3-STRand LEADERSHIP & An In-depth Explanation of the 3 Leadership Types: Strategic, Tactical & Relational

PreparingChange_Reaction_Mdby Bob Whitesel D.Min. Ph.D., excerpted from Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church by Bob Whitesel (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2007.  (Formerly I labeled this STO Leadership for strategic-tactical-operational, the terms used by military leaders. Most leadership colleagues/students find the concept of 3-STRand Leadership (Strategic-Tactical-Relational) even clearer).

Chapter 2: Why Is Change So Difficult To Manage? Strategic, Tactical and Relational Leadership

Change Reaction 1: “Our leaders are not good at bringing about change.” Congregations are cynical about church change … often because change is undertaken in an ineffective and disuniting manner.

How Church Change Drove a Family Away

It just happened one Sunday in 1962. My dad stopped going to church. Mother and I still attended, at least for the next year or so. But soon, our entire family no longer frequented the church my parents had attended since they were married.

Dad had been the head usher for the second of three Sunday services in this church of 1,500 attendees. In that role, he had organized 16-20 men each Sunday to receive the offering and help congregants find seats. Planning was minimal. Dad was supervised by Bill, the church’s Usher Supervisor who recruited, selected, trained and mentored ushers. Bill was an engineer for Delco-Remy, where he led an entire department in the burgeoning lighting division.

However, my father’s duties as head usher for the second service, were more straightforward. Dad had to ensure that each usher had enough bulletins, that ushers were at all entrances, and on occasion he had to conscript ushers from the audience is someone was missing. This was Dad’s close knit fellowship, and he often remarked that not since his World War II days had he enjoyed such camaraderie.

Dad also prayed over the offering. And because his prayer never changed, I can recall it to this day; for Gerald was an relational leader, and he liked consistency, uniformity and reliability. And because he exemplified these traits, he had been head usher of the second service for 4 years.

Why would a man of such consistency and reliability suddenly disconnect himself from his church? As a child I never understood, nor inquired. But, once grown I had occasion to ask my dad about his departure. Gerald’s disappearance was due to an honor. The faithful discharge of his duties as a head usher, had brought him to the attention of the church leaders. When Bill, the Usher Supervisor quit, Gerald was the natural choice to replace him. After all, my dad was head usher for the largest of three services. And he was faithful. Dad was honored, but also wary. None-the-less after some gentle prodding by the church leaders Dad was “rewarded” with a promotion to Usher Supervisor.

In this new capacity, Dad was now thrust into a leadership role that required oversight of 60 plus men. His duties now included scheduling and organizing on-going usher training, recruitment and oversight as well as replacing ineffective ushers. Dad had enjoyed his duties as head usher of one service, but now his responsibilities doubled if not tripled. And while his previous duties had been largely relational, now his tasks were increasingly organizational. Dad missed the interpersonal nature of his previous duties, and now saw himself increasingly isolated from the fellowship and camaraderie he had previously relished.

Additionally, the usher ministry suffered. Dad found it difficult to schedule pertinent and timely training, and Dad never felt comfortable with the recruitment and dismissal process. Dad was a man everyone liked, and he found it hard not to utilize a willing usher candidate, simply because of lack of skill, decorum or call.

The church leaders noticed this decline in the usher’s ministry. And, they subtly tried to work with Gerald. They tried to develop him into a director, who could oversee 60 plus men, and three different worship services. In the end, this was not Dad’s giftings or calling. Dad had been a successful sergeant during World War II, and he had successfully led a small team of men. But when it came to the oversight, tactical planning, recruitment and paperwork necessary to administrate a burgeoning ministry, Dad did not enjoy it, nor did he feel he had was called to do it.

The church leaders did not want to see Gerald quit, but the atmosphere of pressure and disappointment became too much. Without an avenue for retreat, one day Gerald simply called the church office and resigned. Dad was a gracious and loving man, the eldest child everyone seemed to like him. But, the feelings that he had let down his church and lost his camaraderie were too much. Dad couldn’t bear to see the looks of the other usher who he felt he had failed as their leader, and thus returning to church was too uncomfortable to bear. Dad simply faded away, and soon our family did as well.

In adulthood I began investigating leadership styles and in hindsight always wondered what happened to my Dad’s volunteerism. Dad had been so content and fulfilled as a sergeant in the military. But at church, his involvement had led to disappointment and failure. As I researched leadership abilities, I found that the military had an insightful understanding of leadership sectors, that might benefit the church. And, it has to do with three military leadership categories: strategic leaders, tactical leaders and relational leaders.[i]

Strategic Leaders

In History:

The word strategy come 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.

