Are You A LEADER (who has to preach) or A PREACHER (who has to lead)?

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I want you to be brutally honest with yourself because how you answer this simple question should determine the focus of your remaining years in ministry.

Are you someone who loves to lead, but has to preach?

Or are you someone who loves to preach, but has to lead?

There is no right or wrong answer.

Are You a Leader or a Preacher?

There are Senior Pastors who LOVE every aspect of leadership, but…

  • Have always struggled with making time for sermon writing
  • Who do a really good job when they preach, but just aren’t as passionate about it as other leadership tasks
  • Who deep down would love it if someone else could write their sermons
  • Who have always thought that the world would be a wonderful place if they could be a Senior Pastor but only had to preach when they felt inspired and had something important to say
  • Who make it a regular habit of utilizing other preacher’s sermon series ideas, sermons, and illustrations for their own preaching

Then there are Senior Pastors who LOVE every aspect of preaching, but…

  • Secretly wonder if they would be better suited to be a teaching pastor at someone else’s church so they could focus on preaching while the other person focuses on leadership
  • Feel guilty because of the amount of time they like to spend reading, studying, writing, planning, and dedicating themselves to the creative sermon process
  • Who can clearly see the difference it would make to their church if they threw themselves into various leadership tasks, but honestly feel no inclination to do so
  • Who make it a regular habit of utilizing other leader’s ideas, talks, plans, visions and strategies for their own context

The Freedom to Be One or the Other

The fact is you were DESIGNED BY GOD to focus primarily on one or the other, but not both.

In fact, I would encourage you to envision your role as a Senior Pastor as falling into a 2/3 to 1/3 split between the two tasks.

If you’re a preacher who has to lead, then focus 2/3 of your time on preaching and 1/3 of your time on leadership.

If you’re a leader, who has to preach, focus 2/3 of your time on leadership and 1/3 of your time on preaching.

And don’t apologize for it.

Accept the fact that this is how God wired you and make adjustments accordingly.

Here’s the thing…

Andy Stanley is a freak of nature. So is Craig Groeschel and Bill Hybels and Rick Warren.

They are the outliers. They are the five talent type of Senior Pastors. They are the best of the best of the best in their respective denominations.

They lead like the finest corporate CEO’s and preach like Charles Spurgeon.

I’m sure they would say that they naturally gravitate towards one or the other, but the reality is they are so gifted at both preaching and leadership that their preference is almost indistinguishable.

You and me? Not so much.

The difference between our top passion/gift and our second is so pronounced that to be effective, we have to think differently about how to approach our ministry priorities.

How to Function as a Leader Who Has to Preach

If you’re a leader who has to preach, let me share some things you might find helpful:

  • Preach shorter sermons.
  • Steal other preacher’s sermon series ideas, sermons, images, and sermon titles.
  • When you write your sermons, limit yourself to only writing 1-page sermon outlines that you take into the pulpit.
  • Free yourself up to be okay with creating content while you preach (i.e. “making it up on the fly”) instead of writing everything out ahead of time.
  • Use your leadership gift and passion to create teams of people who help you with every aspect of your preaching (research, planning, writing, execution, and promotion).
  • Write sermons with a group of preachers.
Here’s the thing: we don’t chastise our children’s ministry teacher’s for using “other people’s stuff” do we? Of course not.

So why do you feel guilty for using other preacher’s sermons?

That’s ridiculous.

This isn’t an integrity issue; it’s a stewardship issue.

It makes no sense for you to spend 2/3 of your time doing something for which you have neither the gifting nor passion.

Working Together Benefits Everyone

I hear stories all the time about how someone (who is wired to lead but has to preach) who used someone else’s material and got called on the carpet by some moron in their church.

Please.

Wayne Smith of Southland Christian Church in Lexington was one of the greatest Senior Pastors of the 20th century. He, Bob Russell of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, and a number of other preachers formed a sermon-writing group and shared material.

Everyone has said that Wayne brought the jokes and Bob brought the material.

One time Wayne was preaching – spoke for a bit about something, using material that Bob had wrote – and while preaching said out loud, “Hey, wait a minute, I disagree with that!”

He literally disagreed with “himself” in the middle of one of his sermons!

