Leading from the Pulpit

I remember the criticism well. The pastor of the church I was serving had just finished sharing his heart during the sermon about a direction he and a community of leaders sensed the Lord was leading the church. He wasn’t leading alone. Prayer and discussion had taken place in community with other leaders—some staff and some involved church members. He wasn’t leading haphazardly. The direction had been discussed, debated, and prayed over for several months.

Yet someone boldly accused the pastor of “using the pulpit to push an agenda.”

While I know there are plenty of times where the pulpit has been abused, an overreaction (or overcorrection) to this abuse can cause an unhealthy and unbiblical dichotomy between teaching and leading.

Some pastors have overreacted to the abuse of pulpits by neglecting to lead in their teaching. They ignore their unique context, skip over obvious pain and struggles that are prevalent in the congregation, and fail to give the people a sense of where God is leading the church. Some churches and church members have overreacted by insisting that the pastor only preach a message and not address any directional or cultural issues in the church.

But a pastor is both leader and teacher. A pastor teaches as he leads and leads as he teaches.

To be a pastor, one must be able to lead his own family (1 Timothy 3:4) and be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). And “pastors who are good leaders should be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). John MacArthur says of this text, “Paul is not setting up two categories of elders, those who rule and those who preach and teach.” In other words, pastors are both leaders and teachers.

Don’t ignore your calling

Because pastors are both leaders and teachers, a pastor will inevitably lead as he teaches. He will help create and steward the culture of the church through the preaching. To ask a pastor never to give direction from the pulpit, never to address where the church is headed, never to speak into the culture of the church is to ask the pastor to neglect part of his responsibility, part of his calling.

Don’t ignore your context

Pastors are leading a specific church in a unique context with a unique culture. For a pastor never to provide leadership from the pulpit is to ignore the context where he is. Each community where a church is located has idols prevalent in the culture, a unique set of needs, and a distinct history. Never to address the context is to fail to “do the work of an evangelist.” If the local community is going to benefit from the church’s existence, pastors must lead the people to love the local community.

Pastors, don’t ignore your calling and your context. Teach and lead.