6 Core Responsibilities of the Senior Pastor

“I  can’t do it all.” 

“I just can’t seem to get out in front enough to lead.”

These were honest comments from a Senior Pastor in Oklahoma, City.

Another Senior Pastor said, “It seems like I’m running in circles. This doesn’t feel like first chair, it feels like when the music stops I don’t know what chair I’m supposed to sit in!

This is not uncommon.

So what are the primary responsibilities of a Senior Pastor?

There are certainly differences based on things like:

  • Your unique personality.
  • Your gifts and talents.
  • The community you are located in.

There are also 6 core responsibilities true for all, here they are:

Listen to God

You are chief intercessor. Your whole church prays, but you lead the way. There should be few in the church pray with more zeal and more consistently than you do.

You set the pace. It’s not that your prayers are more spiritual or God listens to you more, but there is something deeply sacred about the office of Senior Pastor. It’s not a power thing, but it matters who prays. It’s about calling.

You must hear God’s voice to know His heart and lead His people.

Shape the Culture

Is the culture of your church healthy or toxic? Is it positive, full of faith, and risk-taking, or is it inward, unclear and shifting?

Basically your culture describes who you are, what you value and how you get things done.

My good friend Sam Chand says that your culture is more powerful than your vision, programs, staff and resources. I believe he is right. If you would like a great resource, check out Sam’s book, Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code.

Communicate Biblical Truth

You engage supernatural power every time you speak the Word of God. This power is life giving and life changing.

Style of communication isn’t near as important as your level of preparation, spiritual passion, and connection with your people.

If you are a gifted communicator, lean into your craft with even more preparation! The same is true for those of you who aren’t as gifted, prepare all the more. If speaking isn’t your sweet spot, go shorter rather than longer. Wrap it up in twenty-five minutes. Your church will immediately think you just got better.

Cast Clear Vision

In order to lead the people forward, you must have vision. A clear sense of direction is needed to inspire momentum. Can you answer these questions?

  • Where are you going?
  • How will you get there?

You don’t need to have all the answers, but you need to know the next step.

Every church vision has its uniqueness, but at the core is evangelism – reaching people for Jesus.

Casting vision is not limited to the Sunday morning stage. In fact, it’s more often that you are casting vision one to one and in small groups of people. Vision leaks, so this process is repeated over and over again.

Develop the Leaders

Next to the favor of God, everything rises and falls on leadership. Like the pastor’s statement in the opening sentence of this post, you can’t do it all. You need more leaders to help you carry out the vision God has given.

What is your plan to develop leaders? If you don’t have one, let me suggest a solid, true, tested, and simple plan:

  1. Gather a group. Perhaps five to seven people. They may be leaders or potential leaders. They may be staff or volunteers or both.
  2. Pick a book. Select a great leadership book like, John Maxwell’s – Five Levels of Leadership. Meet once a month and discuss the book
  3. Ask two questions. What are you learning? How are you applying what you are learning? That’s it. Try it.

Connect within the Community

By now you may be thinking, I don’t have time for all this! It’s true, we never have enough time. That’s the purpose for this list. Stick to the priorities as best you can. Empower others to do the rest.

In this last one for example; connect in the community. This doesn’t have to be daily, or maybe not even weekly practice, but the power of your cumulative effort is incredibly productive.

Whether its personal evangelism or connecting with key leaders in your city- this helps keep a general awareness of what is going on outside your church. A few hours a month can get this done very well. The long term returns will be strong.

> Read more from Dan.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan Reiland

Dan Reiland

Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together. Dan is best known as a leader with a pastor's heart, but is often described as one of the nations most innovative church thinkers. His passion is developing leaders for the local church so that the Great Commission is advanced.

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Recent Comments
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

The Changing Roles of Senior Pastors

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dave Travis

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COMMENTS

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Recent Comments
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Senior Pastors Roles Change as Churches Grow

Twenty-two years ago, when Tim Harlow became the senior pastor of Tinley Park Church of Christ, the following newspaper ad was considered the cutting edge of church marketing.

Senior pastors who have been at the same church for any length of time can most likely complete this exercise: Think back through some of the stages of your congregation’s development, and take note of how your role as a senior leader had to shift during those various stages.

For Parkview Christian ChurchOrland Park, IL, and Senior Pastor Tim Harlow, this time travel challenge takes him back through 22 years with the congregation—a time span in which he:

– Broke through growth barriers as an aggressive young pastor in an established and plateaued church—“I made a lot of people mad,” he says.

– Created a new vision and developed structure to make it happen—“It was about rallying the troops around the idea of what God could do instead of what God had done.”

– Pushed through a downturn and a period of burnout—“Much of my leadership through these times comes from a God-given stubborn, sometimes clueless, leadership gift.”

– Started to think about the next generation and who would take the leadership baton—“Where do I go next? My wife and I have recently become empty nesters,” Tim says.

