4 Roles a Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate (Part 3)
My team and I at The Unstuck Group have had the opportunity to work with some really wonderful senior pastors over the last 10 years. It’s given us a unique opportunity to see what roles the senior pastors own—and what they delegate—in the healthiest churches of all different sizes.
This is part three in a series of four that I’m excited about. The most popular episode of all time on The Unstuck Church Podcast was on the roles a senior pastor can’t delegate. At the time we published that episode, I had identified three. I’ve since added a fourth.
- Vision-Caster (Part 1)
- Spiritual Leader / Teacher (Part 2)
- Leader of Leaders (Part 3)
- Culture Champion (Part 4)
We decided to record a new series of episodes and go much deeper on each of the four.
So in this third part of our podcast series on 4 Roles a Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate, Amy and I dive into why the lead pastor must be the primary leader of leaders in the church.
Leadership requires evolution. The leader you were one year ago probably shouldn’t be the leader you are today.
In this episode, Amy and I discussed:
- The most common ways we see pastors of different size churches get stuck when it comes to leadership
- How to get yourself moving forward again depending on where you identify you are stuck
- What a healthy span of care really looks like and why it matters more than many pastors seem to realize (or are willing to address)
- How and why to become a more collaborative leader
Leader Conversation Guide
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Links & Resources from the Episode
- Vision-Casting – 4 Roles a Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate (Part 1)
- Teaching – 4 Roles a Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate (Part 2)
- The Unstuck Process
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Tony: 00:00 Your leadership development and how you live out your leadership role is critical to the overall health of your ministry. And you can’t neglect that no matter what size your church is, no matter what size your staff team, and if you’re leading a growing church and you’re reaching hundreds, thousands of people, I want you to hear this: your leadership development and how you live out your leadership role, it’s critical to the overall health of your ministry. Don’t neglect it.
Sean: 00:36 Welcome to the Unstuck Church podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Today on the podcast, we continue our four-part series on the roles a senior pastor can’t delegate, focusing on the senior pastor’s role as a leader of leaders. As you’ve listened to this week’s podcast, you can join the conversation with us by using the Hashtag unstuckchurch and posting your question or comment to your favorite social media channel. Connect with Tony, Amy, myself, and our unstuck team and get your ministry specific questions answered. Also, if you haven’t yet, make sure you grab the show notes as you listen. You can find email@example.com/episode 95, and don’t forget to subscribe to get the show notes in your inbox each week. You’ll get one email with all the info, including our leader guide, the resources we mentioned during the episode, and bonus resources to go along with the content. You can sign up by going to the unstuck group.com/podcast now here’s the conversation on the Senior Pastor’s Role of Leadership with Tony and Amy.
Amy: 01:36 This is episode three in a four-part series on the Four Things a Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate. And Tony, before we get to the third one, can you just recap a little bit where we’ve been?
Tony: 01:46 Yes! So, by the way, really appreciate Amy, you taking the time to help me identify these these areas as well. You and I have had the opportunity both to serve great senior pastors, but work with great churches across the country and senior pastors that are really modeling what it takes to lead healthy, thriving churches. These are those consistent themes that we see the priorities that we see in those senior pastors. We’ve already covered two of these Vision Casting in the first episode in the series, and then in the last episode we talked about the priority of teaching – not just for the senior pastor to develop that gift, also then it may be even more importantly to develop a healthy teaching team. So, that brings us to today’s topic. I am excited about this one as well.
Amy: 02:37 So what is the third role that a senior pastor can’t delegate?
Tony: 02:41 I feel like we need a drum roll here, Amy, but it’s leadership, and that may sound obvious to you, but a senior pastors have to be the primary leaders in the organization. It’s a role they can’t delegate to others. Now, when we talk about senior pastors though, this leadership role really has two functions both leading up and leading around. In other words, the senior pastor should provide leadership for the board, the elders, those that are above him or her, and then additionally they have to provide leadership to their staff leadership as well. One person cannot carry the leadership load themselves. So the senior pastor has to be intentional about building that team of staff leaders around them.