Subsequently, in the military field the word strategic has come to refer 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..

In Architecture:

An analogy from the world of art may be helpful. The strategic leader is akin to an artist. He or she seems 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. We will develop this analogy more when we discuss shortly tactical leaders.

In the Military:

Strategic leaders are intentional, bigger-picture leaders who deal in theoretical, hypothetical concepts and strategies. For example, in World War II generals such as Dwight Eisenhower and Bernard Montgomery strategically knew that France must be invaded and wrestled from the German occupiers. The decisions to invade North Africa, Sicily, Italy and eventually France were decided upon by the generals. But, once each of the invasions commenced, leadership was put into the hands of tactical leaders.

In the Church.

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

  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 (more on this shortly).
  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….”[iii] Pastors drawn by this leadership role usually become strategic leaders (more on this in a moment).
  3. A Mixture. Oftentimes pastors and church leaders have a mixture of the two above roles, and may fluctuate between one or the other at various times in their ministerial journey. 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 later 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. Thus, let’s look a bit more at strategic leadership.

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. Subsequently, they are often highly enthusiastic and energetic about reaching people for Christ. This passionate 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. As such, visual and revelatory scriptures hold great sway, and they can readily perceive the “great multitudes of Revelation 7:9-10 “… a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’.”

In the Change Process:

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. Thus, 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.[iv] They know what the change should look like, but they have trouble seeing the individual steps to get there. Thus, 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,”[v]” 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.”[vi]

Other names for strategic leaders are:

  1. Visionaries (George Barna,[vii] Leith Anderson[viii] and Phil Miglioratti[ix]).
  2. Role 1 Leaders (Phil Miglioratti[x]).
  3. “Top management” (John Wimber, Eddie Gibbs[xi]).
  4. “Strong, authoritative, directive pastoral leadership” (Wagner[xii]).
  5. Upper-level Management (John Kotter[xiii]).
  6. Sodality leadership, which is described as “vision setter, goal setter, strong leader, visionary, upper management” (Ralph Winter[xiv]).

Tactical Leaders

In History:

Tactical leaders compliment strategic leaders. Tactical leaders (from the Greek word taktike meaning organize) are those leaders skilled in the art of organizing, historically of an army. Such leaders are exact, accurate and specific. Tactical leaders lead the forces after the battle begins. They focus on allocation, analysis, planning, evaluation and adjustment once the strategic leaders set the direction. Tactical leaders in the military are customarily Colonels in rank on down.

In Architecture:

Returning for a moment to our architectural metaphor, the tactical leader is like a civil engineer.[xv] He or she may receive a general idea of the architectural form from the homeowner or architect. But, the tactical leader must compute the number of board-feet required, the utility needs and the component costs associated with every element of the endeavor. It is the engineer that puts together an infrastructure to undergird the artistic image the strategic leader has pictured.

In the Military:

In the World War II invasions of North Africa, Sicily, Italy and France it would have been a mistake to micro-manage the invasion by Generals far from the front. Instead, planning, adaptive tactics, evaluation, allocation, personnel deployment, and adjustments for winning the evasion are the responsibility of the tactical leaders once the battle had begun.

In the Church:

Tactical leaders receive their long-term goals from strategic leaders.[xvi] But tactical leaders contribute the critical and decisive tasks of planning, allocating, adjusting and analyzing that brings about the future envisioned by a strategic leader. And, tactical leadership fits these future plans into the ongoing life, tasks and rhythms of what church is doing presently. It has been said that tactical leadership “means fitting together of ongoing activities into a meaningful whole.”[xvii]   Tactical leadership makes the future, as seen by the strategic leader, happen in a unified manner. Management scholar Russell Ackoff’s definition describes the role of tactical leaders where “planning is the design of a desired future and of effective ways of bringing it about.”[xviii]

In the Change Process:

Thus a critical contribution that is often missing in our churches, is the tactical leader who makes change happen … in a unifying way. Here we see the answer to our initial change reaction, “our leaders are not good at bringing about change.” Our leaders do not succeed at change, because a critical link in making change happen is often missing: the tactical leader. Change does not succeed in its outcome, because the necessary tactically skilled leaders that can implement unifying change are not involved. We shall see at the end of this chapter, that we must integrate tactical leaders into the processes of change or changes we seek will not make things better … only less unified.


