Developing leadership in a changing church

I am one of 12 new incumbents (vicars) on an 18-month training programme called “developing leadership in a changing church.”  The programme has been run for ten years by four Church of England dioceses; Lichfield, Coventry, Birmingham and Worcester.  The basic premise of what we’re doing is that change in the church is necessary and that any change must be contextual; churches must find the way forward locally.  So I am to interpret my situation and consider what might be the way to lead the church through change.  This process will be aided by peer review.

At the introductory session this week I was relieved to hear that congregations and bishops typically have differing expectations of incumbents and we find ourselves in the centre being pulled in two directions.  Congregations don’t really like change whilst the message from above is “change or die.”  So, how do we manage change in an already changing church?

I want to say that I am looking forward to the programme and the potential benefits to Holy Trinity Church; there are wise facilitators and peers who can help me to think things through and I hope to make a positive contribution to others ideas.  I am concerned, however, that there is a danger that the programme only increases expectations on incumbents.  Incumbents must work hard with all the energy God provides, there’s no excuse for complacency.  But any hint that the leadership skills of the incumbent are the primary key to church growth must be avoided.   I don’t want to believe that to be able to grow a church I must possess the skill set similar to someone running a small business; clarity of purpose, vision for future possibilities, identity setting, the ability to manage teams and budgets, training, equipping, motivating, marketing and all this whilst maintaining a devotional and prayer life, family commitment, exercise, a good work-life balance.

This model for ministry is unsustainable for most small churches and their leaders.  Growth in the church has never depended on omnicompitent individuals, most church leaders were and are deeply flawed, jars of clay, and I am no exception, probably more flawed than most.  Church growth depends on the gospel, the word of God, the good news that Jesus died for the sins of his people to save them from hell, and the power of the Holy Spirit as people exercise various gifts in the body to make that word known.

The church which bases its growth on the competence of its pastors and not on the word of God will never grow beyond the capabilities of the pastor.  God makes use of means and employs pastors, teachers and evangelists to grow the kingdom of Christ, but above the individuals the word of God is what spreads and brings the church into existence.  I can always learn to do a better job, I can always be wiser in the way I conduct the ministry of the word, but the church won’t grow as a result of my leadership abilities, it will only grow when the whole church boldly proclaims the word of God together.

About neilrobbie

I am a 6'6" formerly ginger Scot, in a cross cultural marriage to my lovely Londoner wife. We've lived in SE Asia and since 2005, I have served as an Anglican minister in Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.
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2 Responses to Developing leadership in a changing church

  1. Terry Reed says:

    I find your observations interesting. It is especially noteworthy that you insist that growth is dependent on the gospel, not on the leader. In a sense, I agree. But the fact that you recognize this fact shows that you are the kind of leader that can help a church through change and eventually growth. I know that many growth experts think a good leader needs to be a certain personality. But above all else a pastor must know that growth is in God’s hands not mans. When a leader knows this as you do, he is the right kind of leader. God bless!
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

    • neilrobbie says:

      Hi Terry, welcome to Transforming Grace and thank you for your words of encouragement. I’ll head over to to see if there’s anything there to add to my ministry toolbox. With thanks again. Neil

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