?The platform is still up front.

Whatever else has changed in the modern worship environment, most of the seats in the sanctuary/auditorium/gym/meeting room still face the front. And audiences of every imaginable socio-economic people group still wait for the prophet/preacher/lead pastor/facilitator up front to shine the light of God’s Word on the road of their journey.

In Old Testament times, Moses assembled the troops with a ram’s horn. Today, they might be gathered by a tune from a keyboard or a video clip from a data projector. Either way, the task is the same: gather people, train them and send them out equipped with power and principles. The shepherd can’t evade the calling. Sheep still need to know where to find pasture—and how to stay away from wolves dressed like one of them.

A friend of mine has a hat he bought for 10 cents at a yard sale. It’s actually two hats in one—which says a lot about the frugality of my friend. One “hat” points left while the other points right. Written on the hat are the words: “I am their leader … which way did they go?”

Pastors are said to wear many hats, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them wearing a leader hat that asks the question, “Where did they go?” That’s a pretty relevant question. Where did the leaders go? According to a 2009 Barna Group survey, only 2 percent of those who identified themselves as Christians believe they have the gift of leadership.1

Holistic Leading
New Testament leadership was comprehensive. It had its moments of tenderness and messages of tough love. It wept, laughed, warned, condemned and taught real-life lessons; but it always was a step ahead of the congregation. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NIV).
Naturally, if there are followers, there must be a leader. And pastor, you are the designated leader. Leadership training is the organizational backbone of a growing church. “When a group lacks quality leadership, it will tend to languish. Leadership is a social construct. No one leads by himself.”2 New leaders must be trained to take the place of those retired, wounded or missing in action. Your weekly message can be an awesome add-on, a training ground for discipleship and leadership.

Leadership and ‘Feedership’
Believers caught in the web of a post-Christian culture are seeking far more than three points and a poem. They want to stand on a firm foundation.
Albert L. Truesdale Jr., once said, “With all orthodox Christianity we believe that in spite of notable limitations, the Holy Spirit worked in the life of the Church to create the Creeds. They do now faithfully articulate the Triune God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”3 Let’s face it—our parishioners need to know more about God more than anything! As Tim LaHaye once suggested, there is a “battle for the mind” going on.

Every message has a lead-feed mandate. One cannot be exclusive of the other. Leadership and “feedership” come together in a wonderful way in our worship services but especially in our preaching. We are called to be messengers of the “what” and the “how.” Principle without practice is like cake without flour: It may be sweet, but it is shapeless and lifeless.

W.A. Criswell, legendary pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, used to stay away from the “office” during the weekday morning hours. He was home in his study—poring over the Scriptures, seeking the Spirit’s leadership in putting the menu together for a sheep-feeding the following Sunday.

Criswell said in his autobiography, Standing on the Promises, “If you want to succeed in ministry … keep your heart fixed on Jesus and your mind centered on God’s Word.”4 His afternoons were given to the church business, but his mornings were devoted to Bible study.

It really doesn’t matter how many sheep we gather if we don’t intend to feed them. If we don’t give them the nourishment of God’s Word, they’ll either starve between gatherings or find a new pasture. They need a leader who will covenant with God to teach them what to be as well as what to do. Holistic preaching isn’t about big words and big props; it’s about building biblical foundations and giving Word-focused direction. It is about developing leaders to guide fellow believers in serving in God’s kingdom.

In my book The Five Star Church: Serving God and His People with Excellence, this observation is made: “Cultural relevance in the 21st century means significantly different things than in the 1950s, where so many of our congregations obtained their molds. Cultural relevance is not the same as biblical compromise. These are two separate issues. If you compromise the gospel in hopes of making it more palatable for people, [it] results in corrupt doctrine and ministry ineffectiveness.”5

Evangelism, Discipleship, Equipping
Platform-centered leadership uses the pulpit to invite people to Christ, disciple them in Spirit-filled living and equip them to serve others. Leadership principles simply add to the “perceived value” of your weekly message.

How do you lead from the pulpit?
1. You plan it. When it comes to feeding the flock, some sermons look like an explosion at the giant buffet restaurant—food is everywhere, but no one has an idea where to start looking! Sermon preparation is more than gathering online quotes to oppose pop-culture creeds; it is specifically planning a presentation of biblical principles. People have heard what others have said; what they want most is to hear from God.

Suppose someone stopped me to ask for directions. If I knew how to get to that location I wouldn’t just point in a direction and say, “Oh yes, I know where that is—it’s over yonder; God bless you on your journey.” No, I would tell him how to get there, road by road and turn by turn. Preaching is giving directions road by road and turn by turn.