Everyone in attendance laughed. More importantly, everyone knew that he didn’t write the majority of his messages and they were totally okay with that arrangement because Wayne was such an amazing leader of people.

Listen to me – people just want a good meal – they don’t care if you prepared it.

One of the most well-known churches in the country employs a full-time staff member who literally writes every sermon preached at the church.

That works for their Senior Pastor, so good for them!

The Secret to Church Impact

The fact is it’s more socially acceptable to steal other people’s LEADERSHIP material than it is their SERMON material for some reason.

This has to stop. Why? Because if you’re going to make it a moral issue, let’s be consistent.

Intellectual property is intellectual property, whether it is an 8-page manuscript or a newcomer follow-up strategy. There are Senior Pastors all over the country that have completely ripped off entire mission statements, vision statements, class outlines, church organizational systems, etc.

And this is exactly how it should be in the kingdom.

Listen, say this to yourself out loud: “The secret to church impact is STEAL, STEAL, STEAL.”

If you’re wired to lead, you don’t have time to reinvent the wheel.

Beg, borrow, re-use, incorporate, cannibalize, and rename everything that anyone will allow you to use and do it knowing that you are doing absolutely NOTHING wrong.

How to Function as a Preacher Who Has to Lead

If you’re a preacher who has to lead, let me share some things you might find helpful:

  • Know that some of the greatest churches ever built were led by preachers who delegated leadership to other people.
  • Find someone with executive leadership skills and make them your lifelong ministry partner on your staff team. Let them cover finances, HR, buildings, systems, and strategies while you focus on the ministry of the word and prayer (Acts 6).
  • Don’t feel compelled to create an original mission statement or church strategy. Survey what’s out there, and what fits you best, and just adopt it. Period.
  • While you can’t completely delegate leadership (you will always keep 1/3 of your time focused on leadership tasks) make sure you spend that 1/3 finding leaders who can lead. The tendency is to delegate to people who are less-gifted in leadership than we are because we feel intimidated. Always delegate up.
  • Preach vision rather than cast vision – meaning, if your gift is preaching, then create a calendar in which you are forced to systematically cover certain “vision” matters on a regular basis in your sermons. Leaders cast vision intuitively and reflexively. You will excel at this through planning and consistency.
  • Don’t over-spiritualize things as a way to “beat the leaders” back into their place and justify yourself as a preacher who doesn’t enjoy leadership. I see this all the time – where a Senior Pastor will make people on their team who focus on buildings, budgets, systems, and processes feel “less than” because they feel threatened by those with leadership gifts.
  • Reach out to a coach who can allow you to verbalize your insecurities (without fear of losing your job). They can help you put systems into place that other people can run with.

The biggest struggle Senior Pastors who love to preach but have to lead experience is self-doubt.

They can lead.

They just don’t enjoy it as much as they do everything involved with preaching.

Pastor From Your Strengths

My encouragement, to the roughly 60% of you who are in this boat, is to follow the advice Dick Alexander of Lifebridge Christian Church in Cincinnati shared with me a long time ago:

“You must cover the leadership bases until God brings the right person to take over that role for you. Until then just make sure you don’t get in the way. You must develop enough proficiency in leadership that you don’t get in the way of the church moving forward, but stay humble enough that you’re willing to delegate when the time is right.”

That’s about the best advice I’ve ever heard.

Become the best leader you can be, even though it’s not your top strength.

Then pass the baton when you find someone you trust who is content leading from the second chair. They can move the church beyond where you could take it.

Give Yourself the Freedom to Be a Preacher or Leader

Your greatest contribution to the kingdom is going to be where you are the most gifted and passionate.

So…

  1. Stop listening to that shaming voice in your head.
  2. Stop listening to the trolls in the pastoral community who try to make you feel guilty for leaning on and incorporating other people’s stuff.
  3. And start enjoying the freedom that comes from accepting how God wired you to impact people’s lives.
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I am the founding Pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and the author of four books. I’ve been married to my wife Dr. Lisa Jones for thirty years, and together we have three beautiful daughters and a lovable chubby orange cat named MAC. I love hiking, fishing, and backpacking. Our family loves to travel and have become passionate advocates for the rights of the poor and oppressed in developing countries. I’m an INTJ, 5w4, and D/I on various personality tests. I also write practical articles on church leadership and preaching at Senior Pastor Central.