Tactical leadership is an integrated skill. The tactical leader weds the past, the present and the future to move the church ahead. The tactical leader grasps the strategic leader’s vision of the future, but the tactical leader enjoys integrating these future plans into the ongoing and present life of the church. Tactical leaders also relish the planning process. They set timelines and allocate duties. They are delgators in the truest sense of the word. They should not be confused with relational leaders who do the work themselves. The tactical leader delegates fully, but then carefully evaluates the results.

And thus, tactical leaders are often pen and pencil (or stylus and PDA) people, who make copious notes as strategic leader expounds upon the future. Tactical leaders create spreadsheets, flowcharts, diagrams and designate work teams. Tactical leaders know who to bring big long-term projects down into easy, doable steps.

Thus, tactical leaders are the needed go-between to connect strategic leaders who grasp the big-picture, and relational leaders who get things done. Everyone appreciates tactical leaders, but regrettably they are usually outnumbered in our churches by strategic leaders and relational leaders. Thus, the organization suffers.

Other names for tactical leaders are:

  1. Administrators (Phil Miglioratti[xix]).
  2. Role Two Leaders (Phil Miglioratti [xx]).
  3. Middle-level management (Martin Butler and Robert Herman[xxi]).
  4. “Middle management” (John Wimber/Eddie Gibbs[xxii] and John Kotter[xxiii]).
  5. “Enables others to achieve goals” (Richard Hutcheson[xxiv]).
  6. Problem solvers (Gary Yukl[xxv]).
  7. Modality leadership, which is described as “enabler, team builder, ally, implementer” (Ralph Winter).[xxvi]

Relational Leaders

In History:

In the military relational leaders are the men and women who lead skilled teams on critical assignments. They have an immediate, urgent and vital task to perform. They may not see where their efforts fit into the bigger picture, but they are the masters of relational leadership. They lead an intentional and personal effort to build a team of interdependent soldiers. While the key to strategic leadership is forecasting and theorizing, and the contribution of tacticians is precision and allocation, the skill of the relational leader is his or her connection with their team and the ability to think creatively, improvise, adapt and be successful.

In Architecture:

These are the skilled craftsmen that build a house and give it the working components. They are often knowledgeable in a certain predefined field such as electrical, hearting/cooling, framing, etc., because of the complexity of the task. And, they like to see the immediate results of their hands. One relational leader told me, “I like to see immediate results from what I am doing. I do not have patience to wait for an outcome. That is why I am a painter. I like to see the results right now from what I am doing.” In contrast, the strategic leader may wait years to witness the culmination of a project, and thus may leap to a new idea before the first has come to fruition. The tactical leader is also patient in waiting for the project to be completed, but the tactical leader finds it rewarding to see that progress is being made and the end goal is getting nearer. However, for relational leaders, seeing immediate results in even small steps is one of the most rewarding parts of the process.

In the Military:

In the military, the battle is usually won or lost because of relational leaders. It is the teamwork, interdependence, improvisation, creativity and unity toward a goal that the relational leader fosters. Relational leaders lead small groups (think of a platoon leader or a head usher) and only partially delegate responsibility. In the military these are the Lieutenants, Sergeants, etc..

In the Church.

My dad was a sergeant in the military, and initially an relational leader who led his small team of second service ushers successfully for four years. Like many relational leaders in our churches, Dad enjoyed getting the job done. I often remember how fulfilled and satisfied he was after church, where he had faithfully discharged his duties with his team.

In the Change Process:

During the change process these are the church leaders who get things done. They often see things from the viewpoint of their task. If they are an usher, then as my Dad, ushering seemed like the most important job in the church. Still my dad, like many relational leaders today, knew that the church was an organic organism of many functions and ministries (1 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 4:11-13). But Dad so enjoyed the task at hand, that at least for him and his giftings this was the most important job imaginable. As a result he discharged his duties with speediness, precision, care and results.


Relational leaders have the knowledge, skill, relational abilities and dedication to get a job done. Once the parameters are defined and they see how their task fits into the bigger-picture (they are helped in this by the tactical leader), the relational leader can accomplish almost anything. Anthropologist Margaret Mead observed, “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” [xxvii] And, thus the contribution of the relational leader is critical to the change process.

Relational leaders often love their job so much, that they do not see themselves “moving out” of this role in the foreseeable future.[xxviii]

But, if the relational leader does not have the go-between of a tactical leader, the strategic leader’s vision may be too imprecise to motivate the relational leader. Thus, we see once again while all three types of leadership are needed, but it is the glue that the go-between tactical leader provides that helps the relational leader move the strategic leader’s vision forward.

