Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Pastor as Leadership Expert? Confessions of a Cynic

I've been reading through some of Eugene Peterson's thoughts on the nature and central tasks of pastoral ministry and, while I've never been a big fan of The Message, there's something very endearing about his ability to name (often in rather blunt tones) things that ail the church in America and things that can reorient us to the call of God. In Working the Angles he identifies and exegetes what he believes to be the three practices that enable pastoral ministry to retain its proper shape: prayer, the (contemplative) reading of Scripture, and spiritual direction. In conjunction with Peterson's concerns, it might be worth mentioning Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor as well. Baxter has impressed me with his insistence on the pastor visiting regularly with parishioners in order personally to know them and to give them spiritual guidance.

I can't help but notice that neither Peterson nor Baxter seems to have much time for learning the "laws of leadership" or for delving into elaborate schemes for "casting vision" or "getting the right people on the bus." And now I must come clean: over the past few years I've become something of a cynic about the prevalent model of the pastor as leadership expert. Even if one clarifies that this model acknowledges a qualitative difference between corporate or simply non-pastoral leadership and church ministry, I still can't manage to get excited about it. Here are a few of my reasons:

1) there's limited mileage to get out of an abstract notion of leadership; leaders always lead as something (a CEO, a coach, a minister of word and sacrament) and this implies limited cross-over in terms of principlizing one's way from the corporate world to the church

2) for my money, there are more critical things demanding attention: persistence in prayer, rigorous exegesis of and meditation on Scripture, pastorally-minded explorations in historical and systematic theology, development of spiritually rich, intelligently and compellingly worded sermons and teaching material, the practice of spiritual guidance

3) infatuation with sophisticated leadership theories seems to conjure up a sense of impending "success" that might undercut simple, dogged endurance in ministerial labors

To clarify, I suppose I'm not in opposition to thinking (or, better, theologizing) through certain leadership dynamics but to the way in which the acquisition and honing of leadership philosophies and strategies loom so large at the moment. However, are these just the cantankerous ruminations of a blogger who is blinded by his love of theology? Your thoughts?

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