The four kinds of leader we need: part one

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAby John Bowen

Leadership comes in many shapes and sizes. Different situations call for different styles of leadership. What types of leader does the church need right now?

Clichés become clichés for a reason—usually because they are true. I risk saying that because the church is in crisis, and we need a different kind of leader from those needed 50 years ago. It is a cliché—but it is true.

I thought about this when speaking at the induction of a friend, Ross Lockhart, as Director of Ministry Leadership and Education at St. Andrew’s Hall, the Presbyterian College at the Vancouver School of Ministry. My brief was to “give the charge.” Not a phrase I was familiar with, so I asked Ross whether it meant I had to tell everyone how wonderful he is, or whether it was a chance for me to tell him what to do.

Modest man that he is, he said the latter. I was happy to oblige—though I would happily have done the first.

Since seminaries like St. Andrew’s are in the business of training leaders, and since Ross is teaching leadership, it seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on what kind of leaders the church needs today.

I suggested we need four kinds of leader:

1. The traditional pastor

Traditional healthy churches need leaders who can preach, teach, train, give pastoral care, lead inspiring worship and be competent administrators. It is a tall order, but over the centuries, many have done this wonderfully well. And seminaries continue to turn out good shepherds of this kind.

Frankly, there is a limited need for those with this skill-set. This kind of pastoring assumes the congregations to which they go are in healthy midlife, and simply need building up and encouraging in the way they are already going. Sadly, there are not many of those around.

“It is those who never had a church experience—the unchurched—that is the fastest-growing demographic, particularly among the young.”

It is true a good traditional pastor may be able to win back the lapsed and get them energized. That is a much-needed contribution to the work of the Kingdom, since the “dechurched” are a significant portion of the Canadian population.

The dechurched is a limited market. It is those who never had a church experience—the unchurched—that is the fastest-growing demographic, particularly among the young. If traditional pastors are the only leaders we are producing, soon there will be nobody left for them to pastor.

2. The palliative care leader

Many churches will not survive the next five or ten years, so what kind of leadership do they need?

In my Doctor of Ministry cohort years ago was a woman who, with her husband, was pastoring a small ethnic congregation, originally from central Europe, in a small town in the Niagara Peninsula. The young people were long gone, and the community who still spoke their mother tongue was shrinking. Humanly, there was no way that congregation would ever grow. The pastor said, “My husband and I feel called to minister to this congregation until the last person dies.”

I have the utmost respect for that kind of calling—one I could never fulfil —and the need for “congregational palliative care” is both crucial and growing. Congregations die all the time—just as new churches are born all the time—but to help them die with dignity and even joy is crucial. God loves these people. They have served God faithfully for long decades, through thick and thin. There are too many stories from across the country of how such churches have been “closed” with needless clumsiness and lasting hurt.

Where are the palliative care pastors such situations need? Who is training them?

(In part two next month, John focuses on the other kinds of leaders—turnaround and pioneer—and answers why kinds of leader matter.)

John Bowen is the retired Professor of Evangelism, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.