The 4 Kinds of Leadership Every Parish Needs


Parishes cannot accomplish great things without great leadership. But a truly great parish also requires different kinds of leadership in order to grow into its full potential. I believe there are four key leadership needs for every parish: visionary leadership, team leadership, pastoral leadership, and managerial leadership.

The vast majority of people do not possess a high level of gifting in more than one or two of these areas of leadership, and so it is critical that the full weight of each of all four areas of leadership not fall on one person's shoulders. Even supposing that a particular church pastor were exceptionally gifted in each area of leadership, church growth will eventually stretch that pastor too thin. Every parish needs to consider how it will position people to meet the full spectrum of leadership needs. Without this strategic approach, one leadership style will become dominant, leading to an imbalanced and dysfunctional system that will severely limit the impact potential of that church.

Here is an overview of the unique contribution of each of these four types of leadership, and a portrait of what happens when a particular leadership style becomes the dominant one.


Visionary leaders set the agenda for their churches. They are the natural born entrepreneurs who recognize new opportunities and envision creative new possibilities. Visionary leadership is critical in giving the parish a target to aim for, an aspiration to rally around. The vision they project is both energizing and intimidating (BHAG's, as some have called them - "big hairy audacious goals"). The moment that a ministry team is on the cusp of achieving their seemingly-impossible goal, the visionary leader inspires them to dream even bigger - "We've reached 10,000? Great. Time to set our sights on 100,000." The visionary leader prevents stagnation and inspires continual zeal.

When visionary leadership is dominant. When visionary leadership operates in isolation from the other leadership types, churches become unstable, always chasing the next thing without getting fully grounded. Giftedness in vision is not always accompanied by a gift in execution or organization, and without these the members of that church wind up frustrated or even oppressed by the leader's lofty goals rather than inspired by them. The visionary leader starts to be viewed as an unrealistic dreamer, or worse, a driven man content to use others to achieve his selfish ambitions.


Team leaders coordinate the efforts of the team towards a common outcome. They may not have a strong gift of visionary leadership, but when given a vision they instinctively formulate step-by-step strategies to turn that vision into reality and help others understand their unique contribution towards that end. Team leaders create alignment so that all the moving parts - people, programs, processes - work together in a cohesive whole. They identify the strengths of their team and position them for optimal impact.

When team leadership is dominant. Team leaders are results-driven and have a high value for efficiency, but absent the other forms of leadership this results in people feeling used. Without a clear vision, a higher cause that the team is pursuing, team leaders can be seen as simply pursuing their own agenda and demanding mere conformity to their way of doing things. The drive for efficiency can also cause the team leader overlook some of the more simple human interactions (i.e. water cooler conversations) that provide a sense of warmth and friendship among team members.


Those with a pastoral gifting are in tune with the particular needs and concerns of the people they serve. They are able to identify to what extent people are internalizing the messages they are hearing, which allows the pastoral leader to help guide decisions about the pace at which people are encouraged, grown, and challenged. Pastoral leaders create safe environments that are conducive to the kind of vulnerability required for growth and personal transformation. They are natural counselors and healers who remain alert to the very real struggles of both the people they serve and their co-workers around them.

When pastoral leadership is dominant. The enormously compassionate heart of a pastoral leader makes them attentive and responsive to the brokenness in people's lives. When this becomes the dominant driving force, ministry becomes primarily reactive, responding more to brokenness and pain rather than carrying a forward-thinking vision. Though bringing much-needed healing to people's lives, success in pastoral ministry attracts more and more brokenness to itself. When pastoral care thus dominates over the advancement of a visionary ideal, the inevitable result is burnout.


Sound management of parish resources is also necessary for a parish to thrive fully. Managerial leaders enact healthy business practices to support the mission of the parish. This includes finances, building upkeep, marketing, and so on. While it's true that managerial leaders sometimes need to put the brakes on certain projects where resources are limited, they are able to make far more possible due to their stewarding gift. They plan ahead and invest wisely, making the pursuit of excellence in every area of parish life more and more accessible.

When managerial leadership is dominant. Managerial leaders that lose sight of the primary mission of the parish will drive the parish towards maintenance mode. They have a high value for financial stability, but when this becomes the primary objective then the risk-taking of bold new initiatives that effective evangelization requires is seen as unappealing or even a threat. At worst, the parish can begin to operate more like a business than a church, manipulating people for profit rather than ministering to them.

What kind of leadership style describes you most? How could you benefit from the balancing influence of having other kinds of leaders around you?