You are currently viewing Pastors Can Lead Well by Preaching Well

Pastors Can Lead Well by Preaching Well

Pastors feel intense pressure to successfully lead the organization known as the local church, and it’s burning them out. Over the past few decades, a business leadership model has shaped the expectations for many pastors. People expect them to be shepherds but also to lead the church with vision and strategy. This isn’t fair, and it often pulls pastors in the wrong direction. Inefficiency isn’t a sign of holiness, but too much emphasis on organizational efficiency can deform the pastor’s understanding of his God-given role.

Two books help refocus pastors on the importance of preaching for leading a church. In The Pastor as Leader: Principles and Practices for Connecting Preaching and Leadership, John Currie argues that “an unbiblical divorce often occurs between the pastoral priorities of preaching and leadership more generally.” When this happens, he writes, “the church suffers from either stagnation on its mission or a downgrade in the pulpit” (1).

In Expositional Leadership: Shepherding God’s People from the Pulpit, Scott Pace and Jim Shaddix agree and define “expositional leadership” as “the pastoral process of shepherding God’s people through the faithful exposition of his word to conform them to the image of his Son by the power of his Spirit” (15). Both books contend that preaching is leadership.

Primacy of Preaching

Pastors have been appointed to lead the church (Eph. 4:7–16), yet their primary responsibility is a particular kind of leadership. Paul tells Timothy, a pastor, to “devote [himself] to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). He makes clear the benefit of the taught Word: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

Because of the expectations to lead (and all that’s baked into the leadership cake), it’s tempting for the pastor to spend far too much time in organizational strategy and far too little preparing expository sermons. Yet pastoral leadership, at its core, is the preaching of God’s Word to conform God’s people to the image of Christ.

Pastoral leadership, at its core, is the preaching of God’s Word to conform God’s people to the image of Christ.

Currie, professor of pastoral theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, defines pastoral leadership as “the process where, for the glory of God, a man of God, appointed by the Son of God and empowered by the Spirit of God, proclaims the word of God so that the people of God are equipped to move forward into the purposes of God together” (31).

A simple yet integral reality is that the preaching of God’s Word necessarily leads somewhere. Therefore, pastoral leadership and preaching ought not to be divorced. Certainly, when Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17), he recognized the core of Christian leadership as teaching God’s Word. However, biblical preaching’s primacy doesn’t mean strategy and vision can be ignored.

Vision and Strategy

In an attempt to keep the preaching ministry primary, pastors may be tempted to neglect vision and strategy wholesale. Overreacting to the pragmatics and trendiness of popular pulpit ministries, faithful men may begin to preach application-light or vision-less sermons.

On the other hand, some pastors have been elevated to celebrity status and have used that status to create a subculture where the pastor, as CEO, preaches his vision for his kingdom rather than God’s vision for God’s kingdom. Pace and Shaddix, who both teach preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, lament, “We’ve created a culture that looks to platform those with magnetic personalities, those who are gifted, and those who have a hip persona” (98).

Though there are abundant extreme examples to avoid, faithful Bible preaching includes providing vision and strategy for God’s people. There’s a healthy way to do this. As Pace and Shaddix explain, “Contextualization and mobilization for our respective spiritual communities can be accomplished through faithful exposition if we cast vision and extend challenges that are dictated by what God says, not what we’ve dreamed up for our ministries” (63).

Rather than running from the concept of vision altogether, pastors should, as Currie affirms, see vision casting as “expounding God’s great purposes for his church, revealed in the Scriptures, and applying them to the particular people in the particular place and period Christ has sent him to serve” (149).

Pastoral leadership thus takes its form from Scripture’s context rather than from the latest cultural trends. And yet it’s sometimes necessary to respond to unexpected events in the world.

Situational Leadership

Some of the most influential pastoral leadership opportunities arise from unforeseen situations—national or local tragedies, church conflicts, or political unrest. Pace and Shaddix argue, “It’s in those times that pastors have some of the greatest opportunities to shepherd people through their preaching” (101). Verse by verse, book by book, expository preaching is their preferred philosophy. Yet rigid adherence to a plan can make a pastor reluctant to pause a sermon series to address an important issue.

Faithful Bible preaching includes providing vision and strategy for God’s people.

Preachers, with their Bibles open, should capitalize on opportunities to address culturally relevant problems their people face. Pace and Shaddix counsel pastors to not run from or ignore a crisis, but they add, “At the same time, don’t rush in and try to navigate it with your own know-how, wisdom, and experience. Your people need to hear from God, and they need to know that you’ve been with him in pursuit of his infinite wisdom” (111).

Leading through a crisis by preaching God’s Word to give a biblical worldview for God’s people is the clearest example of leading by preaching, and all preachers are called to it.

Integrated Pastoral Leadership

Pastoral leadership from the pulpit is critical. Most often, we find books on leadership and books on preaching, but rarely do we find volumes that argue for the interconnectedness of the two. Currie, Pace, and Shaddix make the connection admirably.

Pace and Shaddix address this interconnectedness more succinctly and practically, while Currie’s work is more robust in theological argumentation, with fewer specific applications. Though the two books cover the same subject, their unique attributes make them an excellent pairing for the preacher-leader.

Both Expositional Leadership and The Pastor as Leader make a case for leading and preaching for God’s glory and his people’s good. Both books are wise, biblically infused, and pastoral. They’ve blessed me as a pastor-leader, and, by extension, they’ll bless those the Lord has entrusted to my leadership.


Leave a Reply