Should a Pastor be a Manager or a Leader?

By William L. Smith

A schizophrenic minister may be just what your church needs. When you can balance the sometimes conflicting pastoral roles of manager and leader, you’ll minister with greater effectiveness. Contrary to common conception, a strong, visionary leader-type does not need to be deficient in routine management skills; and an efficient, steady manager-type can demonstrate sparks of creative leadership.

Most pastors must fill the roles of both leader and manager. The congregation expects the pastor to serve the everyday needs of the church and to keep its programs running smoothly. At the same time, however, the pastor must cast a vision and set the pace for the future of the church. This dual role can lead to conflict and even personal problems if not handled carefully. One place to start is to learn to separate personal aptitude from desired results.


What are the skills and attributes you need for each role? Since leaders and managers rely on different characteristics, knowing your strengths and weaknesses can be the first step toward maximizing both roles.

The pastor as a manager. Pastors must deal with things as they are, not as they might wish they were. Consider the following checklist to see if you possess at least some of the basic managerial characteristics:

The ability to make careful observations and evaluations. The pastor manager can anticipate (and often prevent) problems before they occur.

The ability to solve problems. When problems do occur, the pastor manager recognizes the problem and responds quickly, restoring a sense of order to the situation.

The ability to organize programs and events. In the process of facilitating programs, the pastor-manager works well with groups,
building consensus, camaraderie, and team spirit.

The ability to plan effective strategies. Able to see details and the practical side of issues, the pastor-manager can deal with those issues in realistic ways.

The ability to focus on results. Usually this characteristic is seen in the pastor-manager’s no-nonsense, “bottom line” personality.
Occasionally, however, he or she will try innovative or experimental methods to achieve results.

The pastor as a visionary. As leaders, pastors are catalysts for change. This role requires its own unique characteristics, outlined in
the following checklist:

[1 The ability to see a vision for the future. The pastor-leader is not bound by tradition or routine and may shift paradigms, sometimes to the dismay of church members.

The ability to set the course necessary to achieve that vision. The pastor leader’s lofty view is not clouded by starry-eyed idealism.
Instead, he or she can translate the dream into a step-by-step process-one that is attainable.

The ability to communicate that vision persuasively. The pastor-leader shares the dream in ways that will inspire and motivate a group. He or she can arouse intense feelings of excitement, inspiring commitment and sacrifice by those who follow.

The ability to foster change. The pastor-leader does not so much meet a group’s expectations as transform those expectations.


Understanding the techniques and typical skills of each role isn’t enough, however. If you’re a visionary type who finds it easy to
overlook details or alienate people, you’ll want to work on your management skills. And if you’re a detail person who has difficulty
inspiring people to see the big picture, you may want to adjust your leadership style. Bottom line: There are many different leadership personalities and styles-not just one right way to do it. But every leader can enhance his or her best qualities while learning to compensate for weaker areas. Each leader can become more effective.

How visionary leaders can manage. Once you’ve decided you need to shore up your managerial skills, there are a number of steps you can take that will help:

Put on the brakes. Strong leaders can sometimes move too fast, making it difficult for those who follow to keep up. Make the effort to slow down.

Look for a new perspective. Leaders who rely primarily on enthusiasm and inspiration can benefit by analyzing a situation from a new angle. Careful analysis can help define the problem-and all its implications–more accurately.

Give yourself time. Don’t feel that you have to rush through the situation. Value the process required to apply problem-solving or
decision-making techniques.

Consider alternatives. Make the most of your management team. Brainstorm with other staff or lay leaders. You may want to try a focus group to assist you in discovering alternatives.

Evaluate. Before deciding on any suggested solution, determine if resources are available to make the idea feasible. After you’ve
implemented the plan, evaluate again to expand your management skills.

Take a management class. Learning from an objective outsider can help you see some of your blind spots. How managers can lead. Leader skills can also be acquired and developed by managerial personalities. Here are some measures to take:

Take time to dream. Even visionaries do not often find inspiration in the daily routine. Take a personal retreat and get away from your regular responsibilities.

Focus. Don’t aim for the big picture all at once. Instead, develop a specific vision in one area of concern. Make the effort to write it out so you can state it in clear, easy-to-understand words.

Be impractical. If your nature is to talk sensibly, you’ll have to work deliberately toward idealism. If your vision seems practical, you haven’t gone far enough. Though it may feel awkward to you, stretch your language to describe an ideal future.

Exercise your new words. Practice using visionary language. Take every opportunity to use those words appropriately. You’ll discover that the more you speak the language, the more the vision will become part of you. Word pictures and colorful metaphors will strengthen the effect even more.

Share with others. While learning to use visionary language benefits you, it also helps others to see into the future. Also important: Give congregational members a sense of empowerment so they, too, can become involved in the vision. In some cases, an entrepreneurial member of the church can provide the extra spark you need to cast the vision for others to see.

So if you find you lean toward either a management or a visionary style of leadership, be encouraged. With some intentional practice, you can cultivate diverse attributes and habits that allow both styles to coexist within your ministry.