Amy: 03:32 Yeah. Here’s the challenge, Tony, that I see, especially when I work with leadership teams: When you say the word leadership, that actually means a lot of different things to the people who are listening. So what does that word mean to you?
Tony: 03:45 We’ve probably all heard John Maxwell famously, right? Share leadership is influence and I believe that’s so true. For senior pastors, they need to take a broader view of influence, especially as the ministry grows. In other words, there’s a shift from influence to accomplish tasks, to influence, to fulfill a mission and a vision. Frankly, where I see a lot of senior pastors getting stuck is they don’t make that shift in the influence. This both involves taking their leadership to a different level, but it really does require an evolution in their leadership as well. In other words, the leader that they are today may not necessarily be the leader that they need to be in the future for where their church is going.
Amy: 04:42 Oh, that’s so important; Explain that a little bit more, Tony.
Tony: 04:45 So I’ve talked about the four steps in a leadership pathway in the past, but you can also think about this as the four stages of influence. It begins with kind of a foundational aspect of leadership, which is leading by example. In other words, leaders have the opportunity to model for others: This is how we do things. This is why we do the things we do. It’s, it’s actually leaders getting their hands dirty and showing other people that this is how we do it. I’ve actually alluded to this as being a representation in Exodus 18 we see Jethro giving his son in law, Moses, some advice to expand his span of care because Moses is trying to do it all himself. He’s trying to make every decision and this is where Jethro gives Moses that that clear guidance to identify and raise up leaders of tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands, and I actually think leading by example really is a good representation of leader of tens there they’re showing others around them.
Tony: 06:00 This is how we do things and they influence others by leading by example. But there’s a second stage of influence and that involves leading other people. This is when leaders learn how to delegate; They learn how to give tasks away. So rather than doing it all themselves, they’re actually giving away responsibility to other people. This is an important part of leadership because we’ve broadened the amount of ministry that we can accomplish when we invite others into taking responsibilities for doing things in the ministry as well. This I think is a good representation of that leader of 50s, the leader of hundreds then begins to lead other leaders and that big distinction here is they move from delegation to empowerment. The biggest shift here is really in decision making because you’re giving decision making not only to around tasks to other leaders, but your help.
Tony: 07:06 You’re now giving responsibility to other leaders to really shape who they are, who their team is and where their ministry is going more broadly in the future. And so again, this is where we see sometimes pastors getting stuck as they’ve learned how to delegate, but they really haven’t learned how to empower other leaders, and we’re going to come back to that in a moment. The final step then and the stages of influence is to be able to lead through the vision to build, to really cat be a catalyst for a movement. I won’t camp a lot here because we actually talked about what it is to lead through vision casting in the first episode in this series on the Four Roles that Pastors Can’t Delegate.
Amy: 07:55 So, where do pastors that you see, Tony, get stuck along that paradigm? You know, those four different phases.
Tony: 08:02 That’s a good, that’s a good question, Amy. So I think it’s actually the align with these stages, but the size of the church, it actually is telling about where pastors are getting stuck in their leadership. So for example, in small churches, pastors tend to get stuck because they only lead by example. In other words, they’re trying to do all the ministry themselves. And actually, unfortunately the culture of small churches kind of expects that of the pastor.
Amy: 08:33 They expect the pastor to do all those things. That’s why we’ve hired you, right?
Tony: 08:38 And so that’s the biggest step that if you’re stuck in your leadership in a small church that I want to challenge you to take is rather than doing it all yourself, how can you start to give ministry responsibilities, tasks away, if you will, to other people in the church. For midsize church pastors, they tend to get stuck because they delegate, but they don’t empower. In other words, they have learned how to tell other people what to do, but they haven’t really given away ownership of ministry to other leaders in the church. As a result of that, the challenge is delegation can help you accomplish more, but every time you delegate a task to somebody, they go get it done and then they come back to you to figure out what’s the next task that I need to accomplish. Because of that, you still become the bottleneck for getting ministry accomplished in your church.
