Pastors = Benevolent Dictators?

I started to write a comment on Landon W’s blog about pastoral leadership, in which he opines that pastors may be cast as the Benevolent Dictator, whether they like it or not. Rather than leave a stupidly long comment elsewhere, I thought I’d ramble here and link back.


I suppose it depends on one’s context, but there is so much leadership theory being bandied about in the corporate, non-profit and academic worlds that it’s hard to imagine a pastor not being expected to *lead* in the parish. I think you (Landon) hit on this the other day in your tweets about the Kingdom as Corporation… it’s all too easy for the session to become a board, the congregation shareholders and the pastor the CEO.


Meanwhile, the leadership that Christ modeled for us the leader who guides, encourages, prods, pulls, drags, walks alongside and, in his own words is yoked with those who are disciples. We see Jesus listening, navigating, teaching, directing and (gasp!) commanding in a very loving and benevolent way, all of which required both affirming and admonishing. That is the sort of leadership that I see Christ handing off to Peter (and by extension all those he commissioned to make disciples and prayed for as the future generations of believers).


I was thinking the other day about how leading and parenting are very similar when done really well. There is the balance between loosing and binding, leading and letting the other lead and making room for others to fail, even while preparing to pick up the pieces and console. The parent we all dream of and dream of being for our own kids is the kind of leader that we all want to follow (and would, I suspect, hope to be) The parent-as-leader continues to lead, benevolently, regardless of how ungrateful, strong-willed and demanding those kids are.


Pastors who abdicate their leadership role are likely to find themselves with church leaders (ordained or not) who lack the confidence to lead, having never seen it modeled well. Or parishioners will fill the gap with leadership that mimics corporate expectations rather than God’s. These pastors may find themselves behaving like the parents who never had a good model and either withdraw, become pals with the kids or become family CEOs. I couldn’t begin to tell you what possesses parents to become helicopter/velcro parents. But, I suspect that none of these parents really take responsibility for their actions as inappropriate or problematic for their children.

It’s exciting to think that the Presbyterian tradition calls for spiritual leaders to be identified and ordained in a way that encourages benevolent leadership. Ordained leaders are set apart, not set above, for the work that God has prepared for each of them. This is true of deacons, elders (ruling and teaching). Pastors who grasp that leadership role too strongly become just plain Dictators with little real benevolence. Ruling elders who understand their role can keep that tendency in check.

The key is, I think, being in touch with the realities of your leadership strengths and weaknesses as a pastor and as a leader. If you have a tendency to move forward to quickly, simply asking the question “Who else needs to know?” can keep you from getting into a pattern of acting on the church’s behalf too often. If you have the tendency to leave things in the feedback loop too long, the question may need to be “What is lost if no one makes this decision today?” or something that helps reconnects the situation to its urgency. And honestly, there ought to be some decisions that the pastor is commissioned (blessed or whatever) to make on the fly…


What do you think?

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