Pastors Need Leadership Skills

Hiking TrailThis is Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – Develop Pastoral Skills (Part 3). Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. The series starts here.

In addition to speaking skills and people skills, pastors need leadership skills. If you’re thinking about going into ministry, now is a good time to begin growing as a leader.

Leadership is the ability to influence people in a direction they need to go.

Being a leader doesn’t mean you are an aggressive personality, taking charge of everything and ordering people around. Leaders see the direction a group of people needs to go. In the church setting, that includes spiritual growth on an individual level, and it includes making disciples as a church. A leader communicates those ultimate goals to the people. He also encourages and equips them to pursue those goals.

A pastor, as a leader in the church, will often see steps a church can take or strategic efforts it can implement in order to pursue the goal of reaching its community with the gospel and making disciples. He will intentionally provide teaching and urge the people to do their part. Or he may see ways in which the church needs to mature as a body, so he preaches from passages of Scripture related to those areas and plans ways the church can apply these truths together.

How can you develop now as a leader?

1. Pray for God to develop your leadership. Jesus developed the disciples. They were normal men who became influencers. He taught them, gave them opportunities to serve, corrected them when needed, and eventually entrusted them with starting the first churches after He ascended back to heaven.

In a similar way, God will enable and develop you into the leader you need to be in order to fulfill His purpose for you. Express your dependence on Him through prayer. Ask Him to give you wisdom, help you learn from experience, and mature you into a man who can influence others.

2. Learn from others who lead. You can do this by reading good resources on leadership. A great book to start with is Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. I recommend it very highly. Sanders tells you what it means to be a spiritual leader, gives many helpful principles, and includes a lot of examples. It is truly a life-changing book. You might want to read and discuss it along with someone else – your Dad, your pastor or youth pastor, or a friend.

Also, observe how your pastor and others in positions of influence exercise leadership. Watch how they lead a group of people to pursue goals. See how they communicate. Notice how they plan, then enlist and equip others to pursue the plan. Pay attention to how their example affects others.

You can even learn from leaders’ weaknesses and mistakes. I don’t mean to encourage you to have a critical spirit. But sometimes leaders handle things in a way that isn’t the best. Quietly make a mental note of what they did and the impact it had, and think of how you might handle it differently if you were in their place.

3. Learn from Jesus. Jesus is the greatest leader of all. Read through the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) paying special attention to how Jesus influenced others and what He taught His disciples about leadership.

Carefully read Mark 10:35-45. Jesus’ disciples asked Him for prominent positions in His kingdom. He responded by telling them greatness in God’s eyes is very different from how the world views it. His words have become the gold standard for leadership in Christian ministry:

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45, ESV).

You can learn Christ-like leadership by letting these words shape your life. Pray the quality of selfless service will be formed in your heart and will determine how you relate to others.

4. Seek opportunities to get experience. In your church setting, this may include helping plan and execute events, assisting with Vacation Bible School, or being on a youth council. There may also be opportunities at your school – class offices, special events, athletics, or clubs. If you have a part-time or summer job, look for ways to go beyond just putting in your time. Take extra responsibilities, help with planning, or develop a new idea to improve the business.

Leadership can be learned.

Some people’s natural personalities or abilities make them leaders. You may not feel like that’s you. But anyone can acquire knowledge, gain experience, and develop leadership skills. And when God wants you to influence others, He is at work from within, growing you so He can use you in Christ’s church-building work.

If you are supposed to be a pastor, God will enable you and you will learn to lead. Think of it like a shepherd with sheep. He knows they need food, water and protection. The shepherd thinks ahead, knows where to take them for nourishment and safety, gets out in front, and starts going in that direction. His sheep follow him.

As a pastor, you will need to get out in front. You don’t have to act like a military commander or a corporate CEO. Just start pursuing spiritual growth and bring others with you.

I love this quote:

“Leadership is often viewed as the product of natural endowments and traits of personality – intellectual capacity, force of will, enthusiasm. That such talents and scholastic attainments do greatly enhance leadership is beyond question, but those are not the factors of paramount importance in the spiritual leader. The real qualities of leadership are to be found in those who are willing to suffer for the sake of objectives great enough to demand their wholehearted obedience” (from Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders, p. 25, emphasis mine).

If you obey God’s call on your life and His commission to make disciples, and if you are willing to spend your life serving Him, you will influence others in the same direction. You will become the leader you need to be.

Do you know what ordination is? Sound scary? We’ll talk about that next.

