral ministry and other positions of spiritual leadership. Many others have observed the phenomenon of “younger leaders,” whether real or perceived, taking a greater interest in Convention affairs, often through electronic media like message boards and especially blogs.

Many current leaders and other observers have expressed concern about some of these younger leaders (or perhaps better, possible future leaders). Some are concerned that younger pastors and seminarians may be insufficiently committed to the SBC in an increasingly post-denominational age. As a Baptist historian, this is certainly one of my concerns. Others fear that too many younger Southern Baptists are committed to, or at least show too much sympathy for, Calvinistic theology. The assumption is that Calvinism-or at least too much vocal Calvinism-is a threat to the SBC. Whether this assumption is true or not (I think not), there certainly are a lot of younger Southern Baptists who seem more interested in attending conferences like Together for the Gospel than regional pastor’s conferences hosted by SBC churches or state convention or even the SBC annual meeting itself. Other concerns about the younger generation include a lack of commitment to certain historic Baptist principles, an alleged antinomian streak, an unhealthy openness to interdenominational cooperation, possible Charismatic or Third Wave tendencies, an insufficient appreciation of the Conservative Resurgence, a lack of commitment to the Cooperative Program, and a lack of respect for past and current Convention leadership.

Concerns about leadership have always factored into our denominational controversies. William Whitsitt resigned as president of Southern Seminary at the turn of the 20th century because of grassroots concerns about both his orthodoxy and his character (he rejected the perpetuity of immersion in an anonymous article and then denied writing the article when questioned by his trustees). J. Frank Norris was shut out of denominational life because of the often outrageous tactics he used in criticizing SBC leadership. Both the Elliott Controversy and the Broadman Bible Controversy were, at their core, concerns about the orthodoxy of professors and the integrity of a denominational bureaucracy that often covered for them. This was also the principle concern of the Conservative Resurgence: compared to most Southern Baptists, SBC leaders were either too theologically progressive or were willing to defend a status quo that encouraged-or at least tolerated-theological aberration.

Even our more recent controversies are about leadership. Though the Baptist Faith and Message was revised at several points in 2000, no revision garnered more attention than the statement that pastoral ministry is reserved for biblically qualified men alone. All of our paid denominational leaders were required to affirm the revised BF&M, which caused tension at some agencies, especially the International Mission Board. Elected trustees are also required to affirm the confession and no would-be Convention officer has any hope for election unless he or she accepts the BF&M. The more recent imbroglio over the baptism and prayer language guidelines at the IMB has been, among other things, a debate about how well a particular trustee board has led its agency. There have also been tensions about potential trustees whose churches do not give 10% to the Cooperative Program or who personally drink alcoholic beverages, the biblical appropriateness of females serving as certain types of seminary professors, and the propriety of agency heads running for elected denominational office. All of these concerns have to do with leadership.

In light of the role that leadership concerns have played in current and past Convention controversies, my next post will offer my personal reflections about the type of statesmen that the SBC needs. It is my hope that these posts will be a reminder to our present leaders and a challenge to all those who may one day find themselves in a position of denominational influence, whether paid, elected, or appointed.