Pastors as Leaders: Lead or Get Out of the Way?


If the 300,000 Protestant pastors in America were to follow his advice, then 294, 000 of them would resign.

Recently I attended a seminar conducted by George Barna. He is without question recognized as one of the nation’s foremost religious researchers and writers.

The seminar provided many valuable statistics and insights based on research conducted by his organization. However, one of his comments to pastors in the meeting greatly disturbed me. The advice, based on his evaluation of pastors as leaders, indicated that since most pastors are not visionary leaders, they should get out of the way and let the real leaders pastor.

My mind immediately began to reel…if me 300,000 Protestant pastors in America were to follow has advice then 294,000 of them would resign. Churches and multitudes of people would face devastating consequences if this advice became widely accepted and followed. What is he thinking? Is there any merit at all to this advice?

Now here in Scripture is dominant, visionary leadership listed as a prerequisite to serving as a pastor. Look at Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew. They were ordinary fishermen who were chosen by Jesus to become his disciples and preach to thousands.

All of us are leaders by some measure. We are held accountable at our own level of ability. God will never hold you accountable for an ability given to another person.

Many pastors may only move up one rung on the leadership ladder in their lifetime while others may move up several and only a handful! will move all resign from their ministries. Instead, this should be seen as an indication of a need to provide them with tools that equip them as they move to the next level on the leadership ladder.

Many pastors may only advance one level of the ladder in their lifetime while others may move up several levels. Only a few will
advance to the higher levels of leadership that require substantial sets of skills.

You misunderstand me if you think I am suggesting that churches should settle for poor leadership. I do, however, insist that two
wrongs do not make a right. Success in the ministry is not taking the 102 membership church and leading it to become a 5,000 membership church. Such radical change requires extraordinary leadership abilities.

For many churches, a challenging achievement would be to led a church from 112 members one year to 122 members the following year. If this consistent growth, however small, were to happen in thousands of churches, it would revolutionize the entire body of Christ. This type of growth is realistic and could happen without the pastor being an extraordinary or “Fortune 500” type of leader.

God’s Place For You!

God includes Moses, and many like him, who have less than God’s perspective of His leadership role for them. If he could have chosen a more dominant leader like Winston Churchill or Douglas MacAuthur, it may not have taken forty years to get to the Promised Land.

The same is true today. The journey may require more time to accomplish out task, or like Moses, we may enter the Promised Land with limited resources and God’s direction.

The story is told of a salesman who lost his way while traveling through the countryside. He stopped to ask a farmer on a tractor, “How do I get to Martinville?. The farmer cocked his head, thought for a moment, scratched his head, and after a long pause, shook his head, and said, “You can’t get there from here.”

When compared to the model leaders of the largest churches in America, most pastors need to hear the message, you can’t get there from here. If these dynamic leaders are at or near the top of the leadership ladder, and you are on the second rung, you need to recognize that you don’t get to the top of the top from the second step of the ladder. Most people reach higher levels by moving one step at a time first…from step two to step three.

Very few leaders at the second step level of leadership ever achieve those coveted steps at the top of the ladder. To live your life
thinking you should be at the top may only add to your discouragement and frustration. Few things would please Satan more than to see you distracted from your greater calling and mission.

Some people will argue that this type of thinking will discourage, thus hold back, those who actually have the potential for
reaching the top. My experience with this type of person indicates that it will take much more than this to discourage them. Overexpectation, however, does much more harm than good.

God’s Measure of Ministry

When Paul spoke of spiritual gifts in I Cor. 12:11 he indicates that God gave gifts “to every man severally as he will.” The word
severally means according to one’s own ability. God hands out His responsibilities in buckets. We may all be given responsibility, but some may have received a one-gallon bucket, others a five-gallon bucket, while some may have received a 55 gallon drum.

We all must fulfill these responsibilities but are held accountable at our own level of ability (i.e. according to the size of our own bucket). This means that God will never hold you accountable for an ability given to someone else. This relieves everyone from needless guilt or any sense of inadequacy resulting from measuring yourself by another’s achievements. Your responsibility is to develop the ability God has given you to your maximum potential.

The seminar I referred to earlier, like others you may have attended, certainly should have helped many pastors by helping them
determine their own level of leadership ability.

The first step to improving your leadership ability is to know where you are today. Far too often, dynamic, high-achievement,
charismatic leaders encourage the rest of us to come up with them, when in reality it is impossible.

Bill Hull, Director of Church Ministries for the Evangelical Free Church of America, states:”…Those who pastor the megachurches are usually individuals who have charisma and special gifts. Even though they like to promise pastors of small struggling churches, ‘If I can do it, you can too,’ it’s just not true for most of those who attend church growth seminars and conferences.” (Source: Bill Hull, summarized in Current Thoughts & Trends, Special Report #11, April 1993.)

I have personally met multitudes of men who lead both the largest and smallest churches in the U.S. A great gulf separates the two. Many pastors of larger churches oftentimes have difficulty relating to the problems and barriers regularly faced by pastors of smaller churches.

Due to their initial level of ability (i.e.-the size of their bucket), most larger church pastors sailed past the problems faced by
pastors leading smaller churches.

Leadership training should be done by leaders who are only 2-3 steps higher on the leadership ladder than those they are attempting to mentor.

I am referring to leaders who have struggled through, rather than sailed through, the daily challenges of leadership faced by those they attempt to teach.


I agree with Barna that seminaries need to reevaluate their practices. Leadership and administrative demands on pastors are greater than ever before. In the April 1994 issue of Net Results, Lyle Schaller wrote, “The most important role a seminary can play is to develop persons who can lead in the transformation of people’s lives.” Take comfort that God is probably not asking you to resign your church. Rather than step aside, maximize your ministry and be all God intends you to become.