Leading the Smaller Congregation – Part 4

In our last segment, we looked at the great potential of the smaller church in four key areas: deep relationships, extensive ministry involvement, intergenerational ministry development, and community impact. The path to success in these areas, however, requires certain types of commitment from us as leaders.

John Maxwell describes five levels of leadership influence, in order to help pastors understand what is needed to increase their effectiveness and lead change effectively in a congregation.

  1. LEVEL 1 – Position leadership, where the leader’s only influence is the right to lead that the title provides.
  2. LEVEL 2 – Permission leadership, where the leader’s influence grows through relationship and the people give him permission to lead because they like him.
  3. LEVEL 3 – Production leadership, where the leader can lead because he’s producing results for the organization. People follow at this level because the leader is viewed as successful.
  4. LEVEL 4 – People development leadership, where people follow a leader because of the difference he has made in their personal lives.
  5. LEVEL 5 – Personhood leadership, where the leader’s extended influence has given him high levels of respect and influence. This pinnacle level is reserved for the most influential leaders in our lives.

It takes time to climb these levels with people—time that many leaders in smaller churches fail to give. In order to lead effectively, the pastor of a smaller congregation must commit years to the role, in order to grow influence and to demonstrate the level of commitment many church members need to see before being willing to face needed change. Often, a pastor will not begin to truly lead a church until his fifth year, so the average pastoral tenure of just over 4 years is highly problematic.

Leading the smaller church also requires a deep commitment to people. The ministry is the “people business.” Jesus explained this in Matthew 20, when He told His disciples that their leadership wouldn’t be like the Gentiles who use their authority to dominate and rule. Instead, they would find greatness in servanthood.

Servant leadership isn’t just a secular-style of leadership where the leader is also a nice guy. Servant leadership means putting the needs of others ahead of your own.  It’s less about being in charge and more about giving myself for others.

While every spiritual leader should lead in this way, a pastor’s failure to do so in the smaller church is highly visible and brings leadership problems very quickly. Simply put, if you don’t like people, you shouldn’t be a smaller church pastor.

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