Leading and Feeding: How Preaching and Leadership Intersect
Leading and Feeding: How Preaching and Leadership Intersect
An interview with Jack Hayford
PreachingToday.com: We're in a church culture that places a lot of emphasis on leadership. Pastors think not only in terms of pastoring people, but also in terms of leading the church, the corporate body of Christ. Yet as we try to be strong leaders and pastors, we have to think about the preaching task. How do leading and preaching intersect?
Jack Hayford: The discernment between the pastor's roles of leading and feeding are essential ones, particularly in light of the observation you've just made. We're oriented toward success. So much pastoral " program thinking " today — not all of which is healthy, but a certain amount of which is appropriate — has moved us into needing to distinguish between two things: When am I preaching simply to advance a program, and when am I preaching to advance the Kingdom? It's important to keep those things clearly distinguished.
It's appropriate for pastors to see this in themselves. We are in a time in which the nature of the life of the global church and the nature of the spiritual battle mandate we recognize our task as not simply to gather people together and teach them the Bible. Small groups could do that — without there being any sort of a congregation or a specifically assigned pastor. People could do that in their home with their own family. And those things ought to happen. Those are values in their own right. But a pastor, by definition, means that there's a shepherd who is not only feeding, but is taking the people somewhere.
Shepherds do that. They lead and feed. That's the essence of pastoral work. Any of us who have pastored have discovered that people would far rather be fed than they would be led. Folks who are hungry for the Word, as good sheep of the pasture of Christ are, want to be fed. They like to learn. They like to have freshness, things that warm their soul, encourage them, lift them, give them insight and instruction. But when you start to say, " Folks, it's time for us to move, not just feed, " you'll recognize the flock will begin to grumble and mumble, because the sheep would rather just bed down and eat there for a long time.
We must first draw the line of distinction between feeding and leading. But there is a place where the pastor's preaching ministry must point the direction for the church to go.
Give an example of a time when a particular sermon played a key role in your leadership task at The Church on the Way.
One classic illustration was not a sermon but a series of messages I gave many years ago. The series had to do with a sense of call to the eldership of the church for the acquisition of a large piece of real estate. We bought an entire church campus that was to be in addition to our existing campus. The amount of money involved in the purchase was a big stretch for us.
I had felt the Lord move my heart to purchase this new campus even before anything had been presented to the congregation, and really before we knew for certain we could actually acquire the property. I was moved strongly to bring a series of messages from the Book of Joshua. So I preached a series entitled, " Possess Your Tomorrows. "
I examined the text in which God said to a group of people in ancient times, " I have a place for you and a promised purpose for you in that place. " This purpose was going to require a whole set of steps in order for this to take place. It would not be without struggle. It wouldn't be without vision and faith. It wouldn't be without failures along the way. So the series, " Possess Your Tomorrows " became the calling card for the new campus. When I introduced the series, I did not say, " I'm bringing you this series of messages because we're thinking about buying some property. " I brought the series of messages because every person in my congregation is in some place in his or her life in which God is beckoning toward new life possibilities. The possession of the tomorrows of our lives have their principles set in taking steps forward to realize the hope and the possibilities of those promises. So my first concern was to nurture people, so wherever they were in their life they would find something that would feed them with principles for possessing what God had for them.
There were literal geographic dimensions for Israel in the Book of Joshua. There were literal battles in the practical experiences of people's lives. Yet these same concepts apply. I didn't simply spiritualize the text to adapt it to my mindset and goal. It was a matter of seeing that God put in his Word a case study of people of whom these things were true. God had a specific place for them to go. He held a promise before them, and led them down a pathway in order for them to realize that place and that promise.
That series never once discussed the acquisition of the property. But I believe that series was in the providence of God; it was a prophetic series for preparing hearts to stretch beyond where they were. So when the vision for the additional campus came, I was able to reflect back to that series, and immediately the people were able to make the connection to what God was calling us to as a church, to what he had been teaching us as a people.
This was not a manipulative device on my part, in which I was thinking, I'll do this so I can use it on them later. If we had never been able to acquire the property, I knew that as a faithful shepherd I had fed my flock something that would be practical for their lives. As it turned out, though, I was able to condition their mindset to stretch. I was able to help expand their sense of God's readiness to do more than we thought, but also to help them recognize that that would have a price to pay, a path to pursue. For me, that was a classic case of leading and feeding. Helping my congregation to see we're going someplace together. It was not just my leading people in the right way of the Lord, but leading the people as the body of Christ to move someplace with vision.
In a sense, that sermon series became the stars by which the church could navigate. It became a frame of reference for values, for beliefs, for a way of looking at life so that when they had to take action, they were ready.
