Why Pastors Must Be Organizational Leaders Too

3 church leaders hold an organizational meeting

In today’s churches, pastors are often expected to be jacks of all trades but also master the art of the care of souls (what Harold Senkbeil identifies as the “enactment of the word of Christ upon the souls for whom our Lord shed his blood and died”).

The list of responsibilities in a typical pastor’s job description often extends far beyond the central aspect of administering word and sacrament.

In this excerpt from chapter 2 of Pastoral Leadership: For the Care of Souls , Lucas V. Woodford shares his perspective on pastoral leadership, why pastors must also be organizational leaders, and how to lead a congregation given a specific ministry setting.


Depending on the specific setting, location, size, structure, and staffing of a congregation, a pastor can have any number of additional roles placed upon him by the congregation.

Committee meetings, preparing agendas, organizing volunteers, equipping lay leaders, understanding church governance systems and church budgets, working with fellow clergy and nonclergy staff, setting goals for the year, administering congregational operations, handling stress, encouraging the staff around you, and the list goes on and on. Those may not be central to the pastoral care of souls, but you can be sure that if you neglect to do what the congregation expects you to do (at least in some reasonable and competent manner), they will inevitably hinder your care of souls.

Thus, it will be essential and helpful for you to know and understand your congregation’s governance structure and constitution. Some constitutions may be more ideal than others, but you nonetheless have to work within the current parameters and policies of your church. You can certainly propose changes later if something is deficient or unhelpful, but for the time being, you have to act in good faith to the congregation and the constitution that established its organizational governance. If you do think changes are warranted, be sure to use the appropriate channels and protocols of the congregation and denominational polity to bring about change.

Many structures are board-based; others are policy-based structures. Often, how well such structures work really depends on the elected or appointed lay people in positions of power and how well they work with the staff and pastors of a congregation, as well as how well a pastor understands, utilizes, and works within the organizational structure of his congregation.

Preparing to lead: understanding self-insight

Depending on your specific setting, congregation, and governance structure, you may be asked to do more or less than another pastor in a different setting. For some pastors that’s not a big deal, and they embrace such a task naturally. Some pastors simply have natural leadership instincts. Others may have experience in leadership roles from other settings of life. But the lack of either of those aptitudes or experiences does not eliminate someone from being a leader.

Leadership ability can be aided by the personality and emotional intelligence of a pastor. But it can also be thwarted by those things just the same. Introverts can serve as leaders just as well as extroverts. Yet plenty of self-styled leaders lacking in self-awareness and insight can destroy a church (or any organization) in no time at all.

One’s natural disposition does not automatically remove leadership potential from someone, nor does it automatically make them a competent leader. Rather, whatever one’s personality and disposition, it requires an individual to have good emotional intelligence for self-insight. And once some emotional self-awareness is obtained, you can intentionally work at those elements of your personality that may not naturally meld with what may be required of you as a leader.

Congregational expectations

When you understand your own emotional intelligence, you can see the expectations your congregation has of you in a clearer light. It allows you to better comprehend those expectations given your inclinations and disposition of character. It allows you to better grasp what the congregation expects, given your character and talents, and what you expect from them. Clearly communicating both sets of expectations helps with planning and time management. Bottom line: ignore expectations at your own peril.

Part of my problem was the misbeliefs that I created about my own leadership for the congregation, as well as those expectations I had of myself and my time allotment. They did not arise out of reality but from an unrealistic ideal and a few hypercritical individuals in the congregation. A few negative individuals can really weigh you down, can’t they? I found several helpful resources to assist me: 1) see reality more clearly; 2) set realistic boundaries for myself; 3) navigate through what was urgent and not urgent; and 4) sort out what was important from what was not important for my daily schedule. . . .

Know your ministry and the team around you

As a pastor, you are a servant. But in some settings, congregational job descriptions and positions have you as the leader, director, chief, or, for lack of a better phrase, the boss who is charged with oversight of multiple other congregation workers.

In my first congregation, my senior pastor had ultimate oversight (though delegated out) of nearly 50 church workers and employees of the congregation and parochial school. In my most recent congregation, I had ultimate oversight (though delegated out in various forms) of nearly 20 church workers and employees of the congregation and school. One of the major duties of my senior pastor job description states: “The Senior Pastor is to serve the congregation and day school by providing spiritual leadership, pastoral care, administrative oversight and organizational direction to all congregational endeavors, with a broad schedule of worship, music, preaching, teaching, and fellowship.” This is more specifically enumerated in no less than 12 duties, the first 7 of which are pertinent to this present discussion. My job description read in part:

The Senior Pastor
1. provides vision for the congregation and all its entities as it seeks to provide dynamic ministry for the members of the congregation, the community, and the world;
2. supervises (not micromanages) all staff members, called and contracted, in their work and ministry so that there is unity and consensus centered on the vision for the congregation;
3. works with the congregation officers and boards to build unity around a common vision for the congregation;
4. works with the budget committee and church council to make sure ministry priorities are funded;
5. authorizes ministry expenditures that do not exceed the budget;
6. with the appropriate board, supervises, hires, and terminates church support staff (this does not include called workers); and
7. promotes new ministry initiatives and gives direction to all congregation boards and committees.

You can see there is much my congregation expected of its senior pastor that goes beyond the central task of soul care through word and sacrament ministry. In my case, there was ample work that needed to be done for the congregation as an organization but also with and among the other paid workers of the congregation and school. How one accomplishes these tasks requires some leadership ability, specifically the ability to work with teammates in ministry.


Continue reading this chapter in Pastoral Leadership: For the Care of Souls (part of the Lexham Ministry Guides series) where Woodford further addresses the many sides of leadership—like the joys and challenges of team ministry, job descriptions and accountability, communication modes, and more.

You may also enjoy the Rainer on Leadership podcast which offers leadership lessons and practical training for church leaders and pastors.

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