What Makes a Pastor a Great Leader?

When I was younger, I used to be impressed by pastors and preachers who could command a crowd, develop and implement dynamic strategies, cast a big vision, and grow a church rapidly. To a certain extent, I still am. 

But as I have matured, what I have come to realize is that the pastors who have given me the most vibrant glimpses of Jesus and the type of life into which he calls his people are rarely the ones who dazzle and amaze. (In fact, the ones who dazzle and amaze, if they are not shepherded well, have the tendency to blow up their church—and their own life along with it.)

The greatest pastors aren’t necessarily the ones leading the largest churches or getting featured at the leadership conferences or in Christian publications. They may or may not be great preachers or revolutionary organizational leaders. 

More often than not, they are actually quite unassuming. But they possess traits that only characterize people who have spent a lot of time with Jesus.

Here are three traits of great pastors.

1. Great Pastors Practice What They Preach.

Great pastors aren’t the ones who preach the best sermons but the ones who are the best at carrying out the content and commands of their sermons. 

Of course, no pastor will ever be as righteous as the biblical ideals about which he preaches, but great pastors have the reputation of never asking something of their people that they aren’t willing to strive for themselves. 

These pastors are the first to serve. They spend time in prayer and Bible study. They take proper rest. They confess when they’ve fallen short. They are active in their personal efforts to tell their friends and neighbors about Jesus and invite them to church. They remain plugged into their small group.

They reliably, even if not perfectly, do all the things that they are constantly telling you to lead to a healthy, impactful, and faithful walk with Jesus.

Any gifted communicator can tell you what you should be doing. A great pastor journeys alongside you as you seek to do it together.  

2. Great Pastors Are Unflappably Kind.

I recently was watching a denominational leader speak to a room full of reporters. As intra-denominational drama surrounded recent decisions within the denomination, that leader was given an opportunity to publicly respond to negative reports about another denominational leader who had previously maligned him. 

In response, this denominational leader, this pastor, did not merely deflect the comment or speak in generalities—he went out of his way to defend his fellow pastor, offering an empathetic explanation for his actions and painting him in the best possible light. Not only did he display an absence of rancor, but the active presence of kindness.

This is what makes great pastors.

Being a pastor is difficult. Pastors are subject to constant evaluation of everything in their life, from their sermons and leadership decisions to what they wear, the car they drive, and the grades their kids get in school. They are criticized—sometimes fairly, but often not—more regularly and casually than most people would be able to bear. 

Great pastors not only don’t take this personally, but they also remember why they became a pastor in the first place: they want to see people experience the love of Jesus and be transformed by it. And so they choose to see the burdens that other people carry, helping them bear those burdens in a way that makes them feel light.

When they are barraged by difficult circumstances and difficult people, great pastors ooze love, compassion, and kindness. No pastor will ever get this perfectly, and there will be moments when a pastor’s hurt feelings, anxieties, or frustrations will leak onto some of those he leads in ways that are less than ideal.

But great pastors are the ones who are known for being a calm and steady presence in difficult circumstances, and even in direct response to difficult people.

3. Great Pastors Lead Decisively but Don’t Take Themselves Too Seriously.

Meekness is not the same thing as weakness, and great pastors know that. So they take the task of leading a local congregation of believers seriously, but not themselves.

They understand that decisions need to be made in order for the mission and vision of the church to continue moving forward. They also understand that some of those decisions are difficult and will result in some measure of criticism regardless of which course of action they choose. But they are neither afraid of those decisions, nor do they approach them with hubris. 

They seek the counsel of their fellow elders and other leaders and strive for consensus, and they chart a course forward. When things don’t go as planned, they feel no shame in backtracking and going in a different direction, and depending on the situation, they are comfortable enough to appropriately joke about it.

As a result, they put their people at ease and help them to step into their giftings and flourish as God intended, rather than causing them buckle under the weight of feeling as though they need to perform.

At the end of the day, great pastors know that the legacy of their ministry does not rise and fall on how many home-run sermons they preached, how strategically they led, or how big their church grew.

Those endeavors are not unimportant, but great pastors aren’t consumed by them. Instead, they are focused on helping their people experience Jesus and share him with the world. That’s a slow, often mundane, and even thankless process, but is the task that great pastors are built for.

A version of this article originally appeared here.

Dale Chamberlain
Dale Chamberlainhttp://ChurchLeaders.com

Dale Chamberlain is content manager for ChurchLeaders.com. With experience in pastoral ministry as well as the corporate marketing world, he is also an author and podcaster who is passionate about helping people tackle ancient truths in everyday settings.