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Compassionate Leadership

Compassionate Leadership for Pastors

by Paul Cedar


Editor’s Note:  Pastors are called to engage a wide range of spiritual gifts in their ministry.  Or, if they lack the gifts, they must at least develop the skills.  The skill of leadership is a high expectation upon you as a pastor as you guide your church.  The sometimes messy business of leadership is an opportunity to bless those you lead—or to do them and yourself great harm.  Dr. Paul Cedar, one of the great Christian leaders of our time, served as pastor of Lake Avenue Congregational Churchin Pasadena, CA, as national President of the Evangelical Free Church, and as international Chairman of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.  He now serves as President and CEO of the Mission America Coalition.  In this article, Dr. Cedar shares a gentle and important reminder of what it means to lead like Jesus led, as a compassionate leader.  If you’d like to read more on this important topic, you may obtain a copy of Ted Engstrom and Paul Cedar’s book Compassionate Leadership directly from the publisher.


     Jesus had a radical leadership style, a style that was marked by compassion.  This is in stark contrast to the hard-driven, results-oriented corporate executive style often set before us as an example.  For Jesus, leadership was not about power, management and organization, but about generosity, believing in people, meeting needs, encouraging others, and getting excited about good things that happen to others.  He is our pastoral model for compassionate service…and compassionate leadership.

     Through many years in varied situations and during complex leadership challenges, Dr. Ted Engstrom and I have come back to the simplicity that is in Jesus’ leadership style.  My prayer is that you may avert the pitfalls of a worldly leadership style by following the model of our Lord.  I’ve become convinced that along this path you will find greater ministry success and eternal impact—as you lead the flock entrusted to you.  Here, I’d like to share briefly the core attributes of Jesus’ compassionate leadership style as they apply to pastors:


The Compassionate Pastor leads…like a Shepherd

     The entire concept of serving as a leader in Christ’s Kingdom relates to people more than tasks.  Compassionate leaders are people-oriented.  In terms of priority, people trump tasks and goals.  Whatever the ministry might be to which God has entrusted us, we are directed to shepherd the people whom God is calling us to lead.

     However pastors serve in leadership roles, it is always appropriate to be a shepherd leader—like Jesus.  Gentle.  Humble.  Servant-oriented.  At the same time, we must often remind ourselves that believers who are following our leadership belong to God’s flock and not our own.  We are simply the under-shepherds or “under-leaders” of Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd.  In an honest examination of our own leadership style, we may ask, “Is my leadership marked by a highest priority on people?”  In Christ-filled leadership, we will discover people are always our priority.


The Compassionate Pastor leads…from a motive of love

     God is not as concerned with what we do as with why we do it.  Love, it is clear, needs to be the basic motive for everything a Christian does, particularly in serving and leading others.  In leadership, the motive of love is key.

     We should not lead out of a sense of obligation, or because we feel trapped, or because we want something for ourselves.  Love is oriented toward the needs of others.  God invites us to serve willingly from a joyful heart filled with love and devotion to Him, and to those we are serving.  It’s helpful to ask ourselves with a fresh examination, “Is love—for God and for people—the preeminent motive of my daily service to my church?”  Christ’s compassion in us supplies the love we need in our leadership.


The Compassionate Pastor leads…and serves eagerly

     Not many people are eager to be servants, and yet that is just what the Scriptures encourage us to be.  It is more natural for people to volunteer to be leaders for personal gain.  A truly compassionate servant leader runs from every temptation to lead for personal gain–whether it’s for money, power or prestige–and instead leads from simple eagerness to serve and bless others.  A liberating question points us in the direction of Christ:  “Am I leading with an eagerness to bless others?”  Jesus stands ready to fill us with the eagerness to bless those under our care.  And when we serve with eagerness, we find our work far more fulfilling.


The Compassionate Pastor leads…by example

     Most leaders tend to lead by asserting their authority—a fact that Jesus pointed out to His disciples.  The Gentiles, He said, “lord it over them” and “exercise authority over them.”  How do we tend to “lord it over” others?  We are tempted to throw our weight around, to become dictators, to make the plans and decisions and expect everyone else to follow.  We do well to ask ourselves often:  “Is the power of my leadership driven more by the authority of my position, or by the example I set?”  If it’s the latter, we will discover that people are far more willing to follow us.  The Holy Spirit fills us with the fruit of the Spirit and endows us with the gifts of the Spirit—that we might be an example to the people we lead.

     These are a few examples of Jesus’ compassionate leadership style as I’ve discovered through many years of leadership experience.  I am convinced that God’s heart of compassion is the key to effectively leading your church.  My prayer is that God will use this brief reminder to breathe fresh wind into your own leadership as a compassionate pastor.