On a cold December Sunday back in 2005, I sat in an elementary school outside of Charlotte, NC preparing to preach for a good friend of mine, Jimmy Britt. As I sat there, it dawned on me that a good segue to the sermon would be to say something really nice about Jimmy. After all, Jimmy is one of the best pastors I’ve ever met, a good friend, and deeply Christ-like man.
As I pondered what made Jimmy such a good pastor, my thoughts gelled on the fact that Jimmy had three distinguishing pastoral characteristics: first, he cares deeply about people and is able to nurture them toward wholeness in Christ; second, he’s an excellent preacher, who can share God’s word and motivate people toward a godly future; third, he’s very organizationally savvy, able to apply lessons he learned while working in his family’s business to the church as an organized body. I said something like that to the congregation that day and then preached what was probably a forgettable sermon.
On the drive home that day, I recognized that what makes Jimmy such a great pastor sounded very familiar because it rings true to the threefold office of Christ: prophet, priest and king. I began to research the model and found that (thankfully!) I was not the first to consider Christ’s threefold office as a model for pastoral leadership. Notably, I found an article Dan Allendar had written for Mars Hill Review back in 1996. The research helped me solidify my own thinking and gave me a lens through which to notice and judge pastoral leadership.
In the months that followed, I began to notice that the most effective churches I knew had prophetic, priestly, and kingly leadership. At the time I was a leader within a denomination of over 4,000 churches that spanned all sorts of factors such as size, geography, lifespan, and theological leanings. My role with the denomination provided me opportunity to see plenty of other churches that struggled because they did not have a balanced leadership approach, often missing one or even two of these pastoral functions.
In the years since, I have found Christ’s threefold office to be a very helpful framework for understanding the type of leadership needed by every church. In fact, the framework made it into my first book, Coaching for Christian Leaders: A Practical Guide (2007, Chalice Press).
In the coming weeks, I’d like to explore pastoral leadership through this lens. For now, let me provide some basics:
- This framework does not replace Christ as head of the church with the pastor. Don’t misinterpret it in that way. Rather, the goal of the framework is to formulate a model of leadership based on the person of Christ rather than the latest leadership trend, business model, or poll-tested analysis of what people want in a leader.
- I’m not saying that a pastor is literally a prophet, a priest, or a king. Nope. Instead, I’m using those roles to better understand what a church needs from God-ordained and Spirit-led pastors.
- Over the years I have witnessed that, in general, a church’s size and health are limited to the scope of the pastor’s effectiveness in these three areas. The church can only grow to the size supported by the weakest role present.
- No pastor possesses these three roles at the level of excellence necessary for a church to reach its fullest potential. A wise pastor recognizes which role is his true strength and begins to invite in other leaders who excel in the role(s) for which he is less effective. A wise congregation allows for team leadership, a practice that prevents hubris, burnout, and imbalance.
In the years since I first developed this framework and began sharing it with the pastors I coach, I’ve seen similar models emerge in various contexts. Recently, I noticed that the Acts 29 Network is using similar language in some of their training. While not all the models are precisely the same, there is a helpful similarity. Hopefully fleshing this out in the coming weeks will prove useful. As we begin, I’d love to hear your initial thoughts on this framework as a way to better understand and practice pastoral leadership.