Factors That Influence Young Men Toward Ministry

In a recent meeting with college students who are preparing for pastoral ministry, I asked them three questions. I wanted to understand better the influences that encourage high school age young men to consider ministry. We filled a white board and discussed these ideas for about 45 minutes. Mostly I just listened and wrote down what they said.

God calls men into ministry, but people in their lives influence them to consider and pursue it. I encourage pastors, youth pastors, parents, teachers, and any Christian with a position of influence in a young man’s life to read over these questions and answers. Then think about how you might help cultivate a desire for ministry in young men. You may be the one they’re talking about five years from now – the one God used to encourage them toward ministry.

Here are the questions and answers without comment. The answers are not in any significant order, other than approximately as they were given by the students.

What influenced you as a high school age young man                                                   toward ministry?
Youth Pastor
Awana Commander
A man in the church who discipled me
Camp speaker
Camp staff
Bible college students on a traveling team
Opportunities to serve in church
Mission Trips
The need for good preaching
The need for pastors
The effects of sin on friends’ lives
God’s Word

What would you tell high school young men who are considering ministry?
It’s okay if you feel inadequate. God will enable you.
Serve now any way you can.
Be open to change – doing something different than you plan.
Pray about it.
Be in the Word.
Have a high view of the gospel – what it can do in your life and others’ lives.
God is sovereign, He will grow and equip you.
Guard your moral purity.
The ministry isn’t for everyone (James 3:1).
Have friends who encourage you toward ministry, not discourage you from it.
Be all in.
Be real.
Be discipled by someone – seek it out if you have to.
Develop compassion for others.

What would you tell pastors and youth pastors about encouraging young men toward ministry?
Talk to them! Spend time in conversation, get to know them, show interest in them.
Share your own testimony of how God led you into ministry.
Preach on it.
Be a Paul to a Timothy.
Emphasize ministry as a viable option for life’s work.
Disciple them.
Involve them in ministry.




Pastors Need People Skills

Hiking TrailThis is Pathway to Pastoral Ministry – Develop Pastoral Skills (Part 2). Part 1 is here. The series starts here. These posts are primarily for guys interested in ministry, but this one will help all pastors.

Another area of pastoral skills you will need to develop is people skills. Here are seven areas to grow in and work on. This is longish, so skim it then go back and work through it if that helps.

Some people skills can be learned, but there must first be a genuine love for people in your heart. I was talking with a neighbor couple recently about my work. I explained to them I am equipping a new generation of pastors. The sweet, elderly lady said, “Oh, they need to love people!” She’s right.

Love for others starts with yielding to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to produce this fruit in your life. “The fruit of the Spirit is love . . .” (Galatians 5:22). You can also learn to love people by following Jesus’ example. We are to “walk in love,  as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:2). Paul gave us an idea of what love looks like in ministry: “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15, NKJV).

Loving people means you don’t minister to them for what they do for you. You give yourself to and for them because you want their highest good. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be close friends with everyone in your church. But you care for each one. And you will serve and even sacrifice for them, just like Jesus did.

Develop your love for people by asking God to produce the fruit of love in your life. Read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and observe how Jesus demonstrated love. Study the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Be alert to self-centeredness in your life and intentionally, with God’s help, replace it with love.

Loving others leads to developing genuine interest in people. We naturally think a lot about our own lives – what we’re doing today, how we’re feeling, what’s going on in our family, our problems. Learn to look beyond yourself and be interested in others.

Pastors usually minister to a pretty large group of people. It takes intentional effort to learn about their families, their work, their activities, and their burdens. These life circumstances are the setting for spiritual growth. If you as a pastor wish to help your people grow spiritually, knowing about their lives is vital.

Here’s a good daily reminder from Paul: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

How do you show interest in other people? How do you get to know them? Through conversation. The third people skill to learn is how to converse with people.

You may do this naturally. Or you may need to develop conversation skills. Start by asking questions. “Tell me about your family.” “What kind of work do you do?” “Where all have you lived?” “What do you do to relax or have fun?”

Don’t make it seem like an interrogation. Hopefully, the other person will ask you questions too! If not, you can tell a little about yourself, or comment on what they said, then ask another question. Ideally a conversation should be like tennis. You hit the topic “ball” back and forth to each other. If the other person asks you a question, answer it, then ask them a similar one. “I have three siblings – two brothers and a sister. How about you?”

Once you get to know people, you can move from small talk to more meaningful topics: “How did you become a Christian?” “What are some of the big lessons God has taught you?” “How can I pray for you?”

An essential step in getting to know people is doing things together. It seems a little strange to call that a “skill.” It’s just something you do. But based on your personality you may or may not do this naturally. You might need to make an effort at it and grow in your desire for it.

