The tone of pastoral leadership

By Sam S. Rainer III

Finding the voice in which to communicate content is sometimes just as difficult as determining the content itself. In other words, how you communicate is an important component of what you communicate. Content is critical, but so is delivery.

As a senior pastor, I set the tone of the church. My heart in writing such a statement is not arrogance but rather self-awareness. Of any leader in the church, I know my vision – and  how I communicate it – will affect the church more than any other person. Even though I believe vision is a collective effort of leaders and followers, the communicator of the vision has a special prominence. Since I am often the first to communicate the content of the vision, my delivery of the content will affect the tone of how the church receives it. Therefore, finding my voice as a leader is critical to the actual vision of my church.

How might leaders set the tone in their organizations? What different voices might they use in communicating vision? I’ve listed a few different options for church leaders.

Coach. Use a coach’s voice if you want to get people pumped up about something. This voice works well when you are relaying positive news while attempting to recruit people to serve. An in-your-face-yet-encouraging coach will set the tone of enlistment with excitement.

Theologian. Not all theologians are leaders, but all leaders within the church should be theologians.  Not every church situation, however, requires a leader to communicate as a theologian. A pastor should use this voice when working through difficult biblical issues. How will the church handle the problem of divorce? What is the church going to do about a multiplicity of viewpoints among the congregation on a particular topic? A theological voice helps set the tone of looking at the issue with the proper amount of emotion.

Engineer. Inevitably, most churches will have a group of people who attempt to solve problems from a structural perspective. For them, problems are solved with policies, Visio charts, and spreadsheets. While not all vision needs to be structural in nature, vision does require structure for proper implementation. Leaders should use the voice of an engineer when communicating this structure, especially to the group of people who default to the structural frame.

General. Few want to be on the receiving end of a general barking orders on a regular basis. When a crisis hits, however, someone must step up quickly and take charge. When a vision includes a real sense of urgency, the voice of a general becomes an effective way to set the tone of urgency among followers.

Friend. Some leadership visions require less of an inspiring appeal to the masses and more of a friendly interaction with followers. Using the voice of a friend sets the tone of long term buy-in and loyalty among followers.

Leaders should use different voices in different venues with different groups of people in order to set the proper tone within a church. Followers will respond to the tone of leadership just as much as the actual content of the vision. Match the correct tone with the right content and people will better respond to a leader’s vision.

Sam S. Rainer III is president of Rainer Research and senior pastor of Stevens Street Baptist Church, Cookeville, TN.,


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