STO LEADERSHIP & An Overview: Are you a shepherd or a visionary (or a little of both)?

by Bob Whitesel, April 26, 2010.

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The word strategy comes from the Greek word for a military general: strategoi.  The generals of ancient Athens, led by the forward-thinking Pericles, undertook a grand building project to make Athens the cultural and political center of Greece. The Athenian generals’ strategy paid off, with beautiful buildings such as the Parthenon, making Athens the Greek capital.

In the military, the word “strategic” refers to the bigger-picture planning that is done before a before a battle begins.  Strategic leaders see the big picture, and envision outcomes before the battle commences.  They intuitively know what the results should be, even though they are not experts in getting there.  In the military, strategic leaders are generals, admirals, etc.

The strategic leader is akin to an artist.  He or she sees the dim outline of the future, perhaps a gleaming office tower or an eye-catching museum.  They can envision what it will look like once it is complete.  But, they seek only general forms, shapes and appearances.  They see the art and the results.

Let’s look at some typical characteristics that distinguish leaders in the church.  In my consultative work I have routinely witnessed that pastors can be drawn into the ministry by two competing roles.

1. The shepherd.  Many pastors enter the ministry due to a desire to help fellow humankind with a hands-on, relational, personal and mentoring type of leadership style.  This is analogous to the guidance of a shepherd, and is reflected in scriptures about nurture, care and cultivation such as in Isaiah 40:11, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”  And, this is exemplified by Jesus who is described as “our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20).  Pastors drawn by this role often become relational leaders.

2. The visionary.  Pastors in this category have an overriding desire to make a significant impact for Christ and His kingdom.  They are impassioned by statements such as John 4:34-38, “’My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor’.”

Visionaries have what Church Growth researcher Win Arn called “church growth eyes … a developed characteristic of individuals and churches who have achieved a sensitivity to seeing possibilities….”   Pastors drawn by this leadership role usually become strategic leaders.

Often, pastors and church leaders have a mixture of the two roles, and may fluctuate between them.  However, it is important to note the dissimilar nature of these roles.  One seeks to build interpersonal camaraderie and intimacy, the other seeks to attain a physical forward-looking goal.

In the former, intimacy is the purpose, and in the latter the future goal is the purpose.  Which is needed? They both are, but the wise church leader will employ each as the circumstance warrants and as their abilities allow.

Pastors attracted to the ministry because of a vision to make a significant impact for Christ often exhibit strategic leadership.  And, they are often passionate about their work, for they see the depravity of humankind and they perceive how Christ provides the necessary answer.  They are often highly enthusiastic and energetic about reaching people for Christ.  This passion can sometimes be misconstrued as a fervor for growth, size or power.  And, such negative attributes can sneak in.  However, what customarily motivates these individuals is the picture they envision of many people coming to know Christ.

Strategic leaders are the first to notice that change is needed.  This is because they are always looking ahead.  To a degree, they live in the future better than the present. This means they can be frustrating to work with if not accompanied by the tactical leader.  Strategic leaders thus see the need for change, and love discussing the rationale and theories of change.  They are critical for the change process, for they look ahead and see where the church is going and needs to go.  But they are also frustrating for other leaders, because strategic leaders know what the results should look like, but they are weak at envisioning the step-by-step process.

Strategic leadership is “future directed.”  Strategic leaders often want people to move forward, and thus they are the first to start moving in new directions.  Historian Martin Marty said they “are extremely sensitive to where people are, but are not content to leave them there.”

ARTICLE is excepted with permission by from Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church by Bob Whitesel (Indianapolis: The Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007), read the original article at

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