Other names for tactical leaders are:

  1. Workers (Phil Miglioratti[xxix]).
  2. Role Three Leaders (Phil Miglioratti[xxx]).
  3. Foremen (John Wimber, Eddie Gibbs[xxxi]).

Relational – Tactical – Strategic Leaders: A Comparison

Let us return to our true story above. My father, Gerald, had been a successful sergeant in the military. He was known as loyal to his men, constantly looking out for their safely, but always leading them toward a visible goal within parameters that were provided to him. In such scenarios he excelled. And thus, as the head usher of the second service he flourished as a leader of a ministry team.

The disaster began when the church leadership, largely unaware of distinctives between strategic, tactical and relational leadership, “rewarded” my father with tactical leadership. Dad was an relational leader and he enjoyed leadership that was defined by relationships and connectedness. Phil Miglioratti, who describing strategic leadership as Role One leadership and tactical leadership as Role Two leadership, observed, “a mistake is made when these active dependable servants are ‘rewarded’ for their work my ‘promoting’ them to Role One or Two positions.”[xxxii]

Tactical leadership has more to do with allocation, analysis, creating tactical plans, and evaluation of effectiveness. Thus mechanical processes, of which as Gerald’s son I am more inclined, did not attract my Dad, nor where they aligned with his gifts. Dad was more personable than I will ever be, and he led a small team to success in World War II and at his church.

In Today’s Church, Tactical Leaders Are Missing

Today congregants often don’t know what to call a leader: a visionary, a realist, a planner, a strategist, a facilitator, a coach, or …? I’ve noticed that my students often lump church board leaders into two board categories: “board realists ” or “board visionaries.”

Actually my students have got two-thirds of the categories right. And, there may a better term for both groups. Who some students call realists should be called: tactical leaders. These are leaders who see the important nuts-and-bolts implication of a new idea. They see the cost involved, the human power needed and the steps that are required. They often appear not to be receptive to new ideas because they see the elaborate infrastructure and cost that will be required. Thus, they often butt heads with strategic leaders, because while strategic leaders see the future clearly, the tactical leaders sees the immediate expenses more acutely.

And the “board visionaries” are those strategic board leaders who see the bigger picture more sharply, than they see the route to get there.

Regrettably, in the past 25+ years I have seen a decline in the important tactical leaders, and instead a proliferation of strategic leaders in our churches.[xxxiii] Most church pastors have read books about visionary leadership, and our seminaries have done a better job at fostering bigger-picture leaders. But an unfortunate outcome is that tactical church leaders are often missing in our congregations. And thus, churches cannot bring about change because they are drowning under a deluge of strategic visionaries with big ideas and multiple strategies … but with little idea of how to get there. We need a return in our churches to the development and deployment of tactical leaders.

In Today’s Church, Strategic Leaders Are Abundant

And thus, congregants we label visionaries should probably better be called: strategic leaders. These are church leaders who see the bigger picture, though how to get there is cloudy. They capture a picture in their minds about what a new worship service can look like, but they are not as clear regarding the steps needed to attain it. While strategic leaders see the future, they often lack the analytical, precise and number-crunching nature to move the process forward. As noted earlier, I believe many pastors go into the ministry because they can see the strategic long term picture. They relate to Jesus’ admonition to “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” (John 4:35). Strategic pastors can readily picture this image. They sermonize upon the importance of seeing the mission field, but when it comes to mounting a step-by-step strategy, analysis and evaluation … they are usually quiet.

The problem is exacerbated because strategic leaders tend to hire associate and assistant pastors like themselves: strategic leaders. Thus, a church can be full of bigger-picture people (and thus an explosion of new ideas) without having the missing tactical leaders needed to draft the budget, organize the training, recruit the volunteers and evaluate the results to make adjustments.

In Today’s Church, Relational Leaders Are Often Wrongly Promoted To Tactical Leadership

On the other end of the spectrum are the many relational leaders like my dad who keep a church humming. They enjoy the tasks they are given, often relational and thus relational in nature. But when these dear loyal saints are promoted to tactical leadership, they find their skill-set does not match expectations. And, rather than let the church leaders down (remember the relational leader’s skills are relational), the relational leader in a tactical job will stop doing their job (often by resigning, but not in person) and quietly disappearing (again to prevent further damage to relationships).

