Robust Leaders

Robust Leaders

by Jonny Weir and Sam Kilpatrick

Carey Baptist College exists to serve the church by developing leaders for ministry and mission. What core qualities are needed for leaders to be robust and effective in today’s world?

Jonny Weir (Carey’s Ministry Training Director) and Sam Kilpatrick (Youth Ministry Coordinator) argue that there are three essential elements to robust leadership.[1]

Theological knowledge

At Carey, we are often asked, “does a pastor need to study theology to be an effective minister?”

What does the Bible say? In the Old Testament, Jeremiah declares that God’s people need shepherds who will lead them with “knowledge and understanding.”[2] The prophet Hosea cries out, “my people are destroyed through lack of knowledge.”[3] Given the level of Bible engagement among Kiwi Christians today, might that be a prophetic word for the church of Aotearoa?[4]

In the New Testament, the pastoral epistles frequently insist that healthy teaching is what makes a church healthy, whereas false teaching makes the life of a church sick. Paul’s plea was for “sound doctrine” in the church.[5] In his letter to the Christians in Corinth he writes, “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). Pastoral ministry is essentially a ministry of the word.

Churches, therefore, need pastoral leaders who can integrate God’s word (the content of Christian belief), God’s work (the practice of Christian discipleship and community), and God’s world (the local context in which ministry and mission occurs). We need pastors who can serve as contextual theologians.

Technical skill

Psalm 78:72 describes David’s leadership in these terms: “David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skilful hands he led them.” Pastoral leaders need skilful hands. They need certain skills or “threshold capabilities” in order to lead effectively.[6]

Tod Bolsinger suggests that these basic technical competencies might be divided into three areas. First, pastors need to be competent stewards of scripture and tradition.[7] They need to be able to preach and teach in ways that are faithful to the gospel and sensitive to culture.

Second, pastoral leaders need to be competent in their stewardship of souls and communities.[8] We have a saying at Carey: pastors are called to love, feed, and lead those who God calls them to serve. Pastoral leadership is about lovingly nurturing people and communities into the image of God in Christ.

Thirdly, pastors need competency as stewards of teams and tasks.[9] Pastoral leadership is both personal and organisational. It requires the ability to build teams, create processes, develop structures, and lead change.

Spiritual and emotional maturity

As important as these technical skills are, there is, however, a much more fundamental need.

Paul says to the leaders of the church in Ephesus: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.”[10] Elsewhere Paul writes, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”[11] The most crucial leadership competency for pastoral leaders is self-leadership. As leaders, our own hearts and lives must be in order.

A better leader will first seek to become a better person. As Peter Scazzero says, “The overall health of any church or ministry depends primarily on the emotional and spiritual health of its leadership. In fact, the key to successful leadership has much more to do with the leader’s internal life than the leader’s expertise, gifts or experience.”[12]

The great temptation in ministry, however, is to offer our best energies to growing the church at the expense of growing ourselves as followers of Christ. This is deadly. As Vanhoozer notes, “It is important to keep in mind that the pastoral ministry is primarily the work of Jesus Christ and only secondarily of human pastors. Pastors can minister what is in Christ authentically only if they themselves are in Christ.”[13] That’s why our ministry training programme at Carey prioritises spiritual and emotional health.

If our churches are to thrive as missional communities, they need leaders who are robust. Leaders with the head, hands, and heart – or the convictions, competencies, and capacity – to shepherd well the flock of God. In recent years our ministry training programme has undergone considerable development to ensure that our graduates emerge with these core attributes. Here, to conclude, is a snapshot of the process:

Diagram to show the Pastoral Leadership three year formation pathway

[1] This article is based on their chapter in Myk Habets and John Tucker (eds), What We Love: Reflections on Ministry, Leadership, and Mission (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017), 32-42.
[2] Jeremiah 3:15.
[3] Hosea 4:6.
[4] Bible Society of New Zealand, New Zealanders and the Bible (Wellington: Bible Society New Zealand, 2017), 8–13.
[5] Literally ‘healthy teaching,’ e.g. 1 Tim. 1:9–10; 2 Tim. 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1.
[6] Robert W. Allen, Harold L. Angle, and Lyman W. Porter (eds), Organizational Influence Processes, 2nd ed. (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2003), 229.
[7] Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2015), 54.
[8] Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains, 55.
[9] Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains, 56.
[10] Acts 20:28.
[11] 1 Timothy 4:16.
[12] Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 20.
[13] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015), 140.


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