Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Church Leadership

Trends in church leadership come and go. In the 80s and 90s a tendency to fashion church leadership after business leadership was common. In my seminary coursework, I was required to read corporate leadership books. It was not uncommon to find CEOs of major companies leading sessions at conferences for pastors. While many churches grew tremendously in size, church meetings felt more like executive board meetings than the body of Christ gathered. Strategic planning, job performance and quarterly results became the language of pastors.

The culture of church leadership seems to be shifting away from such models. Sometimes correctives are necessary as we veer away from Spirit-filled leadership. We are no longer afraid to speak spiritual language in our meetings. We are no longer asking if we fulfilled our goals; we now ask if we are participating with God in His mission. I am writing from my own experience; perhaps yours is different.

So what about leadership? Are leadership skills still necessary? Is it appropriate to gain insight from business leaders? Are there ways to balance our responsibility for competency in leadership with adequately following the Spirit of God? I stumbled across one verse in Psalm 78 a few weeks ago that seems to address these questions. While David was a King, not a pastor, his leadership style is appropriate for those in church leadership. The psalmist writes,

(Psalms 78:72 NIV) And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.

The word pastor (poimēn) is often translated shepherd. This is how David led; he pastored. And how does he pastor? This verse highlights two characteristics. The first is integrity of heart. The Hebrew word for integrity is sometimes translated as blameless or clear conscience. While we know that David made mistakes (Bathsheba), he repented and walked with God in sincerity. The second characteristic is what catches my attention. He is described as having skillful hands. What does this mean? The word translated in the NIV as skillful describes more than competency in management theory. It is sometimes translated as insight or understanding or discernment. David evidently had ability to appropriately lead people. But his leadership included genuineness and skill.

We sometimes emphasize one of these characteristics over the other. Certainly an absence of integrity will cause a pastor to crumble; a genuine heart is crucial. At the same time, the ability to sufficiently understand the ins and outs of leadership is important. Yet leadership is as much about discerning the Spirit’s movement as it is about implementing the latest business techniques.

These are just a few thoughts about leading churches. While we find assistance from other places in scripture, particularly the epistles, this peek into David’s leading is instructive. I would love to hear your thoughts.