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Preaching with a Leader's Heart

An interview with Jim Nicodem

Preaching with a Leader's Heart

PreachingToday.com: Jim, you're a senior pastor. Does that make you a preacher, a leader, or both?

Jim Nicodem: I think the answer is both. There is such an emphasis being put on the need for a pastor to be a leader that the preaching role is being diminished in its importance. I understand where this is coming from: seminaries tend to produce preachers; and then they go out into the real world of pastoring a church and discover that a lot is demanded of them as leaders, and many pastors feel ill equipped for that task.

Would you agree there is a need to raise the bar on the leadership emphasis?

Absolutely. It doesn't hurt to try and move those in pastoral positions in the direction of being better leaders. I do believe there's a danger that it has subtly begun to diminish the importance of the preaching role. It almost forces a dichotomy in our thinking: Are you going to be a leader or are you going to be a pastor? You can't do both well, so you have to choose which you're going to gravitate to.

The second danger is that in trying to focus on leadership and shore up one's leadership abilities, there is the potential for neglecting God's Word. This is not only something that gets neglected in the preparation for Sunday's sermon, but by giving oneself to leadership and organization building, you can crowd the Word out of your own personal life and not make the time that's needed for it.

Would you say your default gifting is in the area of leadership or pastoring?

I probably lean toward preaching more than leadership, but in my gift mix they run neck and neck. My greater passion is preaching, and leadership is something I do to give myself permission to preach. But there is a constant tension. I've talked with my leadership team, my elders, about this on a regular basis, saying I am feeling pulled in two different directions. I feel like I've got two full-time jobs. But, to be honest, both are necessary. I don't see how I can give up either one. I have to figure out a way to do both well.

How are you pulling that off?

First of all, biblically we are called to do both. Some might say, Why live with this tension? Just gravitate toward whichever one you want, and let somebody else do the other. But I don't think you can separate the two. In Acts 6, the early leaders of the church are presented with an administrative problem, and they delegate it to others. The core leaders of the church say: Our primary responsibility is in the Word and in prayer, and that's what we have to give our attention to. So they're leaders, they're point people for the church, and yet they have this responsibility to be guardians of the Scripture and teachers of it.

How do you try to get the leadership task done in your preaching?

First of all, diagnosing is part of my job as a leader. I see myself as a doctor of the church, trying to figure out what my church needs from me, where we're at as a congregation, what attitudes need to be corrected, what challenges we need to face. As I diagnose where my church is, I direct the emphasis of my preaching in that direction. Because of that, when I go to preach that same message in another context, almost always I have to redo the message. If I'm doing a family camp in the summer and then I go to preach in Moscow, I have to rework that message. Even if I preach it to another suburban congregation, I have to redo it, because I have taken a passage and directed it toward the needs and the challenges we face as a congregation.

Every church is in a season, and churches are different.

That's exactly correct.

A second leadership role I'm able to address through my preaching is vision casting. We as a church have a mission. It's not original to us, but it's carved in the cornerstone of our church: "To know Christ and to make him known." We play that out through four megagoals:

  1. We want people to experience the Master, to come to a relationship with Christ.
  2. We want them to grow in maturity.
  3. We want them to discover their ministry in the church.
  4. We want to engage in the mission of getting the gospel to the world.

As a preacher, I tend to preach seasonally along the lines of one of those four Ms. For example, the last ministry season was on that second M: maturity. We did three or four series throughout that ministry season, but they were all geared to people growing in maturity.

A third component of leadership in the pulpit would be that you have to reiterate some themes again and again. The most obvious would be stewardship. Every pastor knows stewardship is part of leading, seeing the resources come in to make ministry happen.

You can do it in several ways. We've done it as a series. Typically in the course of a ministry year, we'll have at least one series on a stewardship topic. It's also done within a series. If you're doing a topical series on disciplines of the Christian life, stewardship can be one of those messages. Or if you're doing a parenting series, teaching your kids how to be good stewards of the things God has entrusted to them can be one of the messages. Or, within a message itself, there may be an opportunity for a stewardship illustration: "Now let me illustrate this point with," and you can give an illustration on someone who gave a generous gift to the Lord's work. So you take a theme like that, and as a leader you're constantly thinking, How do I work that through my preaching?

Are there other issues you emphasize to build the corporate body?

Evangelism is another, because evangelism is one of those primary focuses of a church that get "backburnered" easily. Before you know it, you've taken your eyes off the harvest fields that are ripe for harvest, and you're no longer making a priority out of reaching lost people. So at every turn I'm working in evangelism. I'm using illustrations that tell of a recent contact I had with a spiritually lost person and how I directed him or her to the gospel. We also work in evangelism series.

What are some other corporate issues you gravitate toward?

One of our Ms, as I said, is discovering your ministry. So this fall has been given to helping people find their way out of the grandstands and onto the playing field. That is a corporate emphasis — how people discover their giftedness and employ it in service within our church. We did a series called "It takes a team to win a world" in which we looked at half a dozen spiritual gifts and how they contribute to building a successful team.

Still another quality is motivating. As a leader it's my job to motivate the troops, and that can be done best through preaching. If you're excited, if you're enthusiastic, if you're highly motivated about the things God's teaching you, that will come through in your teaching.

As a leader you have no more important role than to be a model to the flock, and that comes through in your preaching. As you work in illustrations of how you've put into practice the theme from the Scripture that day, the congregation sees that you're a person who lives it. That is both an important preaching and an important leadership role you play.

When you put leadership and preaching together, you have a double whammy. You have a great impact, because the person who is doing the communication is leading, and the person who is leading is doing the communication.

This article is a transcript of the Preaching Today audio #228 workshop. To order this Preaching Today audio tape, e-mail your request to store@ChristianityToday.com.

Jim Nicodem is founder and pastor of Christ Community Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

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