Pastoral Leadership in a Changing Social Situation -- By: M. Clay Warf

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 09:1 (Fall 1991)
Article: Pastoral Leadership in a Changing Social Situation
Author: M. Clay Warf

Pastoral Leadership in a Changing Social Situation

Dr. M. Clay Warf

Pastor, Temple Baptist Church
Durham, North Carolina

My entire twenty year ministry has been spent in the same church located in a changing community near the heart of a large city. To say the least, this ministry has been challenging—sometimes too challenging. There have been times when I have wanted to run from it. There have been times when I have tried to run from it. About the best I can say about myself is that I did not (could not) run and I have grown.

One of the things I have learned is that longevity is an important key in leading a church through times of change. At the same time, I have found that long pastorates call for creativity and flexibility in leadership style. For instance, by the time a pastor spends enough years with a congregation to understand its needs and to gain trust, he or she may discover that the primary needs of the congregation demand a leadership style contrary to one’s natural style of leading. At that point a pastor must decide if he or she will change leadership styles in order to accommodate the current need of the congregation or change congregations. If the decision is to change congregations then the church loses the longevity that I have found to be imperative for church survival and effectiveness in a changing social situation.

My conclusion is that longevity is a key in effectively leading a church to be the church in a changing social situation and that, at the same time, longevity demands and is dependent on flexibility in pastoral leadership style. It is not that you try to be something you are not. It is not that you try to change who you are. Rather you change how you lead in order to meet effectively the most pressing needs of the congregation at a particular point in time.

Such has certainly been my experience in my sixteen years as pastor of a church in a transitional community. Looking back, I can identify three distinct leadership styles which I have felt the need to employ according to the needs of my congregation at various stages in our journey. The first of those leadership styles is the one which comes most naturally for me, that of comforter and encourager.

For four years I had served this congregation as associate minister before being called as senior minister. As with my predecessor, who served as pastor for almost five years, I felt the church needed a time of affirmation and healing from the wounds of racial tension and difficulties experienced in the 1960s. I felt a need to invest considerable time and energy building up the fellowship and spent the better part of my first four years as pastor in that process.

Somewhere in that fourth year...

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