by John C. Maxwell
My education at Fuller Theological Seminary taught me the craft of delivering a sermon, but afterwards I found I still needed to know how to encourage people to actively follow Christ and the church’s leadership, rather than simply coming to hear a lecture.
That is leading from the pulpit. To lead from the pulpit means communicating with the same persuasiveness as God’s Word. Take a look at Isaiah 55:10-12. It shows us the results of good communication:
• His Word will get results (v. 10).
• His Word will furnish tools and resources (v. 10).
• His Word will meet needs (v. 10).
• His Word will perform His will (v. 11).
• His Word will satisfy the soul of the hearers (v. 12).
Your words when preaching should have the same effect on your people—words that will lead the people to a richer relationship with God. The following thoughts will serve you well if you desire to lead your congregation more effectively:
Preachers think “Sunday is coming” and focus their efforts on preparing the message. We’ve all been there: it’s Thursday, Friday, even Saturday, and the paper is blank. We pray, “God, You wrote the Ten Commandments for Moses with Your mighty finger; won’t You just write one little sermon for me!” Have you noticed how we tend to get more spiritual the later it goes in the week if our message isn’t prepared?
Leaders run out in front of the pack. It’s the nature of what leaders do. But if you, as a leader, run too far out in front, you will dance with the danger of becoming emotionally disconnected from the people. If you lose touch with the hearts of the people, you lose touch as a leader. At the same time, you need to focus on the future.
In other words, you must have a strong grasp on the heartbeat of your congregation today, but you also must have a clear picture of where you are leading them. Another way of saying this is that you never preach without connecting to them in the present and simultaneously pointing to the future.
Max DePree says that the primary responsibility of a leader is to define reality. That is a great truth. It is also true that the leader is responsible to communicate reality. Your congregation deserves and wants to know how things stand with the church. Don’t hide the real condition of the church. I have met with many “downtown tall steeple” churches, as well as country rural churches and even a few churches in the suburbs, that are in danger of extinction. But the pastors act as if everything is fine. They preach message after message as if the church is strong, healthy, and growing. They are paying the bills and the roof doesn’t leak, so all is well. The reality is that in less than 20 years (and, in some cases, much less) the doors will be closed.
Leaders face reality and tell the truth. They don’t slam the members or blame them. Rather, they inspire their people to share a vision that brings health, growth, and vitality.
You can lead only to the degree that people trust you. One of the primary ways to cultivate that trust from the pulpit is your own honesty and vulnerability as a person. One pastor I know is amazingly transparent from the pulpit. Recently, he concluded a marriage series, during which he had been extremely candid about his own marriage. When a congregation knows that they are connecting and listening to the real deal, it cultivates trust. Let them know the real you.
Some of the most transformational moments for a congregation are those when the leader stands up and says, “I blew it,” or “I made a mistake and I’m sorry.” The majority of the time, the people already know you messed up, so why not stand up and own it? When I was at Skyline Church, I made the mistake of making too many big changes in too short a period of time. I stood up and said, “I blew it.” Now, don’t miss this next part: Most of the changes were changes that we as a staff wanted, but I stood up and said, “I blew it.” I could have easily and subtly blamed the staff, but that would not have been leading from the pulpit. You need to take responsibility. Conversely, I always gave the credit away whenever the people I am involved with achieve any kind of success.
Preachers tend to focus on what it takes for the message to land well, but leaders should focus on whatever it takes for the people to connect with the environment in which the message is delivered.
Many things make up the atmosphere: overall morale of the church, growth momentum, the felt presence of the Holy Spirit during the service, attentiveness to God’s voice, evangelistic energy, the attitude of the staff and key leaders, and openness and receptivity to first-time guests. The list goes on. You can have the most finely-crafted message in the world, but if the atmosphere is dead, so is the message.
Both preaching the Word of God and leading from the pulpit are important. We also know that preaching and leading merge. Obviously, one person must accomplish both. I believe there are at least three connectors that bridge preaching and leading from the pulpit:
• First is hope. Leaders deal with the visionary aspects of hope and preachers explain how our hope of living out what Christ asks of us resides in the power of the Holy Spirit. As a spiritual leader, you must bridge the two.
• Second is love. Servant leaders love their people and put their own agendas second to the people they lead. A wise pastor will tell his people every Sunday, in one way or another, how much he loves them.
• Third is the principle of challenge and change. Preacher-leaders must challenge the people. Pressing forward toward life change is the bottom line, and that doesn’t happen without strong leadership as well as clear communication of the Word of God. A spiritual leader without the Word of God is powerless, and a preacher without leadership skills will ultimately be preaching to an empty room.
In closing, let me encourage you to continue to devour everything you can get your hands on that will help you grow as a leader.
John C. Maxwell is the executive editor of the Maxwell Leadership Bible (Thomas Nelson Bibles). To find out more about the Leadership Bible and the author’s other books go to: www.thomasnelson.com or call 800-251-4000.
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What are some of the qualities church leaders need to exhibit from the pulpit? Second Timothy 3:2-13 gives us some examples:
1. Blameless: Be sure to quickly acknowledge mistakes that impact the entire congregation (v. 2).
2. Hospitable: Exhibit a warm and welcoming spirit. Make eye contact with as many people as possible; become comfortable in getting out from behind the pulpit and speaking closer to the congregation (v. 2).
3. Able to teach: Preaching, like teaching, should help people learn something new. Observe people’s response. Feel free to simply ask, “Is everyone getting the message?” If not, be willing to restate your point (v. 2).
4. Not given to wine: Your preaching needs to be sober, watchful, and diligent, so that the people watching are built up, not torn down (v. 3).
5. Not a novice: People need to be convinced that you are a seasoned believer and a solid example of someone who follows Christ.