Again, the result is that our churches are missing tactical leaders. The tactical leader’s gift for analysis, number-crunching and in-depth planning is often seen as profane in comparison to the more pious duties of relationship building (relational leadership) or long-term envisioning (strategic leadership).[xxxiv] But all three are needed! We must promote both balance and holism in our management styles. We must discover, develop and deploy the important tacticians in our churches to create a link between strategic thinkers and relational leaders.

STOP! Don’t Go Any Further Without Tactical Leaders

It is permissible to read further, but please don’t attempt to bring about any of the change processes in this book (or any other book) before you get your tactical leaders in place. As we have seen from the above, these practical and precise leaders are often overlooked in a sea of strategic visionaries and hard-working relational workers.

My observation from client case studies, is that roughly 10% of a congregation are tactical leaders, another 10% are strategic (e.g. visionary) leaders, while the remaining 80% are relational leaders.

Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto is famed for saying that 80% of the value lies in 20% of the ingredients. And thus, his statement has been interpreted to infer that 20% of the people, do 80% of the work. Again, my experience with client case studies would tend to confirm percentages close to Pareto’s principle.

Thus, of that 20% that is doing the work I have observed that 8% are visionaries and 8% are workers, with 4% tactical leaders.

Now if my field observations are correct, then we are not getting 72% of our relational leaders involved. My hunch is that this is because we do not have enough tactical leaders to create suitable tactics and equip relational leaders for the task. Thus, congregational relational leaders will often lament that a church is too unorganized, when in reality they mean that the church is missing key tactical leaders to organize the strategic leaders’ visions.[xxxv]

How To Help Leaders Succeed “At Bringing About Change”

Here then is a primary reason why change is hard for churches to undertake, and congregants lament, “Our leaders are not good at bringing about change.” It is because we often do not have tactical leaders in place to successfully bring about change. It is tactical leaders who can orchestrate and oversee a step-by-step plan for change.

Church change is usually handled just by strategic leaders who make a case for seeing the bigger-picture, without giving clear insight about how to get there. The result is that church relational leaders sense a gap: between what the strategic leader pictures, and how to get it done. The result is that the relational leader resists change, because a clear route to get there has not been articulated.

            Three (3) Things Must Happen To Get Tactical Leaders Involved:

  1. Tactical leaders must be recruited and involved in the change process. Look for people who have the following characteristics:
    • They are planners.
    • They analyze needs and appropriate funds.
    • They create budgets.
    • They help obtain goal ownership from relational leaders.
    • They are hesitant about new ideas, because they can see the barriers and roadblocks that must be surmounted.
    • They are frustrated when strategic leaders try to micro-mange the tactical process, by offering too many ideas, corrections, adjustments, etc.
  2. Tactical leaders must be allowed to drop their current responsibilities to tackle change.
    • Because there is so much precision in the tactical leader’s work, they cannot juggle as many projects as the strategic leader can envision. Remember, the strategic leader sees the bigger-picture but the actual mechanics are not as clear and require more effort to create.
    • Thus, the detail needed in tactical planning prevents the tactical leader from being able to do a good job if he or she is juggling too many responsibilities.
    • Therefore the tactical leader must be allowed to drop some of their current responsibilities if these tasks are not aligned with the tactical leaders tactical gifts, or if their duties are not as crucial to the future of the church as are the new changes.
  1. Tactical leaders need a rough plan.
    • They need a general plan which the tactical leader can follow, indigenize and improve upon.
    • In my book (Preparing for Change Reaction), the plan for change is laid out in Chapters 3 – 9.

A Recap of Change Reaction 1: “Our leaders are not good at bringing about change.”

To the change reaction, “Our leaders are not good at bringing about change,” we discover the reason is because the tactical leaders, key go-betweens among the strategic and relational leaders, are missing. While both strategic and relational leaders are still needed, neither have the requisite skills of analysis, step-by-step planning, number-crunching, and detail management to bring a change to fruition. This is the contribution of the tactical leaders. Thus, typically in our churches we have:

Strategic Leaders.

They see the need and the future. They have a limited idea of how to get there, but they have been exposed to various models to accomplish change. However, strategic leaders do not typically have the patience to analyze, fine-tune, crunch-the-numbers, tweak, perfect, evaluate and adjust a strategy. Subsequently, strategic leaders often try to just apply (e.g. franchise) a strategy that has worked elsewhere. The strategic leader may purchase step-by-step manuals for relational leaders. And while this is a good starting place, because tactical leaders who can adjust the methodology for the church’s own unique scenario are not involved, the canned strategy is often abandoned with people saying “that doesn’t work here.” Again, the problem is not the strategic leaders or the relational leaders. They are both doing their jobs. The problem is created because an important linking and planning element of leaders is missing: the tactical leaders and their organizational skills.

