A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, August 05, 2011

Renovate or Die: Fridays with Farr (and Kotan) #3

Being a Pastor-Led Church, not a Pastor-Centered Church

The pastor-centered model is the predominant model in declining churches. The pastor is treated more as a hired-hand than a shepherd. Farr writes,
In the pastor-centered model the laity's role is to come a little bit, do a little bit, give a little bit, and say a whole lot.... If a church is to come alive, the role of the pastor and laity needs to look more like Ephesians 4:11-15. If the church wants to come alive, it must move to a pastor-led model of governance rather than a pastor-centered model. In a pastor-centered church, there is too much of a pastor-fetch mentality and too much of a laid back laity watching from the sidelines. In a pastor-led church, a pastor's first responsibility is to lead, then equip, and then serve. These are connected. One without the other will not work (pp. 18, 19)
It is not easy to move a congregation from being pastor-centered to pastor-led. It can be long transition, but if the pastor remains at the center of a church's mission and ministry it will decline and continue to do so. It is critical for everyone in the church to realize that all Christians are ministers, not just the pastor. The pastor is not being paid to be in mission for the congregation; the pastor is being paid to lead the congregation in mission and ministry.

For example, it is not only the pastor's job to visit the hospitals and shut-ins; that is a task for the entire congregation. A system of lay visitation must be put in place to accomplish this. The pastor should equip such persons to go out and be in ministry to the sick and home-bound.

Farr states, "A leader's job is to provide vision. It is the congregation's job to confirm it" (p. 22). And pastors must not forget that their first love is Jesus, and their second love is people. When a congregation experiences the love of their pastor and when they experience the love of each another (John 13:34-35), provided they love Jesus first and foremost and are committed to the mission he has given to all disciples, then as a pastor-led church, wonderful things will happen in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.


Anonymous said...

This is good encouragement for me, a good reminder that the path from the the centered to led model is not a short or even sometimes easy one.

Robert Cornwall said...


Of course we've been hearing this for decades. It was the focus of my pastoral theology class in seminary 30 years ago.

But what does it mean for a church to be pastor-led, especially since congregations know that pastors come and go, and so what they want is service.

And, ultimately what does "Pastor-Led" mean? Most of the expressions of this that I've seen ultimately end up with the pastor in charge.

Anonymous said...

IMHO "Pastor-led" means that there is a strong lay leadership team in place at a church that facilitates the ministry of the congregation in all regards. Especially in our UMC system this is important due to the high possibility of pastoral change rather than longer tenure. If pastors can come into churches that have strong leadership in place and do not have to recreate the wheel and coerce and cajole people into ministry and outreach then we will be better off. Then a pastor can come in and "lead" a healthy ministry into new directions and guide the vision and passion that the people already have. This also means that we have to surrender the congregation to God and allow the Holy Spirit free reign focusing on discipleship first and foremost. At least that is my 2 cents.

Taylor W Burton Edwards said...

I think the difference between pastor-centered and pastor-led as presented here and perhaps by the authors may be more of a caricature than reality. I think it may also be confusing group size dynamics with leadership dynamics.

Basically, you can expect that a congregation averaging 50-150 in average participation (not necessarily weekly attendance-- but the number of different people involved in some way in the course of a month, all of whom may consider themselves "regulars") is likely to be pastor-centered. This isn't a "bug," but a "feature" of groups this size. Critiquing groups this size for being this way probably doesn't help much. Sociologically, it's simply what they're most likely to be. They're too big to take care of the ministries of the congregation informally (some kind of systems have to be in place to get things done), but also small enough that everyone can know everyone else. So you have the feeling of personal relationships still pervading, but, especially toward the higher end of this, the beginnings of the need for more programmatic and differentiated kinds of leadership emerge as well.

This is why the 125 attendance barrier (150 participation) seems so tough to get through for so many congregations. Get beyond 150, and not all people probably can actually know each other personally. (See the work of anthropologist Robin Dunbar on this). This means the FEELING of the congregation starts to change-- and rather dramatically. A congregation really has to WANT to feel more like a "program size church" if it's going to be able to sustain itself at that level. At that point, its leadership also really has to be shifted toward the "pastor-led" model as well. And the congregation will need to truly want that, too-- because the sociological forces and feeling of everyone knowing everyone else AND the kind of relationship they have with their pastor when they do are very, very strong. Dr Dunbar talks about the 150 factor himself, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlDgO6Fqi0g

Let me add this. Bigger in this case isn't necessarily better-- or worse. But it is different. When you change the underlying social structure of a group-- and size has a lot to do with that-- you also change what it is able to do and what kind of leadership it needs.

So good luck trying to convince a congregation with an average participation of 75 that it needs a pastor-led vision for leadership-- right now, at least. It really doesn't. In fact, such leadership would feel all wrong to such a group. Your better tactic-- if that is you're convinced they need to grow larger than 150 average participants-- is to help them want to be and do what a group that size can do MORE than it wants to stay its current size. The role of leadership for a congregation at 75 average participants, isn't to change how leadership actually functions. Instead it's to help the congregation WANT to grow large enough to have a different set of dynamics, a different feel, different capacities and the different style of leadership that goes with all of that-- but again, ONLY if you and they decide that this difference is better for them in their context, and not just different.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Yes, we have been hearing this for a long time now. Two things come to my mind on this: First, even though we have been talking about this in seminary for many years, many congregations still "have not gotten the memo." Second, I dare say that 70-80% of persons enter ministry, not to lead churches, but to be chaplains. And while there certainly is a chaplain aspect to pastoral ministry, if that is the primary focus of a pastor's own vocational identity, it will be problematic for a church's vitality over the long haul.