Yes. Any pastor who would see a sermon as the means to help motivate people towards church-wide goals must always keep as his primary motive the need to knit the church together. The pastor needs to knit them together as people who each individually sees that this corporate enterprise, the church, is an expression of something God wants to do in them personally. The pastor needs to nurture that in the people while he's summoning them to rise beyond where they are, and then to move. It's important to first feed the flock. If they're not fed, they have no strength to follow your leadership to go someplace.
It's like that phrase, " You get what you preach. " A church will be able to do corporately only what they've been fed. Pastors differ widely in their leadership abilities. You're a strong leader. For pastors who might feel they are not as strong a leader, should we view sermons as a leadership opportunity or more of a responsibility?
I think it's a responsibility of every pastor. Of course, the different degrees of leadership with which each pastor is gifted — and I believe leadership capacities are simply a part of a person's gifting — usually will be commensurate to what, in God's purposes, is the dimension of the kind of pastorate to which God will call that pastor to serve. By dimension, I mean the kind of people and the scope of influence of that congregation, their community, the relative size of that church — all these things will be expressions of his gift. The larger a church, obviously the more demanding the leadership gift. I meet once a month with a group of pastors in our school. During those meetings, I strive to help those pastors come to terms with the scope of their individual gifting, and to help them recognize the worthiness of their gift and calling at the dimension God has made them to be.
It doesn't annoy me that I have little hair at this time in my life. For more than half my life, the boundaries of my hairline have been receded. And it's hard to look cool when wrinkles accumulate. But seriously speaking, the things we're given are directly related. God didn't call me to be charming in appearance, a dramatic looker of a pastor. I think as mundane as that analogy may be, there are guys who think, I don't have the leadership skills to lead this church. I don't have the passion. I don't possess the ability to move and motivate people. These pastors observe other pastors whom they respect and admire, and say, " If only I could do that. " Yet if a pastor would be comfortable to function within the dimensions of his leadership abilities, he can do that.
I do believe every pastor has a leadership responsibility. He cannot simply be a chameleon reflection of what he thinks the people want and the elders mandate. I realize you can get into all kinds of potential political problems, and maybe even lose your job, but there are times when a pastor needs to raise his voice. If I have things I want to say that may have a grating potential on anybody, I usually will meet with leaders in the church first and let them know what I'm feeling. Then I can go before the people with a sense of companionship and the partnership of the recognized leaders and can speak with the authority of the Word of God.
As a pastor, to what degree do leadership concerns such as mission, vision, values, and goals, enter into your sermons in an intentional way?
The foremost call of the pastor-shepherd as leader and feeder is not only to lead the church as a body, but to lead each individual as a sheep. As it says in Isaiah 40: He will lead his flock as a shepherd, as he tenderly takes the young in his arms and leads the ewes that are great with young.
The shepherdly task is not just to say, " Hey flock! " and expect them all to follow. There are sheep who need to be carried in the arm at times. There are ones who are like the ewes who are great with young. There's a more sensitive way of leading people who are going through a crisis or transitional times of their lives. So, there's a personal leadership focus, as well as a group, or corporate, leadership focus.
And in that, for me, the primary value has been the sense of my call to nurture the creative purpose of God. By creative purpose I mean, what God invented that person to be, what they were made to be. I'm called to nurture that in every individual in the church. I see myself in the pulpit and in virtually every setting, seeing my target as that individual. There's a group of them in the room, obviously, from dozens to thousands. But the target is to nurture what God made those individual persons to be, and to help lead them through the next baby steps forward of whatever will be God's vision for their life.
I do that hoping somehow they will, somewhere along the way, capture his vision for their life and align themselves with it — not only through faith in Christ for salvation, but by opening up to the advancing processes of that purpose — and that they'll follow as they are led. So because of that, I see my teaching never as simply instructional, educational, and informational. It is always prophetic, pointing forward, calling to some point of advance. It's leading them to stretch.
I lead people with every message. But the target is to nurture the benevolent purpose of God for their lives. It's not to get them to meet some ethical requirement I want to harp on today. It's not to get them to meet some local congregational goal. It's to help that person become what he or she was meant to be.
Within this context, then, the greatest desire I have is — through ministering the Word — to lead people to a conviction of three things. The first is to realize the absolute commitment of God in his love for them, the love that has justified us through the blood of Christ. The second conviction is for them to know that that same love is the love that is committed to fulfilling that vision God has for them. And the third is, within that conviction, to come to the assertive confidence that there is going to be a triumph, whatever may be their present environment, their struggle, their fears. Whatever may be the present challenge to their life, I want them to realize there will be victory. That victory may take on different variations from what the person first thought when he started the journey, but nonetheless it's going to come through triumphantly.