Tony: 09:36 And so my challenge to you if you’re that midsize church pastor is you need to move beyond delegation to true empowerment. Then for large church pastors, they tend to get stuck because they empower, but they don’t develop a team of leaders around them that can also empower others. Basically, they have people around them that only know how to go tell other people what to do. That again, in other words, that senior leadership team becomes the bottle neck at that point. The other place, and because of that, they’re not creating margin in their leadership to assume that role of vision caster that we talked about a couple of weeks ago, so they have to kind of rise up in their leadership. Now what I’ve shared with others though is that once I get to that level of influence in my leadership, does that mean that I never have to lead by example, that I never have to delegate, that I never have to empower other leaders? Of course the answer to that is “no, absolutely not.” In any given situation, you may have to step back and lead in a different way. Your influence comes out in a different way based on the situation. But if all of your time is leading by example and you’re trying to grow your church, grow the impact of your church, your church is going to get stuck and it’s getting stopped because of the lid on your leadership.
Amy: 11:07 Can I just add one other caution in? I think sometimes when large church pastors get to that, “Well I’m supposed to be the catalytic leader”, the vision casters, they can actually acquiesce from being involved in the leadership of the church. Meaning you actually delegate the leadership of the church. And that’s why we’re so strong on senior leadership teams because you want that senior pastor’s input and voice around strategic conversations, but when you get to a certain size, you really need someone else to champion, “What should this leadership team be talking about?” But you want the senior pastor actively engaged in those conversations and present in the leadership within that.
Tony: 11:45 Yes, and Amy, let’s just put our cards on the table here. A couple of years ago, you saw me do this at the Unstuck Group. We were growing dramatically the number of churches that we were serving, but our systems weren’t scaling with that growth. And because of that, we were actually facing a crunch financially, that if I had not stepped in and actually engaged that strategic conversation with our team, if I would’ve just kept my vision casting hat on, “hey, we’re going to serve a thousand churches in the next 10 years, but I’m not going to help you deal with the strategic issue that is going to prevent you from actually serving those thousand churches”, that would be a dereliction of my duty as well as the senior leader of our team. So, yes, that’s a great caution. We can’t neglect leadership because we’re empowering other leaders.
Amy: 12:39 That’s right. Well, I like where this is going. You started to identify some of the barriers, right? To fully embrace this important role of the senior pastor. Can you offer maybe some other common mistakes that senior pastors make when it comes to their leadership role?
Tony: 12:54 Yes, and this, this first one’s a common one too, so it really fits in what you’re asking here, Amy. It’s that I see senior pastors trying to lead too many people and you know, you start to layer on these key responsibilities that we’re talking about in this series. The vision casting, the teaching specifically, today we’re talking about leading those senior leaders in your team. This takes time, and because of that, what I find is most challenging for senior pastors, especially in growing churches, is they continue to add new leaders to their team. Every one of those leaders gets directly connected to their leadership. In other words, they’re the boss of everybody that gets hired as the church grows. So it wouldn’t be unusual for us to walk into a church and see the senior pastor trying to lead eight, ten, twelve.
Tony: 13:50 In one case, I saw fourteen other ministry leaders on the team and the pastor’s wondering why the church is stuck. I know why the church is stuck: You’re directly trying to lead 14 different people, which means you don’t have enough time to focus on the roles that you cannot be delegating to anybody else. And so the first, this is a challenging shift. I know for a lot of pastors, especially pastors, you’re people pleasers, you want other people to lie to you. One of the shifts that you’re going to have to make is to identify in order for our church to get to a healthier place and to have a greater impact, I have to reduce my span of care. In other words, I have to reduce the number of leaders that are directly connected to my leadership, which means you have the opportunity to raise up other high capacity leaders around you so that you know when you hand off that leadership responsibility, the people that you love, that you trust, that you are glad your on your team, when you’re handing them off to another leader on the team, you know they’re going to get great leadership.
Tony: 15:00 In fact, honestly, they’re going to get better leadership than they’re getting today because if you’re one of those fourteen people that just has a sliver of your leadership influence, that’s not enough for those fourteen people to become healthy leaders themselves.
