Leading from the First Chair

“I can’t do it all.” 

“I just can’t seem to get out in front enough to lead.”

These were honest comments from a Senior Pastor in Oklahoma, City.

Another Senior Pastor said, “It seems like I’m running in circles. This doesn’t feel like first chair, it feels like when the music stops I don’t know what chair I’m supposed to sit in!

This is not uncommon.

So what are the primary responsibilities of a Senior Pastor?

Kevin Myers
Kevin Myers, Senior Pastor of 12Stone Church

There are certainly differences based on things like:

  • Your unique personality.
  • Your gifts and talents.
  • The community you are located in.

And your ability to:

  • Carry leadership weight and pressure
  • Own bottom line responsibility to solve the big problems
  • Cultivate deep and meaningful relationships with a wide variety of people over a long period of time.

These things matter greatly.

Even though there are many nuances to each leader and church, there are also six core responsibilities true for all who sit in the first chair:

6 Core Responsibilities:

1) Listen to God

You are chief intercessor.

Your whole church prays, all of your staff pray, but you lead the way. It is unlikely that very many in the church pray with more zeal and more consistently than you do.

You set the pace. It’s not that your prayers are more spiritual or God listens to you more, but there is something deeply sacred about the office of Senior Pastor.

It’s not a power thing, but it matters who prays, it’s about calling.

You need to hear God’s voice to know His heart and lead His people.

Further, you receive more ideas, greater peace, stronger solutions and your soul is strengthened.   

Your relationship with Jesus is the foundation of your personal life and leadership success.

2) Shape the Culture

How would you describe the culture of your church in a word? In a sentence?

Overall, is the culture of your church healthy or toxic? Is it positive, full of faith, and risk-taking, or is it inward, unclear and shifting?

Basically your culture describes who you are as a body of believers, what you value and how you get things done.

My good friend Sam Chand says that your culture is more powerful than your vision, programs, staff and resources. I believe he is right. If you would like a great resource, check out Sam’s book, Culture Catalyst. Leaders can also take a FREE culture survey.

3) Communicate Biblical Truth

You engage supernatural power every time you speak the Word of God. This power is life giving and life changing.

The gospel message of Jesus Christ is the core of local church, and we are all both privileged and responsible to make Jesus central to our teaching.

This power is life giving and life changing.

Style of communication isn’t near as important as your level of preparation, spiritual passion, and connection with your people.

If you are a gifted communicator, lean into your craft with even more preparation!

The same is true for those of you who aren’t as gifted, prepare all the more. If speaking isn’t your sweet spot, go shorter rather than longer. Wrap it up in twenty-five minutes. Your church will immediately think you just got better.

4) Cast Clear Vision

In order to lead your congregation forward, you must have clear vision.

A clear sense of direction is needed to inspire momentum.

Can you quickly and easily answer these questions? 

  • Where are you going?
  • How will you get there?

Every vision has its uniqueness, but at the core is evangelism – reaching people for Jesus.

Casting vision is not limited to the Sunday morning stage.

In fact, it’s more often that you are casting vision one to one and in small groups of people.

Vision leaks, so this process is repeated over and over again.

Your vision also requires a strategy. Your strategic plan consists of the sequential steps to make progress toward your vision.     

5) Develop the Leaders

Next to the favor of God, everything rises and falls on leadership.

Like the pastor’s statement in the opening sentence of this post, you can’t do it all. You need more leaders to help you carry out the vision God has given.

What is your plan to develop leaders?

If you don’t have one, let me suggest a solid, true, tested and simple plan.

Where do you start? Begin with your staff and focus there for at least six months, a year is better, then move to your key volunteer leaders.

Don’t make it a program. The goal is not “the more the better.” Leadership development is very intentional. It’s not a microwave, it’s more like a crockpot. Take your time.

Here’s the plan.

  1. Gather a group. Perhaps five to seven people. They may be leaders or potential leaders. They may be staff or volunteers or both.
  2. Pick a book. Select a great leadership book like, John Maxwell’s – Five Levels of Leadership. Meet once a month and discuss the book
  3. Ask two questions. What are you learning? How are you applying what you are learning? That’s it. Try it.

If you want more depth on this plan, here’s an article I’ve written that gives you the process in more detail. You can read it here.

6) Connect within the Community

By now you may be thinking, I don’t have time for all this.

I get it … really.

It’s true, we never have enough time.

That’s the purpose for this list. Stick to the priorities as best you can.

Raise up leaders and empower them to do the rest.

In this last one for example, connect in the community. This doesn’t have to be daily, and maybe not even weekly, but the power of your cumulative effort is incredibly productive.

Whether its personal evangelism, connecting with key leaders in your city, or a general awareness of what is going on outside your church.  A few hours a month can get this done very well. The long-term returns will be strong.

Here are two helpful questions for you:

In which of these six are you strong?

Soak in that for a moment.

Thank God for that and give yourself a pat on the back. Leadership is not easy so recognize when you do well.

Lean into your strengths. Leverage them for the good of the church!

Which one could use improvement?

You may feel like you need to work on more than one.

That’s a common assessment. But don’t tackle them all at once. Put them in order of importance for you and your church right now in 2020.

I also recommend that after you think this through, that you meet with a few of your close insiders and get their opinion of how you prioritized your choices.

16 thoughts on “Leading from the First Chair”

  1. Love this article. I think one of the biggest challenges to the church today is to stay on mission. As you said, “making disciples”. By casting a clear vision plus intentionality can have profound effects on the community and personal transformation. Keep up the good work. You encourage me!

      1. Great article!!! Wow. Clear, motivating and effective. Investing in developing leaders is key. I share your passion. Thank you.

        1. Hi Lisa,

          Thanks for the comment and encouragement!
          We do agree on developing leaders!! My assignment from God!

  2. A senior pastor I was on staff with sat in his office most days watching soccer, blogging about soccer, and chatting with women at church on Facebook. This man almost single handedly destroyed my faith in church and Christianity.

      1. I’ve never see this type of lifestyle from a pastor before. It’s shocking. The hypocrisy really burned us. I think we’ve mostly recovered. My family is at a different church.

  3. Thanks for the good article. I am into my third year as the Senior Pastor of a multi-pastoral staff church. It has been quite a transition, but gains are being made. Your article both affirmed some things that are taking place, and also challenged me in other areas. Blessings!

    1. Hey Matthew,

      Yes, that’s exactly right… IF.
      IF IF IF the leader can define, stay focused on and measure the main thing.

      As usual, you are right on target!

  4. Dan, it is always a joy to read what you write. I too rarely comment. 🙂 The beauty is in the clarity of what you share. It isn’t simple. It’s just clear. We often discard two or three of these to make it even simpler, but diminishing any of these too much hurts the church. Thanks for your life of faithful service and your clear communication of leadership principles as always.

    1. Thank you David.

      And very much appreciate your thoughts and comments.

      Great distinction with simple and clear. I am a fan of “simple” but perhaps I should also say that it’s not simplistic… it takes deep thought to come out the other side with simple from something complicated. Perhaps we should give a shout out to all our marketing friends who teach us “simplicity, clarity and alignment.”

      And for me, actually doing this stuff is never simple. 🙂

      I pray God’s best for you in 2020!

  5. Dan,
    Thank you for the encouragement you send to us all. I have learned a lot from you over the years.This article reminds me to play to my strengths and grow in my weeknesses.

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