I was recently speaking with a pastor with over three decades of experience as a leader in the church. He is very talented, with much wisdom and insight in mission and ministry. He has strategic vision. “In the day,” he would simply be a benevolent dictator: a tactical leader. He would say, “We are going in this direction and we are doing this to get there.” In the last few years, the culture has changed enough so that many leaders and members in his congregation are not accepting his benevolence as a tactical leader.
This pastor is frustrated because he is fairly confident that his strategic vision is on target (and I would say it is pretty good as well). However, he is being told that he needs to have a process for collaboration in decision-making for real change to happen.
He doesn’t want to give up the benefits of the benevolent, tactical model of leadership:
- Utilization of the pastor’s wisdom of experience.
- Efficiency in decision-making processes.
- Centralized control/authority.
The tactical leader often has the best of intentions, and sometimes a wonderful vision for the local congregation. Yet, in our present culture, this style of leadership fails to build a community of transformational leaders in mission and ministry that can truly address the adaptive challenges that the church is facing. People often respond to a high-control, tactical problem-solver by checking out and not participating. They do not feel valued, and they simply disengage. The mission of the church is the loser.
Too often, we think that if we can’t set the vision and control the strategy, then we fail in our responsibilities as leaders. The alternative to being a tactical leader is not giving up leadership, but becoming a transformational leader. The Apostle Paul addressed his letters to his brothers in Christ, placing himself as a co-laborer with Christ along with all the followers. He spoke of the necessity of seeing leadership through the systemic understanding of the “body of Christ” with everyone contributing to the success of the mission. When we move from tactical, controlling leadership to transformational leadership, we do not abdicate leadership. We take it on with more respect and more hope as we work together in mission with our co-laborers in the Gospel.
A transformational leader is responsible for:
- Reframing the issues according to identity and purpose (vision and mission).
- Gathering the various constituents around the issues the church is facing.
- Facilitating transformational decision-making processes which invite leaders to work together to formulate transformational vision, strategy and ministry plans.
Thus, a local church rises or falls on the various leadership/constituency teams gathered around the issues, not the tactical decisions of the pastor. Everyone is guided and empowered through this leadership, including the pastor. This follows the biblical model of the church being the body of Christ with Christ as the head. We need transformational collaboration with one another for the body to function as created. This means a lot more work up front, but in the end, it really serves the mission of the local congregation very well.
Moving from tctical leadership to transformational leadership is:
- Moving from authority to shared leadership.
- Moving from having the right answers to asking the right questions.
- Moving from having power over others to sharing the power of the mission and vision with others.
- Moving from the anxiety to get it right to the freedom to explore with new possibilities.
- Moving from “How can I be successful?” to “How can the mission be successful?”
Through transformational leadership, the team will be more creative and more successful. The individual members of the team will know that they are valued contributors to the mission. People will feel like partners in ministry, not workers doing someone else’s ministry for them.
After a career as a pastor, John Holm is now a consultant with TAG Consulting. He specializes in coaching individuals and teams in the process of transformational leadership.