Amy: 15:16 This is one of the biggest benefits that I see with our staffing structure review because sometimes you need a set of outside eyes to take a look at where do we want to go and how do we structure that way? Because senior pastors, I don’t think they like to be the bad guy, if I can just say it that way. They need someone to tell them with confidence, “this is the structure that you need”, and to actually lean in with the senior pastor and understand his or her healthy span of care. Because some leaders, some senior pastors, really can’t lead more than one or two people with the other things on their plate. Other ones are really comfortable with four or five, but it’s different for every leader.
Tony: 15:54 The good news is when you bring us to do the staffing and structure review and you have fourteen people that are currently on your leadership team, we can talk to the nine people that shouldn’t be on your leadership team and you can blame it on the Unstuck Group, right? So, another common mistake that I see senior pastors making is that they’re trying still to lead a core area of ministry in the church in addition to these roles that we’re sharing about that cannot be delegated. So, in other words, they’re trying to lead the weekend experience. They’re trying to lead the groups ministry. They’re trying to lead the discipleship strategy in the church. And especially in the larger churches that we’re working with, if you’re the senior pastor and you’re still trying to lead one of these core ministry areas on a day to day basis, one of these other roles is going to be sacrificed. Honestly, what we see Amy is most often times it’s the teaching that gets sacrificed. So, you have to step out of the day-to-day ministry leadership in these core ministry areas. The other mistake I see in senior pastors, and this is, what is the phrase “calling the kettle black?” I think it’s the pot calling the kettle black. Yeah. I sometimes I have trouble with my cliches.
Amy: 17:22 I would have had that one had you not, you know, tangled it up a bit. So I’ll be thinking about it all day.
Tony: 17:28 So this is a common mistake that I see in senior pastors, but I see it because I see it in myself. Senior pastors lead, I mean strong leaders, great leaders are addicted to problem solving and that, and the trouble is the people on our teams may not see this in us. We may not see it in ourselves. Because of that, when someone brings us a problem, we don’t run away from it, we lean in; We collect them. We dive in, we engage them, we work them until that problem is conquered, and the challenge is sometimes the problems that people bring into us are not the highest priorities for the health and the future direction of our ministries. They’re the most urgent. They’re the most visible. And because they’re problems, we love to dive in and solve them.
Tony: 18:21 But you have to curtail your addiction to problems in order to go to a new place in your leadership. The final, and I just want to be straight with the pastors that are listening because we do, we see senior pastors that run into this problem on a routine basis and it’s because they get to an unhealthy place when it comes to allowing for collaborative leadership. The two areas I think that become the barriers here are authority and honor. So the authority issue tends to be a bigger issue with the boomer generation leaders and senior pastor roles, where really you were coached on more of a top down or authoritative approach to leadership where the leader had to have all the answers, the leader had to have the vision, the leader had to have the direction and it’s your responsibility to be directive in your leadership with your team.
Tony: 19:24 That approach to leadership worked a couple decades ago or more. It doesn’t work today. And so you need to be open to a more collaborative style of leadership. The other area I mentioned though is we’re seeing churches that are really highlighting a culture of honor, especially when it comes to the senior pastor. Now, honor is a biblical concept. We should be honoring each other. It’s a mutual honor. It’s a mutual respect for each other and who God’s created us to be. But it gets to an unhealthy place when we identify just one person. It’s a one directional honor and I’ve seen it get to an unhealthy place where because we honor the senior pastor so much, we don’t feel like we have a voice in the process of developing ministry strategy and vision and what it takes for the church to get to a healthier place and for the church to thrive. In the worst case scenario, we’re actually not even communicating the stuff the senior pastor needs to hear because out of respect for the senior pastor, we don’t want the senior pastor to know of the challenges and the problems that exist in our ministry. So again, we need to be inviting a more collaborative approach to leadership. Amy, you’re around senior pastors on a weekly basis, are there any other common mistakes that you’re seeing live down in the leadership role that maybe we should draw attention to here?
