I have been caught up reading about Elihu Black, once a promising and articulate rabbi, who after three-and-a-half years of leading a local synagogue forsook his congregation to enter the world of commerce. A brilliant businessman, Black is best remembered for two significant events in his life: First, he masterminded one of the largest business acquisitions in history, the multimillion dollar takeover of the United Fruit conglomerate, which Black renamed United Brands. Second, Black is remembered for jumping to his death from the 42nd floor of the Pan Am building in New York City.
In An American Company, Thomas McCann tells about a lunch meeting Black arranged with a business executive. Soon after the host seated the two men, a waitress delivered a plate of cheese and crackers as an appetizer. Black quickly reached out to block the plate with his arms and continued talking.
The executive, not having eaten for several hours, hinted that he would enjoy a cracker and some cheese. Black paid no heed to the man’s words, acting as if he did not hear him and went on with his agenda for the business meeting. Some minutes later, Black picked up a cracker and piece of cheese in his fingertips and continued talking. He held the food for several minutes more before placing it on his lunch companion’s plate and then blocked the rest of the appetizer as before.
It was clear to the man that Black was determined to take charge, manipulating others as he pleased. His leadership style can be accurately summarized in three words: Coercion! Manipulation! Threat!
For all his ego-driven business acumen and resulting riches, very few people came to pay their respects when Black took his own life. To the outside world, he appeared to be a success. Yet, the reality is he acquired so much but ended up with nothing.
Consider, on the other hand, our Lord Jesus Christ, who led with servant humility and ended up the Savior of the world. “God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (
He acquired nothing—not so much as a place to lay His head—and ended up with everything!
In teaching seminary leadership courses, I repeatedly have addressed the question: “What makes a great pastoral leader?” Here is what I have learned: Ask any five large church leaders, and you likely will end up with as many answers. Why? Because there is no common, universal, pastoral leadership formula that works in every place every time.
If someone offers you a checklist for piloting a jet airplane, listen to him or her, especially if there is the remotest possibility you might have to take the controls in an emergency. Church leadership, however, is different inasmuch as there is no set checklist for pastoral leadership. There are too many variables for that. Checklists work in some areas but not in pastoral leadership.
The reason is that pastoral leadership combines art and science in a way that is unique to each situation. What is more, just as no one can make a good preacher out of someone who does not possess the preaching gift, no one can make a leader out of someone who is not endowed with the spiritual gift of leadership. It is a gift that shows up early in life. Watch a group of youngsters play together, and you will see a pattern develop. A leader will rise from the group to become the point person. This point person will pick team members and give instructions to the whole group. The other group members will affirm the leader by giving allegiance to the leader’s calls and skills. Like the cream that rises to the top of the milk, in just about any group, a leader soon will rise from among the group.
Yes, there are certain uniform necessities to effective pastoral leadership. This is why leadership is, in part, a science. For example, it is hard to imagine anyone being a great pastoral leader without some understanding of human nature. Look at any great pastor and you discover good leaders know and care about their people. They understand what the people can do and what their limitations are.
Leadership, however, is also an art. Next to Winston Churchill, the key British World War II hero is Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. He stood shoulder to shoulder with then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to lead the Allied forces to victory in Europe. The son and grandson of Ulster clergymen, young Bernard committed his life to Christ as a child. In his early 30s, he lost the love of his life to a spider bite. Raising their only child, a son, with the help of trusted family and friends, the latterly titled Lord Montgomery of El Alamein, enunciated seven principles necessary for servant leadership. Although he had military leadership in mind, each of his principles can be applied appropriately to the spiritual warfare in which we as preaching pastors live our lives.
The true leader, said General Bernard Montgomery:
1. Should avoid getting immersed in detail.
2. Must not be petty.
3. Dare not be pompous.
4. Must possess the ability to read personality types.
5. Should trust those under him and let them get on with their jobs without interference.
6. Must have the ability to make and communicate clear decisions.
7. Should inspire confidence.
The apostle Paul reminded us, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently” (
True leaders know who they are and why they were born. For this reason, they do not need to follow the ways of Elihu Black. Instead, as Jesus, they lead from a strong sense of inner calling that will not be weak or uncertain. They listen with compassion. They understand their followers. They surrender themselves to the task at hand. They do not shirk responsibility. They are willing to be accountable and hold others accountable. They recognize the need to make wise use of time and redeem it because they know the days are evil (
The church desperately needs diligent leaders in a culture such as ours that is changing at head-spinning speed. When I arrived in America some 47 years ago, most people said we were a center-right—even a Christian—nation. Now, very few thinking Americans would deny we are at best a center-left nation and post-Christian. The culture shift I have witnessed in America has been more than huge. While, with many of you, this breaks my heart, the reality is it also swells my heart that I have the unspeakable privilege of being a preacher in such a time as this.
It is said of the men of Issachar, “they understood their times and knew what Israel should do” (