Leading with Story Part 1: The Crisis of Pastoral Imagery

This is Part 1 of a blog series developing the idea of Leading with Story in churches.

Pastors and Christian leaders have a long history of identity crisis. We use a great number of terms like pastor, priest, bishop, or preacher. We have tried on different metaphors throughout history such as priest, shepherd, prophet, physician of souls, pastor, teacher, leader, and counselor. Some of these metaphors are so old that we cannot connect with them without considerable historical work. Others are so wrapped in specific connotations that they represent a truncated view of ministry.


Let me give a couple examples. When we think of a pastors as a shepherd we typically mean the specific function of pastoral care. After all, none of us has ever seen a shepherd. We don’t understand what they did when that metaphor was used in the Bible. Shepherding was the metaphor of kings because of the huge responsibility of the task: guide the sheep to different pastures, breed and sell, protect from predators, care for the young and injured, read the weather and the seasons to know where they had to be… The job was so much bigger than we have in mind when we use the term.

Pastors today have been trained to think of themselves primarily as leaders or pastoral counselors. Are these faithful metaphors? Do we lead as a CEO might or do we lead by following Christ? Is it accurate to equate a person’s psychological health with their spiritual health?

It is common to use preacher as a term. This grew out of the Reformation. The challenge is that it makes one function of ministry the defining picture of our work. This is problematic no matter how important that function is.

Maybe every generation or even every individual pastor has to shape their own metaphors. I am still thinking about how that works. But I have observed that our metaphors and identities shape our work and how we feel about our work. If you see yourself as a preacher then you are going to put a premium on the time you spend preparing your sermon. If you see yourself as a counselor then you are going to spend more time counselling people about their mental and emotional challenges.

I think that every metaphor for ministry that we use and live-into for ministry needs to fulfill 2 criteria. The metaphor needs to be faithful to the tradition and the Biblical and historical definition of the work of ministry. The metaphor also needs to be fruitful for ministry. In other words it needs to help the pastor today do his or her work more effectively.

To that end I have been toying and tinkering with the image of pastor as storyteller. Many cultures have had people who officially or unofficially act as storytellers. These people not only told the history of the people, tribe, or community, but they also shaped the ethics, culture, and practices of their particular places. Storytellers today are not like those of old. Today it is the artist, the writer, the director, and the marketer that gets to tell the stories that capture and shape culture.

story road

Doesn’t this kind of storytelling also fit the ministry? Pastors have their own stories, the stories of their churches, the stories of their people, and the stories of their communities. Pastors proclaim what has been called “the greatest story ever told.”

I am planning a dozen or so blogs to explore the idea of Leading with Story. I will look at the growing field of narrative leadership. I will be connecting narrative and story with things like leadership, theology, worship, preaching, counselling, ethics, marketing and hospitality. This is what I am working on in my Doctor of Ministry program and building toward my dissertation. It is my hope that the blog series will help me get things in writing but will also give me feedback and new ideas as people interacts. Please make comments, engage on social media, and let me know your thoughts. I hope that we can help each other in our stories.

Questions for Reflection:
Question #1- What terms do you yourself and the work you do? How does that shape your work?
Question #2- Do you have a particular image that defines your work? Why is that image so powerful for you?


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