Looking for a captain when you need a doctor? The importance of leadership style

Dr. Matt Sanders
Executive Pastor, Beth-El Fellowship

A live grenade lobbed into a crowd and a time bomb discovered with an hour yet to tick down call for different responses. One needs an immediate problem eliminator, the other a careful problem solver. The cruise ship crossing calm seas on a sunny day requires a different captain from what the warship heading into battle needs. The child with a tummy ache needs a different doctor from the child whose appendix could burst at any moment.

Different situations call for different leadership styles. The same is true for the church. The great pastor of the past, if he was truly great, likely succeeded for one of two reasons: (1) he excelled in multiple leadership styles and changed them to meet the dynamics of the church or (2) the one leadership style that he had fit the church’s situation for that time. The first is rare and any church that has one of those pastors in its history should count itself as blessed. The second is more common. Neither is that helpful when searching for a new pastor, because the church of today is not the church of yesterday nor the church that it will become.

The pastor’s search committee’s task is formidable to say the least. As the Starship Enterprise engineer Scotty explained transporting from ship to ship: It’s “like trying to hit a bullet with a smaller bullet whilst wearing a blindfold, riding a horse.” Too many committees do not understand how difficult it is to find the right pastor.

As discussed in other entries, before searching for a pastor, or trying to hire church staff, churches need to ask: Where are we now and where do we want to go? But the questions do not end there. The next questions are: What leadership style will help us in our situation now and what leadership style will lead us into who we will become? All candidates for pastors must show some evidence of the needed leadership styles.

Sometimes a church needs Captain Stubing and sometimes Captain Kirk. Sometimes it needs Captain America and sometimes Captain Cook. Part of the reason the Israelites wander on the east side of the Jordan is Moses the great liberator and prophet was not a great general. It was left to Joshua, the brilliant military strategist, to lead the Israelites to claim the last stage of the promise.

If the church is hurting, it needs a healer. If it has shallow theological roots, it needs a teacher. If it is dying or facing some other great crisis, it needs a strong, decisive leader. If the church is financially stable and “in a good place,” it needs the bold explorer who will lead it out of that “place” and help it become the church that is going into all the world.

The bold explorer in the hurting church that needs a healer becomes frustrated when the crippled and maimed will not follow or further hurts them when they try. But if the healer does his job, the church no longer needs a healer and the healer must be able to change or he will become irrelevant or irksome.

A good pastor can change leadership styles. A great pastor changes them well. How can churches identify leadership styles in pastoral candidates? That will be discussed in the next article.