9 Reasons Some Pastors Are Not Strong Leaders

Pastoring requires being a leader, but not every pastor is a strong leader. Rather than harshly judge these pastors, though, we need to understand reasons they may struggle – and then prayerfully help them. Here are some of those reasons:

  1. They have never seen strong leadership modeled. Too many pastors are still learning leadership on their own because they’ve never spent time with a strong, godly leader. They have no personal role models.
  2. They’ve seen bad models. When they see a poor pastoral leader, some pastors spend as much time trying not to be that way that they sometimes fail to develop positive leadership traits. That’s leading by avoidance rather than by intentionality.
  3. Their training did not include enough attention to leadership. I teach at a seminary that requires a leadership course, but I’m aware that one course is just a start. Learning leadership takes time and training.
  4. They may not be gifted for leadership. I do believe that leadership skills can be taught, but some pastors are more gifted than others for the task of leadership. Leadership is, in fact, a spiritual gift.
  5. They’ve been wounded in past ministries. Some pastors who were once strong leaders have scars from previous ministries – and leading has simply become difficult. It feels risky once you’ve been hurt.
  6. They’re still young. We’ve all been there: young, zealous (arrogant, even), and convinced we can lead. It’s only when we mature that we realize just how poorly we were leading. Some pastors may be in leadership roles before they’re ready.
  7. They’re in maintenance mode. Maybe they’re weary, or they just don’t want to tackle the challenge of change. Some are more focused on retirement than on developing an energetic ministry.
  8. They’re unwilling to ask for help. It’s hard for many of us to ask for help, especially if the church has called us to lead. The result is leadership in isolation – and that’s seldom good.
  9. The church structure may not let them lead. In some congregations, the structure of committees and boards so handcuffs the pastor that few people could lead. 

Take time now to pray that your pastor will lead well. What other reasons would you add to this list?

8 Comments

  • Eric Fannin says:

    Dr Lawless, what steps could a pastor take to grow in leadership? Are there good books or conferences that you would recommend? Thank you for your articles!

    -Eric Fannin

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Eric, here are some thoughts. 1. Get to know another local pastor who leads well, and learn from him. Invite him to lunch. 2. Ask about five other pastors what leadership books have been most important to them. 3. See if a local university or seminary offers a leadership course. 4. Do a web search for the best blogs on Christian leadership. 5. Have some prayer partners interceding for you as you learn leadership in the trenches.

  • Greg Lindsey says:

    “Fear of man” can be especially debilitating in leadership (Proverbs 29:25). Was it Ephraim of Syria who said, “He who will not serve the Lord alone must be the slave of many masters”? I think so. O for holy, faithful, well-considered boldness pastoral leadership!

  • Jon F. Dewey says:

    This is a good list. I especially agree with #1 and #2, because most often people emulate what they have seen, whether good or bad. Will link to this on my Facebook page!

  • David R. Cromeenes says:

    I am a SB NAMB endorsed Army Chaplain since 2002 and live every day in a leader driven culture. I am preparing for eventual retirement and was recently advised by a state convention “leader” that most SBC chaplains, especially Army Chaplains struggle in the local church because we’re used to leading from the front. And the advice given to me was to get comfortable learning how to lead from the rear.

    It seems to me that being a Shepherd Leader requires competence and awareness to follow and be followed. The Shepherd Leader Jesus modeled directives, exhorting and coĺlaborative leadership.
    Your thoughts sir!

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      I think leadership is often contextualized leadership: sometimes we must lead from the front, and sometimes we must lead from the rear. It’s the leaders who choose only one approach who sometimes struggle with local church leadership. Thanks, David. 

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