So that's my goal: to lead people with those understandings. First, God made you with a specific high purpose and destiny. And it throbs through everything of the passion of my preaching. It will be there. Second, that God's love has embraced you and is going to get you there. And as you move toward that goal, God is beside you, never to leave or forsake you. The Lord is supporting you. Third, whatever is the apparent point of struggle, or apparent reversal, there is going to be an ultimate triumph.
Leading people toward that view of themselves is, in itself, feeding, but it's also leading, because any of those ideas are not consonant to the average person's readiness to think of themselves. Their tendency is to think, You can say I'm a person of special purpose, but I still don't feel it. Everybody struggles with that. I know God loves me, but it's just tough to feel that today.And especially as unworthy as I behaved myself this week. Then they think, I'm dealing with some tough stuff, and I know you're talking about victory ahead, but you better remind me because it's hard to remember that right now.
Everybody needs to be led constantly through those things. And the essence of the shepherd's doing, as the Isaiah passage says, is to graciously lead the flock, but with a sensitive arm to bear up those who are young, and to lead those who are as the ewe who's about to bear lambs — those people who are in transition, who are carrying the possibility of new purpose and new life. It's still not a comfortable time for them.
That is the leadership role of the pastor. And all feeding should center around those priorities: of helping people feel the sense of God's purpose, a sense of his love, and a sense of his commitment to ultimate victory.
To what degree did you select preaching topics with leadership concerns in mind at Church on the Way?
Probably the primary times would have to do with events that are in process at the moment. For example, we live in earthquake country. I remember in particular the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, the one everybody remembers as the World Series earthquake. Or our own earthquake in 1994, the North Ridge earthquake, which was horribly devastating in our area. I'll deal with leadership concerns in those kinds of situations. Another time was during the Los Angeles riots of 1992.
Those things called for ministry out of the Word of God that addressed what was absolutely a dominating, preoccupying issue of their lives. Any pastor who would continue on some idealistic pursuit of a series he had been engaged in, or anything else at times like that, is just not being realistic with the Scriptures, not to mention being unrealistic with the world. The Bible addresses people in the need and turmoil, pathos, of their lives. And those moments of great challenge present the pastor with a leadership challenge: How do I lead the flock during this horrible time of upheaval, and respond to the questions this upheaval brings to their minds? How can I lead the ministry opportunities for a thinking believer? What can I be in the environment of this crisis?
When the Gulf War took place, I preached two Sunday mornings on the attitude of believers with regard to war. Those are things I see, as leadership, addressing issues at points of crisis. In this kind of leadership preaching, I've also had to lead at times when we felt God was speaking to us as a congregation attitudinally.
I've dealt with such things as ethnic attitudes. I gave a series about how to deal with the face of Los Angeles as it has changed radically in the 30 years I pastored Church on the Way, as well as dealing with the face of the region where we serve. We had to decide whether we were going to make some kind of a flight and relocate and be the white congregation we were when I first took the church. That was simply because that was the ethnic make-up of the area where we were. It wasn't a matter of racial disposition.
But with the passing of years, our city, everywhere in Los Angeles, has radically changed. The face of Los Angeles is multi-ethnic. So there came a point about 12 years ago when I felt we needed to say as a body we would be a congregation that would commit ourselves to multi-ethnicity in our church. We would make up our minds that we would not be preferential, we'd be tolerant in our church life. We would be reconciling by exercising initiatives. We were going to be assertive.
We were not on a political crusade to be multi-ethnic, but on a Kingdom crusade to be people who model what it means to be " every kingdom, tribe, tongue, and nation. " So I gave a series entitled, " Outracing the World. " We wanted to outpace society's advance on this, and not be controlled by the racial and ethnic attitudes with which all of us have been enculturated. This is not just a " white problem. " It's a human problem.
When we do these kinds of messages, we don't do them on Sunday mornings. They're announced well in advance. They're kind of landmark events, and the church is packed when we do them. And they're long sermons; it's not uncommon for one of our pastors to give an hour and 15, an hour and 20-minute message on a significant theme — even though it was done on Sunday nights with a sizable crowd. I recently brought a message on the Christian response to the homosexual agenda in our time.
So those kinds of topics become leading with the Scriptures, and at the same time, feeding the people. But those are highlighted, landmark, bell-ringer types of messages. We've found over the decades of our pastorate in that one location that it has done much to build into the fabric of the church clear-eyed views on issues we felt were significant to us as believers in our community and in our world. If the certain sound of the trumpet isn't made at given points, then people don't know how to prepare themselves for present struggles.
I would encourage pastors to keep always foremost in view that you're leading people who have their own challenges to face. We need to nurture, foremost, and then out of their health, see the body of Christ move with health toward the realization of their goals.
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