Tactical Leaders

They then become our crucial … and missing link in effective change. If they are missing, change strategies are not adapted to the local context and the process is unorganized.

Relational Leaders

In military jargon these are the “boots on the ground,” meaning the frontline workers who must adjust the tactics they are given. They are relational teams of workers, who derive much of their satisfaction from both their teammates and their visible accomplishments. Relational leaders may also volunteer to be tactical leaders, because relationships are so important to them they do not want to see the strategic leader in a quandary. They may say something like “Pastor, I know you are in a spot here. So I’ll help you out.” If an relational leader says this, interview that person and then if this relational leaders does not have the analytical, diagnostic and methodical skills to create and manage an elaborate plan, graciously decline their offer. To thrust relational leaders into tactical positions will frustrate them, and eventually due to their gracious and relational nature, they will quietly fade away from their failed tactical task.

Change is Difficult Because Tactical Leaders Are Missing

Why then does change so often fail in congregations? It has been my observation that it is because strategic leaders (often pastors) try to orchestrate the tactical process. Often if a strategic leader in the role of a pastor or a department head tries to move the church forward with some change, the congregants will become frustrated because of a lack of precision in the plan. The plan to them will appear too nebulous and imprecise.

At the same time the strategic leader will expect the relationally-orientated relational leaders to create a plan. And though the relational leaders are the key to the success of the process, their emphasis upon relationships usually trumps their interest in the administrative details, budgeting, volunteer recruitment and evaluation that is required.

The answer is that change needs the critical link between strategic leader and relational leaders: tactical leadership. Therefore, to succeed with change, it is important that at the outset of this book the pastor look around him or her develop those tactical leaders who can map-out the change processes outlined in this book, and who will enjoy doing so.

Questions for Group Study

  1. What kind of tasks do you enjoy? Circle only those letters that correspond to tasks you greatly
    1. Dreaming about the future.
    2. Preparing a budget.
    3. Getting to know a person you work with.
    4. Graphing on paper a new plan.
    5. Analyzing what when wrong with a past strategy.
    6. Creating a visual map of the planning process.
    7. Balancing your checkbook.
    8. Sharing about your family history.
    9. Reading books on new ideas.
    10. Attending seminars on creativity.
    11. Tackling a numerical problem.
    12. Reading books on history.
    13. Researching costs associated with a project.
    14. Creating a survey.
    15. Taking a survey.
    16. Leading under 12 people on a project.
    17. Recording the minutes of a meeting.
    18. Loading and adjusting new software on your computer.
    19. Designing ways to better communicate an idea.
    20. Relaxing by sharing with friends about hobbies.
    21. Relaxing by sharing with friends about what when wrong.
    22. Relaxing by dreaming with friends about new ideas.
    23. Working on a hobby with a few closer friends.
    24. You share your personal feelings easily with others.
    25. You share your new ideas easily with others.
    26. You like to get a job done with a minimum of fuss.

For each letter you circled, put a check in the corresponding box:

For each of the following letters you circled, put a check in this BOX: C, H, P, T, W, X, Z For each of the following letters you circled, put a check in this BOX: B, D, E, F, G, K, M, N, Q, R, S, U For each of the following letters you circled, put a check in this BOX: A, I, J, L, O, V, Y
Total up the check marks: Total up the check marks: Total up the check marks:
Relational Leader Tactical Leader Strategic Leader
You may be primarily comfortable with a leader style associated with the box that contains the most checkmarks.[xxxvi]
  1. Who are tactical leaders in your congregation? And what are they currently doing? Ask yourself the following questions.
    • How critical for the future of the organization are the current jobs that these tactical leaders are undertaking?
    • Could these tactical leaders be used more effectively in other areas, perhaps helping the church move forward with some change? (This is a question that will be quickly answered by strategic leaders.)
    • Are these tactical leaders overworked and in danger of burn-out? (This is a question that will be more promptly answered by relational leaders.)
  1. What does this statement from earlier in the chapter mean, “we must integrate tactical leaders into the processes of change that this book describes or changes we seek will not make things better … only less unified and more confusing?”
    • What will you do to see this does not happen?
    • List seven tactical leaders that you will recruit and engage in reading this book.