Not everyone who comes through the door of your church has a spiritual GPS. They may be familiar with the surroundings, but that doesn’t mean they have the presence of God guiding their lives. Your first concern is to lift up the name of Jesus Christ. Your second concern is to lead them into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Your next concern is to help them grow in their faith and find a place to practice that faith in Christian service.

Platform-centered leadership needs to be planned. Leadership must be in your platform presentation on purpose—road by road and turn by turn. You can weave practical leadership principles into your weekly sermon, but first you need to map them out.

Meeting Leadership Needs
As a pastor-leader, you know where the pockets of leadership are, and you know the leadership weaknesses in your congregation that need to be addressed. Plan your strategy. For example, start with a book or article from a magazine or the Internet that highlights leadership principles missing in the church ministry, using its content (with credit to the author of course) to make an application in your weekly message and PowerPoint presentation.

You may want to outline the content in four- to six-week modules, addressing leadership principles and techniques in the weekly modules. (You may even want to invite the audience to text some questions to the media crew for uploading to a platform monitor.)

2. You illustrate it.
Christian leadership is on display in the lives of Christian leaders. Their names are too many to mention, but their example of Christlike leadership methods are vivid illustrations that can be used in your preaching ministry. Quoting from trusted leaders, using their stories and praising their efforts, can be effective tools for developing leaders within your congregation.

Perhaps a “leadership moment” can be inserted into your message, PowerPoint presentations or worship folder to bring attention to vibrant leadership qualities. If you have a bookstore, highlighting a book or video from the platform can bring awareness of leadership resources.

Another tool for developing leaders is to include other leaders in your church calendar. A weekend leadership seminar, effectively planned and promoted, can motivate “secret service” leaders into becoming “public service” leaders. The very fact that you schedule a recognized denominational or parachurch leader to speak illustrates your interest in leadership development.

3. You model it.
Every minister has a “leadership persona.” Voice and gestures and attitude become leadership characteristics that live long after your last message to the church. U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson once said, “It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.”

Do you think and act like a leader? Of course, that is a nebulous question. Every leader is an individual. But every Christian leader should be a reflection of his or her master, Jesus Christ. A study of the leadership characteristics of Jesus is a good starting point in developing your leadership persona.

Your upfront attitudes and actions speak of your leadership. The way you treat staff, the way you affirm and honor people, the way you attend the needy, the way you defend Bible doctrine and the way you worship the Lord tell your leaders and future leaders about your own leadership.

4. You acknowledge it.
In the church I pastor in Oklahoma City, we honor the work of our leaders with the “Five Star Ministry Award.” Volunteer lay ministers are called to the platform and presented with a certificate of excellence and rewarded with a church logo watch and a standing ovation from the congregation. The presentation acknowledges the importance of individual effort and team ministry. Public recognition of behind-the-scenes efforts motivates leaders to do their personal best. You may think that hitting “homiletical homeruns” is bringing people to church, when in fact it might be the unfailing work of the hospitality committee taking baked pies to shut-ins that influences people to attend.

The writer to the Hebrews reminded, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10, NIV). Pastoral leadership should use public events to recognize current and future leaders. For example, honoring a children’s church director could be a step to motivating that person to a higher level of leadership—perhaps becoming a Christian education pastor.
Good pastoral leadership is people focused not self focused. In one sense, you are known by making others known. Increasing the self worth and public worth of others increases their productivity and personal growth. It’s an investment that pays both corporate and personal dividends. It’s the classic “teach a man to fish” principle. If you do all the fishing, you’ll only wear out. If you enable other fishermen, you’ll increase the catch.

Time to Point
I heard the story of a banker who arrived home, burst through the door and shouted, “I’M HOME! WHERE’S DINNER?” His wife, also a banker, had arrived 30 minutes earlier to find that one of their kids had overturned the fish tank, while another had let their large dog in for a run through the house.

Luckily she had stopped at the pizza shop on the way home, but hearing, “Where’s dinner?” while rounding up deceased fish and cleaning dog prints off the wood flooring frayed her last nerve. She turned the pizza into a Frisbee, and it landed on her husband’s designer shirt. Picking pepperoni out of his shirt pocket he said, “You could have just pointed.”

Pastor, it’s time to point. Lead from the pulpit. Give the dessert of leadership along with the main course of Bible study to your people. They’ll be the better for it; and the kingdom will be increased.

