Q: Do I have what it takes to effectively lead a large congregation?

A: A common assumption is that you can learn the skill sets you need to successfully lead a large congregation by serving well in a variety of small and medium-sized congregations, or as a middle judicatory leader. Unfortunately, this is a faulty assumption. In fact, leadership in the large congregation calls upon different skill sets than those required to lead in the small to medium-sized congregation.

Recently I had the privilege of working with a group of large church pastors and denominational executives who gathered to name the skill sets required for successful head-of-staff leadership. With a focus on churches hosting between 400 and 800 in average weekly attendance, we created a list of what we referred to as the core competencies of large church leadership. The core competencies describe skills, personal attributes, and behavioral patterns of people that we believed could be successful in large church leadership. They describe a basic level of skill mastery, but they are primarily indicators of potential, not acquired expertise. Someone who possesses the core competencies could, over time, learn the essential functions required in the head-of-staff role. Someone who doesn’t already possess these basic competencies would have difficulty learning the essential functions required of the role. Here are the critical core competencies our dialogue produced.

Preaching and Worship Leadership: Is a consistently effective preacher and worship leader; is able to inspire from the pulpit; communicates a clear and consistent message through sermons that are carefully prepared and artfully delivered; projects the identity and character of the congregation through worship leadership presence.

Public Communication: Demonstrates a comfortable ease when speaking in a variety of settings (both small and large groups, inside and outside the congregation); is effective at addressing both cool data and hot and controversial topics; can get messages across with the desired effect.

Strategy and Vision: Sees ahead clearly, keeping focused on the larger picture; can anticipate future consequences and trends accurately; is future oriented; casts a compelling and inspired vision for a preferred future; sees possibility; crafts breakthrough strategies.

Willingness to Engage Conflict: Steps up to conflicts, seeing them as opportunities; reads situations quickly; good at focused listening; can identify common ground and elicit cooperation from others in crafting mutual solutions.

Decision Making: Makes effective decisions, balancing analysis, wisdom, experience, and judgment; is aware of the long term implications of choices made; is generally regarded as offering solutions and suggestions that are correct and effective.

Organizational Agility: Is astute about how congregations work; knows how to get things done through formal and informal channels; understands the importance of supporting good policy, practice, and procedure; appreciates the power in the culture of a congregation; is politically savvy.

Collaboration: Has a natural orientation toward getting people to work together; shares wins and successes; fosters open dialogue; lets people finish and be responsible for their work; creates strong feelings of belonging among group members; is a good judge of talent and can accurately assess the strengths and limitations of others.

Spiritual Maturity: Shows strong personal depth and spiritual grounding; demonstrates integrity by walking the talk and by responding with constancy of purpose; is seen by others as trustworthy and authentic; nurtures a rich spiritual life; seeks the wisdom and guidance of appropriate mentors; is able to articulate a clear and consistent theology.

Initiative: Demonstrates ambition for self and the congregation; is highly motivated; enjoys hard work; is action oriented and full of energy for things seen as challenging; seizes opportunity; pushes self and others to achieve desired results.

Ego Strength: Demonstrates strong and appropriate personal boundaries in relationships; has a healthy appreciation of self, without being egotistical; is emotionally mature; can maintain a nonanxious presence in the midst of turmoil; is not overly dependent upon outside affirmation; works to build a strong personal support system.

Personal Resilience: Learns from adversity and failure; picks up on the need to change personal, interpersonal, and managerial behaviors; deals well with ambiguity; copes effectively with change; can decide and act without having the total picture; comfortably handles risk and uncertainty; seeks feedback; expresses personal regret when appropriate.

This is one group’s take on who would be well suited—and would enjoy—ministry leadership in the large congregation. What would you put on the list?

Susan Beaumont is a senior consultant for the Alban Institute.

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