           Tactical Leader:            Contact Information:

  1. ______________________________ ________________
  2. ______________________________ ________________
  3. ______________________________ ________________
  4. ______________________________ ________________
  5. ______________________________ ________________
  6. ______________________________ ________________
  7. ______________________________ ________________


[i] Within military leadership theories there are many nuanced categories. However, to keep the present discussion from becoming too unwieldy, we will focus on the three broad categories of strategic leadership, tactical leadership and operational (i.e. relational) leadership. For a good overview of the historical importance and tensions of the top levels of military leadership see, Mark A. Stoler, Allies and Adversaries: The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Grand Alliance, and U.S. Strategy in World War II (Chapel Hill, No. Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

[ii] These are certainly not the only two forces that draw pastors into the ministry. However, in my consultative work I have seen these two categories appear with surprising regularity. In addition, these two categories provide a helpful framework for distinguishing how pastors with relational leadership skills vary from those with strategic leadership abilities.

[iii] Win Arn, “A Church Growth Look at … Here’s Life America,” The Pastors Church Growth Handbook (Pasadena, Calif.: Church Growth Press, 1987), p. 45.

[iv] There is an important difference in organization theory between theories of change and theories of changing (see Warren G. Bennis, Changing Organizations [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996]). Theories of change refer to how change occurs, while theories of changing investigate how to control or manipulate change. Subsequently, strategic leaders will customarily focus on theories of change, while tactical leaders will gravitate toward theories of changing. Unless this subtle, but important difference is noted, strategic leaders and tactical leaders may talking about two different things, but using the same term. Hence, confusion in our churches often results between our visionary leaders and the administrative tactical leaders who must bring these visions to fruition.

[v] H. Ozbekhan, “Toward a General Theory of Planning,” in E. Jantsch, ed., Perspective in Planning (Paris, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1969), p. 151.

[vi] Martin Marty, “Lutheran Scholar ‘Sprinkles Methodist Advice,” in The United Methodist Reporter (Dallas, Texas: 1986), March 28.

[vii] Christian pollster George Barna correctly emphasizes that for a strategic leader, a clear vision of the future is important. And, Barna in his popular book, The Power of Vision (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1992, p. 28, 38-39) describes a vision as “ a clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God, and based on an accurate understanding of God, self and circumstances.” Yet, the popularity of Barna’s definition may have clouded the picture, as strategically-orientated pastors latched on to this definition, which lacks the complimentary emphasis that it is tactical leadership that will get you there.

[viii] Leith Anderson, Dying for Change (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany Publishing House, 1990), pp. 177-178.

[ix] Phil Miglioratti, “Putting Your Laymen When They Will Do the Most Good,” The Pastor’s Church Growth Handbook (Pasadena, Calif.: Church Growth Press, 1979), p. 146.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing House, 1981), pp. 380, 383-385.

[xii] C. Peter Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1984), p. 73-74.

[xiii] John Kotter, A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1990).

[xiv] C. Peter Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth, op. cit., pp. 141-165.

[xv] The architectural analogy is not meant to be wholly precise, but rather to serve as an approximate illustration. To be sure, many architects demonstrate not only strategic bigger-picture leadership, but also the tactical engineering skills to engineer a building. This is similar to how a church leader may function on several levels of leadership at the same time. Again, the purpose here is not to tender a inflexible illustration, but to give a general idea of the complimentary interplay of strategic, tactical and relational skills.

[xvi] Management scholar Russell Ackoff says of tactical leadership, “the principle complexity in planning derives from the interrelatedness of the decisions rather than from the decisions themselves” (Russell L. Ackoff, A Concept of Corporate Planning [New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc, 1970] pp. 2-3). What Ackoff means is that tactical planning has to take into consideration the connectedness of all past, present and future decisions and work out a complex change strategy that considers all of these factors. The most frequent failure in the planning process is due to a lack of tactical leaders who can integrate and coordinate multiple concerns. Often plans for change are brought about by strategic leaders who are too concerned about the future (to consider fully the present and/or past), and relational leaders who are overly concerned about the needs of the present (and the relationships involved). While in this chapter I have argued that all three types of leaders are needed (strategic-tactical-relational), it is the absence of tactical leaders that often leaves the church with a feeling that change rarely produces good results.

[xvii] Herman R. Van Gunsteren, The Quest for Control: A Critique of the Rational Control Rule Approach in Public Affairs (New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc, 1976), p. 2

[xviii] Russell L. Ackoff, A Concept of Corporate Planning, op. cit., p. 1.

[xix] Phil Miglioratti, “Putting Your Laymen When They Will Do the Most Good,” op. cit., p. 146

[xx] ibid.

