From Faithful Ministry to Fruitful Leadership

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Lovett H. Weems, Jr., discusses excellence in pastoral leadership in terms of character, competence, and contribution. These are necessary for fruitful leadership.


“What is your ideal picture of the excellent pastoral leader of the future?” An ecumenical gathering of church and seminary leaders reflected on this question. The first person to respond described the ideal pastoral leader as deeply grounded in the faith tradition, strongly connected to God, steeped in ongoing prayer, and faithful in taking weekly Sabbath time. This picture of pastoral excellence resonated with many in the group.

Something, however, is glaringly missing from this picture. Hundreds of congregations in my denomination are in serious trouble. Children are not being taught the faith. Disciples are not being made. Lives are not being transformed. The poor are not being visited. Communities are not being redeemed. These congregations know something is terribly wrong. And in most cases, the problems have little to do with the pastor’s prayer life or whether the pastor takes weekly Sabbath time. In fact, in many of these churches members deeply respect their pastors as sincerely spiritual people of the utmost personal faith and integrity. But they also know more is needed from their pastoral leaders.

Generations of clergy have grown up with the saying, “We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful.” Obviously, there is deep truth in that statement. I believe it. I have said it. But I do not say it anymore, because I fear it is used as a way for clergy to avoid an essential accountability beyond faithfulness.

The Bible talks about accountability in terms of fruitfulness. For John Wesley, “fruits of ministry” was a key concept. He liked to ask three questions: 1) Is there faith? 2) Is there fire? and 3) Are there fruits? Wesley’s attention to fruits was one factor that led him to permit women and other lay people to preach. While Wesley shared reservations about such preaching that were common in his time, he saw the obvious fruit of such preaching as evidence that it was of God.

Faithful Ministry

The Lewis Center for Church Leadership is currently analyzing descriptions of clergy effectiveness developed separately by numerous different denominational judicatories. The goal is to identify the most common recurring features. At this point we can report that three primary categories seem to capture virtually all the specific descriptors of effectiveness: 1) “Character” or who the leader is; 2) “Competence” or what the leader does; and 3) “Contribution” or what the leader accomplishes.

The first two categories are normally associated with faithful ministry. “Character” captures those characteristics of the leader as a person. These include matters of spiritual authenticity, integrity, and wholeness. “Competence” captures those characteristics of the leader as a religious professional. These include matters of biblical and theological knowledge; life-long learning; ministry skills in preaching and other pastoral areas; relational skills; the ability to empower the leadership of others; judgment; and accountability.

How Faithful Ministry Becomes Fruitful Leadership

The third category, “Contribution,” may hold the most potential for revitalized pastoral excellence. Contribution captures those characteristics of the leader as steward of the church’s mission. These include working with a congregation to discern God’s vision for them and guiding the implementation of the vision so that the congregation bears fruit — experiencing God’s presence, transforming lives, growing disciples, and serving others.

Not surprisingly, this third component is the least developed in the effectiveness descriptions studied by the Lewis Center. Serving institutions, such as churches and schools, tend to focus on “who we are,” “what we do,” and “how we do it.” Very little attention is given to “what we accomplish.” There is often resistance to the whole notion of results in such settings, as if to focus on results takes something away from the work. The opposite is actually the case. By giving attention to accomplishments, we will tend to channel our efforts in the most beneficial ways for those we seek to serve. Obviously many of the results we are seeking are complex and ambiguous at times, but they still deserve consideration.

A Model for Fruitful Leadership

In working with these concepts of pastoral effectiveness, the following working draft of a model for fruitful leadership has emerged. I share it for your reflection and feedback: Character X Competence X Contribution to the power of Grace yields Fruitful Leadership.

The model uses “times” instead of “plus” because of something everyone learns in elementary mathematics: anything times zero equals zero. In this model, one must give care to all three categories and avoid the tendency to pick and choose. The person who says, “I’m not really into accomplishment, I just love and care for people,” scores zero on this scale. So does the person who is high on accomplishment but is not trustworthy. So does the person who is a skilled professional with accomplishments but who neglects spiritual foundations.

Yields Not Equals

The “yields” symbol is used instead of the “equals” symbol to acknowledge that this model is akin to a scientific equation in which each of the elements reacts with each other to yield something the individual elements alone could not produce. It is not enough to have the components alone. Their power in combination with each other produces something more than it would be otherwise.

To the Power of Grace

No model can adequately capture the power of fruitful leadership. The seemingly ordinary components of character, competence, and contribution are raised to the power of grace by God. The Holy Spirit takes all of our best efforts and plans, and our failures and limited visions, and converts them into something far more than a human achievement. Fruitful leadership depends on the vigorous and responsible use of the talents God has given to each of us. It also depends on the work of the Spirit weaving those talents into a rich tapestry. And it is the marvelous and mysterious working of God through our lives and work that we call grace that takes human efforts by ordinary people and converts the sum into an exponentially greater reality.


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About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems, Jr., is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.


The Premier Doctor of Ministry in Church Leadership Excellence from Wesley Theological Seminary and the Lewis Center