1. Available online: http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/211-survey-describes-the-spiritual-gifts-that-christians-say-they-have
2. Stan Toler and Alan Nelson, The Five Star Church: Serving God and His People with Excellence (Ventura: Regal Books, 1999), p. 115.
3. Albert L. Truesdale, “A Calling to Fulfill,” Online: http://didache.nts.edu/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_view&gid=98&Itemid=
4. W.A. Criswell, Standing on the Promises (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990), p. 219.
5. The Five Star Church: Serving God and His People with Excellence, p. 171.

John Maxwell on Preaching as a Leadership Tool

Preaching: What do you see as the relationship between preaching and leadership within the local church?

Maxwell: All great leaders are effective communicators. It is the vehicle for the vision. For me to know where I want to take a group of people and not have the ability to cast that dream, preach that message, communicate that heart, makes the dream impossible. The vision won’t be accomplished.

So one of the reasons I have committed so much time not only in teaching leadership but communication, is I think they are so compatible. You show me a great leader and I’ll show you a person who became a great leader because of his or her ability to communicate effectively. You can be a good preacher and not a good leader, but you cannot be a good leader without being a good preacher or a good communicator. You have to be able to communicate the vision.

What I love about it is that they all do it differently; there is not a certain style or a certain method. But they all have the ability to get their heart into the heart of their people. And that is always done through preaching and through communication.

Preaching: What are some of the particular approaches or methods in preaching that tend to strengthen a pastor’s work in leadership?

Maxwell: I think the style is determined by the culture as far as effectiveness. You and I both know that in the United States you can go to seven or eight different areas and, based on the culture, you have to have a different style to be able to communicate effectively. I think the best example I can give you is my own life.

I grew up in Ohio and the midwest. When I pastored in Ohio, I built a fairly substantial church there. The preaching was exhortation—a lot of exhorting. People migrated to it because it gave them, I think, assurance and security. When I moved to southern California that style didn’t work. I had to learn to relate, be relevant, ask questions, speak in more of an open manner—less telling, more sharing. A little bit more transparency, more vulnerability. I couldn’t rely upon tradition there, so I had to adapt. What I have found is that great communicators can do that.

I’m now living in Atlanta. I’m not pastoring here, but I would do it even differently here than I did in Ohio or in San Diego. So I think that culture determines the style. The great communicators understand that and have the ability to adapt to that culture and to relate to the people on the level where they are.

As I look at communicators with different styles, different methods, they all have one thing in common. All great communicators have the ability to connect with their audience. When I was a kid, I used to love to go down to the railroad tracks and watch them switch train cars. They’d back the engine up and bang the cars and have a little ripple effect if there were seven or eight cars. But I learned early that just because you banged the cars, it didn’t mean you coupled with it. You could bang a car, and that old engine could pull out without the cars; you had to couple it.

A lot of preaching is banging with the people. You’re banging them, and you are hitting them. A lot of pastors think when they have done that then they have communicated—”I’ve told them, I’ve told them.” But they never connected with it. They never had that relational, emotional, spiritual connection with it. All great communicators, regardless of style or method, understand the connecting principle; they have the ability to connect with people, know where they are and connect there.

I do a lesson called “The Five Levels of Leadership.” It talks about the different levels a leader is on with the organization he or she leads. Very simply, the bottom level is what I call the “position level”—you come to a church, you have a title, you have an office, you have a job, you have a senior pastor. But, it’s the lowest level of connecting or relating. The second level is the “permission level.” On that level, you not only have a position or title, but they begin to like you and begin to give you permission to enter into their lives and enter into their walk with God.

Then there is the “production level.” The “permission level” is built on the relationships, while the “production level” is built on results. And after you have been effective with the people for a period of time they will say, “You know I was saved under his ministry,” or “I came to Christ” or “I was baptized in that church while he was there.” And that is a whole different level. Then there is another level in which you reproduce yourself in the lives of the people—you develop people; it is a personal development type of level.

You have people in your church on all five of these levels. Therefore when they hear me speak, they relate to my message—not on what I said but based on what level they are on. That’s why pastors will go out and preach a message, and one person will shake your hand and say, “Greatest message I’ve ever heard, pastor! Changed my life. We’re going to help you support the building program” or whatever. Somebody else walks out, and he isn’t coming back—”All the guy wants is money.”

They received the same message by the same man at the same time, the same words, same place. What happened? Different levels. In communication, it is very important for the communicator to understand when he or she walks up in front of people that they have these different stations in life. So in my communication as a pastor I always made sure I had levels of communication based on where the people were so I could connect with every person there, based not on where I was or where the message was but where the people were.

One more thought on that: The great preachers, the great communicators, when they come out and speak, they understand that their first job is not to take the message and deliver it. The first job is to find out where the people are because the message can’t be delivered if nobody is at home.

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