What Effective Pastoral Leadership Looks Like

This article appears in the Stories edition of the Calvin Seminary Forum

What Effective Pastoral Leadership Looks Like

What Is Pastoral Leadership?

Pastoral leadership is the overarching term for the marks of effective pastors, encompassing Christian teaching, discipleship, and congregational guidance.

Types of Pastoral Leadership

There are many different frameworks that characterize pastoral leadership, but some areas of pastoral leadership that appear consistently across frameworks are:

  • Preaching and teaching: Preaching and teaching are the ways in which leaders preach the good news of God's story to all, and instruct and guide believers. These roles are a crucial part of the pastoral leadership of a church.
  • Pastoral care: Pastoral care is the shepherding function of church leadership. Exercising excellent pastoral care requires us to listen, advise, stand with, pray with, and together bear the burdens of a congregation and community.
  • Evangelism and outreach: The Gospel message is good news-both to those unreached by the message, and to those who have heard the message before but their hearts are now ready to receive it. Evangelism bears witness to Christ's redemptive power and invites others into God's great story. Outreach can include evangelism, but is rooted in meeting the basic needs of individuals, families, and communities through Christ's love. This may include providing food, shelter, clothing, childcare, education, and a sense of belonging.
  • Discipleship: Whether one-on-one or with small groups, pastors often take on a discipleship role in their congregation. In larger churches, pastors may not be responsible for discipling individual members but may live out their work of discipleship through the spiritual mentoring of other staff and leaders.
  • Vision casting: Effective pastoral leaders seek wisdom and guidance from God alongside other believers. In sensing where the Holy Spirit is leading, pastors and other church leaders can cast a vision for their congregation and their next venture in ministry.
  • Organization: Pastoral leadership can also come in the form of organization. An organized church with clear communication and reliable administrative services can better foster engagement with congregants and the community.
  • Seeking justice: Effective pastoral leadership speaks truth and leads congregations in promoting not merely a social gospel, but transformative, Christ-centered action for promoting justice and working toward renewal in all areas of life.

Leadership Qualities of a Pastor

As the body of Christ, we all need each other. It is important to note that one church may not reasonably find all of these qualities fully developed in one leader. However, these are common characteristics of pastors, esteemed in scripture. You will likely possess one or more of these strengths as a pastor, while you will continue to grow in others:

  • Preparedness: 2 Timothy 4:2 instructs: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction.
  • Shepherding: Acts 20:28 reminds us: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
  • Encouragement/edification: In Ephesians 4:11-13 we are reminded: So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
  • Self control: Titus 1:8 speaks to a church leader being a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.

How to Become an Effective Pastoral Leader

1. Prioritize Your Relationship with God

To lead effectively in God's kingdom, a pastor must be in fellowship with God. This involves a personal relationship of prayer and scripture reading, and also participation in a community of believers seeking and discerning God's heart together.

2. Study Scripture

In order to lead others in the truth of God's Word, a pastor must know God's Word - and continually strive to know it more deeply. Through intentional study and meditation, the Bible will come alive as the Holy Spirit leads and guides pastors (as well as all believers).

3. Listen and Learn from Others

Calvin Theological Seminary's programs offer many opportunities to learn from others, from walking with a cohort of people from diverse backgrounds to being paired with a mentor in a relevant ministry. Here you will be encouraged to listen and learn from those who are different from you, and to share your own unique voice in the conversation.

4. Rest and Care for Yourself Well

It is important for pastors to remember God's heart for them. God has designed rest for creation, including humans, His image bearers. Though we are bound to grow tired, waiting on the Lord is the way our strength is renewed (Isaiah 40:30-31).

5. Recognize Your Limits

Pastors need to hold the humility and self-awareness to know where their weaknesses and limits are. While spiritual growth is part of sanctification, we can also realize our shortcomings. As the body of Christ, Christ followers recognize that God has given us a body of believers to work together. Lean into the strengths of others on your ministry team, as you freely give your own gifts for the kingdom.

6. Reach Out

Pastors should look for ways to make participation in the local church more accessible to all members of their community. Calvin's contextual ministry internship grows leaders in the areas of outreach, evangelism, hospitality, church accessibility, and more.

7. Pursue a Pastoral Leadership Degree

The full range of degrees and programs at Calvin Theological Seminary are designed with ministry leadership in mind. This includes a Master of Arts in Christian Leadership with a concentration in pastoral leadership, as well as a Certificate in Pastoral Leadership.

What You'll Learn with a Pastoral Leadership Degree

How to Preach

Through the Preaching Theory and Methods course in Calvin's MA in Christian Leadership program, you'll be introduced to the practice of preaching through engaging coursework and examples. Explore topics such as the theology of preaching, storytelling techniques, writing for the ear, pastoral issues in the pulpit, and more.

How to Offer Pastoral Care

Through the Foundations for Pastoral Care course in Calvin's MA in Christian Leadership program, you will engage and understand pastoral theology and the theory of pastoral practice. Explore what it means to bring someone into awareness of the presence of God in the midst of their personal circumstances.

How to Disciple and Teach

Through the Discipleship and Teaching course in Calvin's MA in Christian Leadership program, you will be formed in the teaching ministry of the church. Grow through biblical and theological foundations, and through developing a teaching-learning strategy that is best for your context.

How to Lead Worship

Through the Forming Worshiping Communities course in Calvin's MA in Christian Leadership program, you will develop proficiency in the principles and practices of vital and faithful worship leadership. Use biblical and historical perspectives to understand worship practices, including those of the Reformed tradition, and gain worship planning and leading skills.

Take the Next Step in Pastoral Leadership with Calvin

Are you interested in spiritual formation, leadership development, and theological education that grows your effectiveness as a Christian leader? Use the form below to request more information about our leadership programs and degrees.