Some pastors hole up in their offices and escape to their own homes and never do anything with people in their church. Some even have the idea that they shouldn’t develop friendships with their people. My answer to that is, look at Jesus. Of all the people He ministered to, He spent quality time with twelve. They hiked, ate, and had many conversations together. Just like Jesus spent time with His disciples, pastors can and should do the same with their church members.

The most basic thing you can do is visit them in their homes. But go beyond that. Invite some to your home for pizza and games. Include couples, singles, older people, and kids. Organize a bowling night or go to a ball game. Post on social media you’re going for a hike and anyone is welcome. Have a dads and kids day at the park and invite some men to come along (the moms will love this).

These times can be planned or spontaneous. Doing things together lets people know you care about them as individuals. They also have an opportunity to see you’re real and you like to have fun. You will find that investing this kind of casual time with people will develop relationships that give you opportunities for meaningful ministry in their lives.

The fifth people skill is, learn how to act in a considerate way toward others. In other words, have good manners!

Remember that stuff your mother taught you? It’s important! If no one taught you manners, well, you can read up on it. Manners are just a way of being considerate of others. You’re not putting on a show. You’re putting others before yourself and showing that you care for the people around you.

Eat what you’re served. Chew with your mouth closed. Use eating utensils properly. Cover your cough. Dress appropriately for the occasion. Don’t be crude. Don’t be on your phone unless everyone is doing phones. Express gratitude (say “thank you,” send a thank you note if someone has you for a meal or gives you a gift). Give a firm handshake (but not a bone-cruncher!). Stand up to talk to another person who is standing up. Ladies first. Hold the door. Practice proper netiquette. (Pastors can really hurt their ministry by being rude on social media.)

Society is becoming more careless and crass. But etiquette shows you care for others. You don’t have to be stiff and formal. Just be warmly, thoughtfully polite. It reflects Christ well and enhances your relationships with others.

Sixth, learn how to relate to people who are in difficult circumstances. We naturally feel inadequate when talking with someone experiencing the death of a loved one, loss of their job, or other hardship. If you haven’t experienced it, you hardly know what to say. This is especially true when you are young.

You can always say, “I don’t fully understand what you’re going through, but I just want you to know I care for you, and I’m praying for you.” Beyond that, you can learn by spending time with an experienced pastor. Observe how he interacts with people during a time of serious illness, accident, job loss, major surgery, family crisis, or death.

As you go through trials of your own, you will become more sympathetic with others who suffer. You will learn helpful things to say and do. You’ll experience God’s grace in your life and will be able to encourage others to trust Him for the measure of grace they need.

Experience helps, but most of all, pray for wisdom. Pastors are there for people during the most difficult of times. God will enable you to minister to others, even when you aren’t sure what to say or do. Trust Him, show love, and provide support.

Last, learn how to relate to people who are different from you. You’re young, they’re old. Or, you’re an adult, they’re kids. You’re one ethnicity, they’re another. You’re country, they’re city. You’ve got degrees hanging on your wall, they don’t. You grew up learning verses, they barely know how to find Matthew in the Bible.

You will need to learn to bridge many gaps between yourself and others. Here are a few quick ideas on how to learn to relate to different kinds of people.

One is to look for people you don’t naturally gravitate to and initiate conversation with them. Just walk up and start talking (see above on being interested and having conversations).

Another is to expose yourself to various types of people through reading, listening to, and watching news and other sources of information. Look for programs, podcasts, and even read historical fiction that gives you a new perspective on how different kinds of people in the world live.

One more – travel. As much as you can, get out of your own geographical area and visit places where people different from you live. See the sights, eat the food, go to the shops. Sure, attend their churches too. Expose yourself to different cultures, both within your home country and internationally as much as possible. Interact with people from a vastly different culture from yours. You will grow to understand and appreciate the differences in background, perspective, and life experience. This will help you relate to the amazing diversity of people on God’s earth in a new way.

Here’s a quick review of people skills to develop:

  • Love people
  • Be genuinely interested in people
  • Converse with people
  • Do things together
  • Act in a considerate way (manners!)
  • Relate to people in difficult circumstances
  • Relate to people different from you

Guess what: there’s no pastoring without people. You may love to study, have a passion to preach, can’t wait to lead – but churches are people. Jesus died and rose again to save, set apart for Himself, and spend eternity with people!

Your ministry is to people. Developing people skills will enable you to fulfill your ministry, follow God’s purpose, and build up the church of Jesus Christ.

Next we’ll talk about developing leadership skills.