Amy: 20:58 Well, I think you’ve done a really good job of talking about they’re either too into the organization or they’re too far out of the organizations. Those are two extremes they need to avoid. But maybe two other things I see that really limits the leadership of the senior pastor. One is there’s too big of a gap between the senior pastor’s leadership level and the next tier. So it’s not unusual to, you talked about leader of tens leaders of 50s, leaders of hundreds, leaders of thousands, that you’ve got this catalytic vision casting senior pastor and then you’ve got leaders of 50 all around them. And so something has not been developed or the right people have not been called into ministry to lead at that higher level because you can spend some time developing people, but you need to have a couple of other big dog leaders on your team that helped bring up the overall leadership level.
Amy: 21:48 So that’s one gap. The second one I would say is that sometimes senior pastors bring people just like them around them and then we lack diversity of gifting and the senior leadership team members, you know we do the leading from your strengths assessment that helps understand the various giftings and wirings of the team. I know that strengthfinders is out there and other ways you can do this, but more often than not you will see a team very clustered to look similar. And it’s the diversity of thinking that really brings strength to a leadership team. Again, when you’ve got high level leaders and you’ve got the diversity, the senior pastor can actually get to the level they need to be operating at. When you’re missing those things, they have to dive down into the organization more than is beneficial.
Tony: 22:36 That’s so true, Amy. I can give you a couple of examples on both of those, on the two extremes of that, too. I was working with a church in Texas many years ago and, gosh, the senior pastor, he was just an incredibly nice guy. He had been in ministry for many years, very pastoral. He just loved people, loved them well, and everybody he hired in leadership had that exact same personality. As a result of that, the reason why they brought me in is because the church was going absolutely nowhere. There was no vision. There is no future direction. They just all loved each other and loved each other well. So without that balance of gifting on the team, the team was stuck. On the other extreme too, honestly, this is probably more often times in larger churches where we see this extreme.
Tony: 23:37 I’ve worked with senior pastors that are hard drivers – they have a big vision. They are so committed to the mission and they love people, but the relational side of how they, well, the mission drives decision making more than the relational aspects of the decision. The decisions that need to be made. In other words, they’ll make a decision because they know it’s going to help them accomplish the mission, but they’re not thinking about the people side of the impact of that decision. And then every person that they hire in leadership shares that same drive. In the short run, oftentimes you’ll see significant accomplishment if you will, in churches like that. But it doesn’t take long before the carnage, the people that have been impacted by those decisions, by the fast drivers, that starts to stack up and it’s just a matter of time before things implode. So you really need that broad gifting, that diversity of gifting around you, and again, it’s a challenge for leaders because we assume we got to where we are based on the unique wiring, our unique giftedness and the lie, the lie that we tell ourselves as great leaders look just like us.
Tony: 24:59 That’s pride, Amy. That’s pride.
Amy: 25:01 I’m, I’m just thinking of several teams I’ve worked if we were I think a little honest, a little bit of that was there.
Tony: 25:09 So that that’s a great reminder. We need to step back and make sure that our leadership also reflects the unique uniquenesses of the body of Christ.
Speaker 5: 25:19 Right. All right, well any final thoughts before we close this one up?
Tony: 25:22 Yeah, I know firsthand this is a challenging topic to cover on the podcast and it’s because I’m working with churches of all different shapes and sizes. And I know listening, we have senior pastors of churches that are very different from each other. There’s no doubt about it. The size of the staff team will necessarily change your leadership role. And because of that, I want every senior pastor listening to hear this. Your leadership development and how you live out your leadership role is critical to the overall health of your ministry. And you can’t neglect that no matter what size your church is, no matter what size your staff team. And, if you’re leading a growing church and you’re reaching hundreds, thousands of people, I want you to hear this. Your leadership development and how you live out your leadership role, it’s critical to the overall health of your ministry. Don’t neglect it, but it must change. You can’t lead like you used to lead when your church was smaller. Your leadership needs to continue to develop, so don’t neglect that.
Sean: 26:39 Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast, help us get the content out by subscribing, giving us a review and telling all your friends about the podcast. As always, if you’d like to learn more about how we’re helping churches get unstuck, you can visit firstname.lastname@example.org next week, we’re back with the conclusion of our series on Roles the Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate. We’ll see you then.