Do any of those phases sound familiar? You might have different labels for the development stages of your church; but there’s a strong chance your role has also shifted along the way to adapt to your congregation’s leadership needs—and it’s probably still changing.

Tim’s certainly did.

Breaking Through Barriers

For Tim, it’s always been about removing barriers for lost people to have a chance to find their way home—even after nearly three decades in the same place with barriers that cropped up during his watch. “Do we really think that there is anything difficult about connecting people with their loving heavenly Father? It’s the easiest job in the world,” Tim says. “It becomes difficult only when those on the inside forget about what it’s like on the outside.”

In the early days of taking over a congregation founded 40 years prior to his arrival, that commitment to connect with outsiders meant “being stubborn and continually fighting against the ‘we’ve-always-done-it-that-way’ mindset and the fence that has been keeping people out,” Tim says.

The good thing for Tim at this stage was he “didn’t have a problem being aggressive,” as he voices it, when it came to setting direction for the church. That was also his downfall at times. “The unfortunate part was the lack of wisdom and the inability to choose the right battles,” he says.

But there were—and still are—battles worth waging. “Every existing church comes with deeply entrenched barriers that current members don’t even realize exist,” Tim says. “Once we become a part of the inner workings of any organization we stop seeing what it looks like from the outside, and we have to keep breaking through those barriers.

 

Creating New Vision—and Building For It

Once he laid a foundation, Tim felt it necessary to sound a new rallying cry that included relocation, staff changes and fundraising.

“I grew through this stage by engulfing myself with the people, education, and inspiration that would help me cast an accurate and articulate vision,” Tim says. “If I hadn’t known what I was talking about by this stage and didn’t have some level of credibility, no one would have listened.”

This stage was at least five years in the making, and moved Tim to figure out what he was best at, and what he needed to pass on to others because they were better at it. “I had no aptitude for organization; I’m the leader not the manager,” says Tim, who guided the church to change its name, among other changes. “My growth in this stage was about recognizing my limitations and surrounding myself with people who could help me.”

Downturn and Burnout

Parkview was seven years into its turnaround when a tipping point came. Relocation was on the table, but the church’s bylaws required a congregation-wide vote to move forward. The congregation voted 56-44 in favor of the move.

“It’s all we needed to get it done,” says Tim, who in more recent years has seen Parkview become one of the fastest-growing churches in the nation. “But it was taking a big chance to move forward with only half the congregation’s support.”

Then came the inevitable. As Parkview moved into its new facility with four weekend services, Tim was completing doctoral studies and his three daughters needed more time from him. Trying to juggle all these concerns, he hit the wall. “It was a very perfect storm,” Tim says. “And it was a great thing, because it forced the church and mostly forced me to realize that I had to concentrate on the things that only I could do.”

Next Up, Next On Deck

Which brings Tim—and maybe you, too—to the point of considering who will take the church on the next leg of its development after his ministry race is finished?

The church isn’t pursuing a formal succession plan yet. “I think it’s too early, and I’m planning on being here 15 more years or maybe more. I’ve seen too much frustration with long-term succession plans,” he says. But the next generation of leaders, and what Tim will leave them with, is very much on his mind.

“I believe that a large part of my ministry now at this stage of my life is about training the next generation of leaders—whether that’s here or elsewhere,” says Tim, who turned 50 in 2011. “I have to be about 2 Timothy 2:2.”

That emphasis on training others also includes plans to expand Parkview’s auditorium. “I don’t wonder what I’ll do as my next step at Parkview. But in light of the economy and current trends in Christendom, I wonder about raising $14 million in the next few years,” Tim says. “Does my kids’ generation need a larger auditorium? It’s an anxiety of not knowing what’s going to happen next in our culture.”

The Constants

Even through all the stages of personal and corporate growth and change, Tim recognizes some mainstays: a heart for “lost sheep” and solid preaching.

But he would change one thing: using that platform to grind an axe at times. “I sometimes ran people off through my preaching—on purpose,” Tim says. “They needed to leave, but I could have been more graceful. Using the pulpit to say things is the same as sending an email. It’s better to have a discussion with someone individually and in person. There is a difference between casting vision and playing politics.”

“The most important thing I’ve done well is preach,” Tim says. “People will put up with a lot of things if they are getting fed. You can be the greatest church leader in the world, but if the preaching is not a priority, it’s not going to work. I am far from original, but I always spend plenty of time preparing and preaching the Word.”

Read more from Warren here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Warren Bird

Warren Bird

Warren Bird, Ph.D., research director at Leadership Network, is a former pastor and seminary professor, and is author or co-author of 24 books for ministry leaders, the most recent one with Jim Tomberlin: Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work. Some of Warren’s recent online reports include “The Heartbeat of Rising Influence Churches,” “Pastors Who Are Shaping the Future” and “A New Decade of Megachurches.” Follow him on Twitter @warrenbird.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.