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Spring 1997 · Vol. 26 No. 1 · pp. 89–92 

Ministry Compass

A Look at Leadership

Gaylord Goertzen

As we rounded a curve in Highway 17 through the Allegheny Mountains in southwestern New York, huge bright red letters standing in stark contrast to the lush green foliage proclaimed: “JESUS IS THE ANSWER.” When I saw the letters, my immediate response was to laugh to myself and ask, “He is?”

While other drivers on Highway 17 may have been pondering the meaning of life as they rounded the curve, I was pondering the meaning of my gas gauge. The needle was close to the red square next to the letter “E” indicating that I needed to stop for gas soon. So I was asking the question, “Can I make it to Mayville, our intended destination, or should I stop for gas at the next town?”

The people at Leadership know the questions pastors are asking and the needs they have.

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As a result, the huge red letters of the sign seemed totally irrelevant. The sign did not answer the question I was asking. A couple of miles later I saw another sign which proclaimed: “Mayville — 45.” That sign answered my question, for I knew from previous experience that when the gas gauge was in that position, I could drive seventy-five or eighty miles before buying gas and still have gas to spare. While the sign, “Jesus Is The Answer,” is true, it was irrelevant in my situation because I was asking a totally different question.

PASTORAL JOURNALS

There are a variety of pastoral journals and magazines available for pastors to read and study. While I sometimes read pastoral journals, {90} magazines or books to ponder the meaning of spiritual questions in life, I most often read them to find answers to particular questions I am asking as a pastor. As a result, I and a host of other pastors are avid readers and subscribers to one particular pastoral journal, Leadership, published by Christianity Today, Inc.

Marshall Shelley, senior editor of Leadership, spoke at a Southern District pastor’s advance in 1996. After being introduced, he asked, “What’s the first thing you do when you receive your issue of Leadership?” He answered his own question by saying, “First you tear out the cards and advertising pages. Second you read the cartoons.”

We all laughed and nodded because that’s exactly what we do. While he intended what he said to make us laugh, it revealed the reason for the success of Leadership. The staff knows and understands pastors. They know the questions pastors are asking and the needs they have. They work hard to answer those questions and meet those needs. As a result Leadership is well-read because it is both helpful and relevant.

THREE QUESTIONS PASTORS ASK

That pastors read the cartoons in Leadership reveals one of the questions pastors are asking: “Does anyone understand the difficulties I face?” The cartoons and tongue-in-cheek humor so accurately reflect that question, that when we read the cartoons or the humor, we’re not sure if we should laugh because they are so funny or cry because they are so true. Most often pastors feel like doing both. The cartoons and the humor give us an opportunity to laugh at ourselves and at the situations and people we face every day. They remind us that we are not alone; other pastors are facing the same difficulties we face.

After reading the cartoons, most pastors read “To Illustrate,” then “To Quip,” and “To Quote.” All three help answer the second question pastors are asking: “How can I best proclaim God’s Word to the people of the congregation?” Every week pastors study, prepare, and present a sermon. The sermon is the highlight of the week and the basis by which pastors are most often evaluated. As a result, pastors look for help in preaching. Leadership supplies that help by providing illustrations other pastors have found meaningful as well as articles that focus on analyzing effective preaching. A recent article on preaching explored the difference between literal illustrations and figurative illustrations and how both can be used effectively.

While most pastors would like to be free to read for their own growth, most pastors have little time for such reading. Therefore a pastoral journal must help them prepare next week’s message or it’s neither {91} practical nor relevant. Leadership is relevant and successful because it’s aimed at helping pastors do the weekly—preaching.

The final question pastors are asking is, “How can I best lead the church amid problems and difficulties with people.” Few pastors leave or are forced to leave strictly because of theological issues. Most pastors leave or are forced to leave because of difficulties in leading the church and in dealing with people. Leadership devotes space and time to dealing with such issues by presenting articles written by other pastors who have faced similar difficulties. A quick look at the “bio” next to the author’s name and picture reveals that pastors are the primary writers rather than theologians. The same is true of articles that deal with the nature of the church. Through individual articles or panel interviews, pastors present their understanding of the church and their vision for building the church as they view it. Leadership is definitely a journal for pastors by pastors. It seeks to answer questions pastors are asking.

LEADERSHIP’S WEAKNESS

While such an emphasis on being a journal for pastors by pastors is its strength, it is also its weakness. Leadership is decidedly practical rather than theological or exegetical. There is little, if any, emphasis on what God’s Word says in a given situation but much emphasis on what has been done by others and what has worked. Very few articles directly quote scripture and if they do, it’s usually in passing or in “proof-texting.” Few if any articles begin with God’s Word or attempt to help pastors understand what God’s Word teaches about the church. It is assumed that pastors are well-trained theologically and are dealing with scriptural and theological issues via other sources. Therefore, Leadership, by nature, must be one of many resources used by pastors.

Because Leadership journal is a part of the larger Christianity Today family, it does have a statement of faith which is basically evangelical. Although the pastor-contributors come from a variety of denominations, they all fall under the broad umbrella of evangelicalism. Thus a broad range of theology and church polity are presented.

BROAD BACKGROUND A STRENGTH

This broad range of theology and church polity is not foreign to Mennonite Brethren. Most of our MB theologians hold Ph.D. degrees from institutions that are, for the most part, evangelical but not Anabaptist. This broad background is one of the strengths of our denomination, not a weakness.

In a similar way, the broad background of pastor-contributors to {92} Leadership can be a strength not a weakness. This broad perspective can be very helpful for Mennonite Brethren as we continue to define what it means to be Anabaptist and evangelical. If we are firmly rooted in our Anabaptist theology, we can use what we read in Leadership and other similar journals to build the church of Jesus Christ as he intended it.

Gaylord L. Goertzen, a graduate of Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, pastors the Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren Church, Hillsboro, Kansas.