William L. Smith, Ph.D., is on the management faculty of the School of Business at Emporia State University.


Servant leadership is not nonleadership. But for many in American culture, the phrase servant leadership indicates abdication, that the servant leader abandons leading. Servant leadership is seen as creating a laissez-faire vacuum that merely asks the staff or board, “What do you think needs to be done?” or that simply blesses another’s creative program initiative.

On the contrary, servant leaders lead, but with a style not reflective of the popular culture. Jesus instructed his followers to walk away from the prevailing models of prideful leadership, where dominance, coercion, titles, and public recognition were the goals.

Jesus instead spoke of leaders who serve. Servant leaders still do the things leaders do–direct, organize, envision. But with servant qualifying leadership, the kingdom of God–not one’s personal fiefdom–become our motivation and shapes our style of leadership.

When servant leadership is incarnate in the church, certain characteristics–will be present.

Servant leaders are secure, knowing God values them. Only when we accept our worth before God can we freely attend to the needs of others and empower them to their full potential. Jesus was at liberty to take the basin and towel and wash the grime from the disciples’ feet because he knew who he was before the Father (John 13: 3-4). If affirming others somehow diminishes our sense of importance, servant leadership will be seen as a personal threat, and we will not practice it.

Servant leaders find joy in encouraging and supporting staff and team leadership develop their spiritual gifts in the context of ministry, and they publicly recognize the growth and contribution of others. As a result, the congregation functions as a body where every person is valued, not as an audience that feeds the leader’s ego.

Servant leaders don’t need credit for their ideas or visions. The old lament applies here: “How much good could be accomplished if it mattered not who gets the credit!” Servant leaders glory in the growth of the kingdom of God.

Servant leaders are high on relationships and low on control and coercion. People are motivated by genuine care and “heart connection” rather than by fear and judgment.

Servant leaders shun the trappings of authority and status. Realizing that all are equal before Christ, they avoid titles that support
hierarchical pecking orders and opt instead for functional language that describes what a person does. They are also cautious about perks, such as larger-sized offices and specially marked parking spaces.

Servant leaders base their authority on character, not the position they occupy. Moral authority arises from a person’s integrity and consistency before Christ. Therefore, true leaders, rather than forcing or coercing people to do their bidding, give followers an attractive model that they will want to emulate.

Greg Ogden, pastor of Saratoga Federated Church, Saratoga, California. Reprinted by permission from Leadership Handbooks of Practical Theology, Vol. 3, “Leadership & Administration,” edited by James D. Berkley (Baker, 1994).


A few years ago a magazine ad pictured a man standing in his office, looking out the window. The caption read: “Why would a company pay this man $100,000 a year to look out the window?” The ad went on to make the point that every organization needs someone who looks out the window–outside the organization–to the world and to the future.

Setting the vision for a church is primarily a pastoral task. A pastor helps the congregation by looking out the window. But how much time ought a pastor devote to dreaming of the future, especially with a multitude of immediate concerns?

The answer varies with each situation, obviously, but much of the answer is determined by how long a pastor has been with the current congregation. Strangely, natural tendencies work against effective vision.

Typically, when pastors come to a church, they are not vested in the programs. Therefore, they can be objective: “We shouldn’t be having this many services,” or “We shouldn’t be doing vacation Bible school this way.” Most pastors start with a burst of energy, envisioning how things could be. Meanwhile, few members trust a new pastor for in-depth counseling, freeing time to look ahead. But new ministers’ ideas often are not readily accepted; even good visions can die when people don’t trust the pastor.

After pastors have been in a church five or ten years, however, most programs reflect their ideas. Their schedules are jammed, so they have little time to dream about the future. Momentum shifts to maintaining their programs.

We need to reverse the process. When we start in a congregation, most of our time should be devoted to current program, not looking ahead. Then, gradually, we need to slide the scale until we spend more time future projects. Why? Because a congregation won’t follow a pastor in looking forward unless it trusts that pastor, and building trust takes time.

Most pastors enter situations in which people remember the past and in which problems exist that need attention. These pastors have to build credibility. The best way is to concentrate on existing programs. As a pastor works hard inside the given structures, the congregation develops the trust that later allows the pastor to lead people forward.

It takes years to reach a point of both trust and time, but the pastor who works toward that sweet spot begins to spend more time on future possibilities than on current programs. Time is found to dream about such activities as starting a daughter church, providing a Saturday-night service, expanding staff, or spearheading new missions projects. At a mature stage of a pastorale, these are fitting tasks, but they typically remain unreachable in a pastor’s early days at a church. Pastors need to look out the window, but in the early years particularly, they are better off preparing for that responsibility by spending plenty of time at the desk.

By Leith Anderson, pastor of Wooddale Church, Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Reprinted by permission from Leadership Handbooks of Practical Theology, Vol. 3, “Leadership & Administration, ” edited by James D. Berkley (Baker, 1994).