An Unnecessary Pastoral Disconnect

The Problem: An Unnecessary Disconnect

Preaching is leadership in Christ’s cause. We need to train pastors who will lead the church on its mission in the next generation to connect their preaching with leadership. I have become convinced, through the study and practice of pastoral ministry for over thirty years in a variety of denominational contexts, that an unbiblical divorce often occurs between the pastoral priorities of preaching and leadership more generally. When this happens, the church suffers from either stagnation on its mission or a downgrade in the pulpit. My hope is to equip pastors to effectively steward their responsibilities as leaders in Christ’s cause while being unashamedly committed to preaching as the primary means by which Christ extends his church’s mission in the world.

Many pastors feel an irreconcilable disconnect between the priority of preaching and the pressing responsibilities of leadership, and conclude that they must choose between the two. One end of the disconnect was illustrated for me by a pastoral candidate who was asked by a search committee considering recommending him for the leadership of a congregation, “What was the last book you read on leadership?” His answer was “Oh, I would never do something like that!” He assumed that being conversant in the principles and practices of leadership would necessarily compromise his commitment to biblical methods of ministry. The other end can be poignantly illustrated by the well-publicized case of a pastor who had, for many years, been using the sermons of others and passing them off as his own. When exposed, he responded that his church required so much investment from him as a leader that he could not afford the time to study the Scriptures to prepare sermons. Illustrations on each side could be multiplied.

The Pastor as Leader

John Currie

With biblical advice on how to integrate preaching and leading, John Currie equips pastors to effectively carry out the church’s mission.

Albert Mohler summarizes the division between what he terms “the Believers” and “the Leaders” this way: The Believers are driven by their beliefs and dedicated to learning, teaching, and defending truth but are not equipped to lead; they “are afraid that thinking too much about it will turn them into mere pragmatists.” The Leaders are “masters of change and organizational transformation” who are tired of seeing churches decline and “want to change things for the better” but “lack a center of gravity in truth.” Mohler observes that “the evangelical Christian world is increasingly divided” between these groups.1

This problem can manifest itself in the pastorate, between “the Preachers” and “the Leaders,” and this unnecessary division harms the church and hinders its mission. A congregation needs leadership to be faithful and fruitful in its Christ-appointed mission, and in Christ’s kingdom that leadership must come through his word preached. If a pastor doesn’t understand his identity and calling as a leader, that will disable not only his leadership but also his preaching, because he will lack holy zeal to take anyone anywhere with what he says. If he assumes the responsibility to lead without an immovable conviction of the primacy of biblical preaching, he will put the church at risk of being driven by voices other than the chief shepherd’s. When the two essential pastoral functions of preaching and leadership become disintegrated from each other, the church suffers from either inertia on its mission or a decline in quality from its pulpit. When leadership is neglected, preaching can devolve into a mere intellectual and informational exercise, which lacks power to transform a congregation. When preaching is deprioritized, God’s word becomes functionally subordinated to the authority of leadership trends and techniques, and faithful interpretation is negotiated or manipulated in deference to worldly leadership aspirations.

The unnecessary disconnect between these two essential pastoral responsibilities has multiple causes. One prominent cause is extrabiblical organizational theory undiscerningly imposed upon the church. Pastoral leadership is held captive by pragmatism.2 The values and methods marketed as successful for organizations outside of the church are uncritically appropriated by leaders of the church in the pursuit of a ministry model that “works,” as defined by the culture. The preacher assumes the role of ecclesiastical CEO, and little of his time is devoted to the earnest study and preparation of God’s word as his main service to the church.

Preaching is leadership in Christ’s cause.

A second cause is a particular kind of theologizing about the status quo in the health of a church and its mission. A congregation’s stagnation (or regress) in biblical indicators of ministry maturity is rationalized to insulate the pastor’s or the congregation’s comfort zone. In this system, leaders can repeat misapplications of doctrine to mask their loss of zeal for the extension of Christ’s kingdom. The observable atrophy of Christ’s body, the church, does not burden the preacher’s heart or influence the disciplines of his stewardship, since he aspires to nothing more than the transfer of accurate textual and doctrinal information week to week.

A third cause is the sinful and harmful behavior by once seemingly effective preacher-leaders. Confusion and deep distrust can result from preachers’ abuse of the authority that comes with leadership, and this erodes confidence that those who fill pulpits can be trusted with hearts, lives, and families. For some of God’s people, the corruption of a trusted pastor has confirmed their fear that leadership is inherently “toxic,” especially if that leadership wields God’s word as its primary instrument. Disillusioned members are tempted to insulate themselves, spiritually and emotionally, from allowing the stewards of God’s word to exercise the leadership influence and carry out the mission for which God has ordained them.

Whatever the reasons, the disconnect between preaching and leadership is both biblically unnecessary and unhealthy for the mission of Christ’s church.

A Better Way

There is a biblical and therefore better model: pastoral leadership by appointment of Christ and in union with Christ that prioritizes preaching the word of Christ on the mission of Christ. There is a better way to lead Christ’s church on its mission than atheological, pragmatic adoption of corporate culture; self-preserving complacency regarding the status quo; or self-serving, unloving lording over God’s people. That better way is pastoral leadership stewarded under Christ’s appointment, conformed to Christ’s character, exemplifying and implementing Christ’s wisdom as preached from Christ’s word.


  1. Albert Mohler, The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters (Minneapolis: Bethany, 2012), 20.
  2. Pragmatism as a philosophy, which says “the ends justify the means,” must be carefully distinguished from the ability to be practical (put right precepts and principles into practice). The latter, as we shall see, is integral to pastoral leadership.

This article is adapted from The Pastor as Leader: Principles and Practices for Connecting Preaching and Leadership by John Currie.

Related Articles

Related Resources

Crossway is a not-for-profit Christian ministry that exists solely for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel through publishing gospel-centered, Bible-centered content. Learn more or donate today at