[xxi] D. Martin Butler and Robert D. Herman, “Effective Ministerial Leadership,” Nonprofit Management and Leadership (1999), 9:229-239.

[xxii] Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, op. cit., pp. 380, 382-383.

[xxiii] John Kotter, A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management, op. cit.. Kotter muddies the water a bit, by making a imprecise distinction between leadership and management. Kotter would agree with this author, that there are strategic leaders and tactical leaders. However, Kotter calls what strategic leaders do: “leadership.” And he labels what tactical leaders do as: “management.” While it is laudable that Kotter is trying to help distinguish between strategic and tactical leadership, the widespread use of the terms “leadership” and “management” probably mean they are too popular to now be more narrowly defined. Thus, Kotter’s goal is good, to distinguish between strategic and tactical leaders, but his terminology is probably too imprecise.

[xxiv] Richard Hutcheson, J., The Wheel Within the Wheel: Confronting the Management Crisis of the Pluralistic Church (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1979), p. 54.

[xxv] Gary Yukl, Managerial Practices Survey (Albany, New York: Gary Yukl and Man Associates, 1990).

[xxvi] C. Peter Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth, op. cit., pp. 141-165.

[xxvii] Popular attestation, http://www.quoteworld.org/quotes/8891

[xxviii] Phil Miglioratti, “Putting Your Laymen When They Will Do the Most Good,” op. cit., p. 146

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] ibid.

[xxxi] Eddie Gibbs, I Believe in Church Growth, op. cit., pp. 380, 381.

[xxxii] Phil Miglioratti, “Putting Your Laymen When They Will Do the Most Good,” op. cit., p. 147.

[xxxiii] Though today tactical leaders are often missing in our churches, this was not always the case. In the early 1980s Peter Wagner and other leaders in the Church Growth Movement lamented that mostly tactical leaders were being trained in seminaries. Wagner would label strategic leadership as “strong leadership,” and tactical leadership he would call “enabler leadership.” Thus Wagner observed in 1984 with obvious Orwellian overtones (C. Peter Wagner, Leading Your Church to Growth, op. cit., pp. 73-75), “one reason why strong pastoral leadership is not characteristic of many of American’s churches is that in the recent past clergy have been taught just the opposite in the seminaries … They were taught to reject strong, authoritative, directive pastoral leadership….The alternative has been the model of pastor as an ‘enabler.”…What exactly is an enabler? Richard Hutcheson puts it this way: ‘An enabler or facilitator is a relatively uninvolved technician who understands the process by which things are accomplished and who enables other to achieve goals’ (Richard Hutcheson, J., The Wheel Within the Wheel: Confronting the Management Crisis of the Pluralistic Church, op. cit., p. 54).” What Wagner and Hutcheson are describing as enablers, I would define in organizational terms as tactical leaders. And I would disagree with Hutcheson on one point. I have found that tactical leaders are not “relatively uninvolved,” but only appear to be so because they enjoy the impersonal and technical tasks of planning, analysis, evaluation and adjustment.

[xxxiv] Richard Hutcheson, J. in The Wheel Within the Wheel: Confronting the Management Crisis of the Pluralistic Church, op. cit., p. 53 describes how the group dynamics movement within the Human Resource field emphasized interpersonal relationships in management. Thus, tactical leadership came to be viewed incorrectly as more profane in contrast to its strategic and relational counterparts. However, the reader of this chapter should be able to see that all three leadership skills, strategic-tactical-relational, are required for effective change to take place.

[xxxv] The 12% of the strategic leaders who are unengaged is probably due to the lack of tactical leaders as well. Church leaders often lament to me that there is no one in the church available to implement their new ideas, and thus they keep their ideas to themselves.

[xxxvi] This questionnaire is not designed to be a definitive categorization for these three types of leadership skills, but rather a general indicator. And, you may find you have scored differently than you anticipated. In such circumstances and if comfortable to do so, share with friends and coworkers your score, and ask for comment upon your leadership categorization. Remember, neither category is preferential to the others, for the proper and organic functioning of all three is required for change to take place. In addition, oftentimes leaders move from one leadership category to another based upon circumstance or time. For instance, sometimes congregants who have been tactical leaders in the past and know the great degree of energy and effort such leadership requires, may thus want a sabbatical from tactical duties. This is permissible and proper, as God Himself rested from His labors (Exodus 20:8) as well as required this of His servants (Leviticus 25:2, Mark 2:27).

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