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Leadership in the Local Church: Discerning Practical Value and Developing Theological Foundations


How should we lead the church?

In this Pneuma Review conversation, Pastor-scholar Tony Richie discusses what having good leadership means for a local church



“We’re a good church, but we need a good leader!” The preceding sentence expressed the sentiment of the good people of the John Sevier Church of God in Knoxville, Tennessee, during our interview for the pastorate (December 1997). These words also resonated with my own experience a few years prior when had I entered the Doctor of Ministry program at Asbury Theological Seminary. My Bachelor of Arts degree had been in Philosophy-Religion, with a minor in Biblical Languages, and I had earned a Master of Divinity degree from the premier seminary of my denomination. As I surveyed the various emphases offered by Asbury, I realized that my training in theology, language, hermeneutics, homiletics, and counseling had not practically prepared me specifically for the role of pastoral leadership; nevertheless, as a pastor I was consistently called upon to function not only as a preacher or a counselor but as the leader of my congregation. Accordingly, contrary to my previous approach to education and yet with a deep sense of divine direction, I chose the leadership track for my studies at Asbury.

Tony Richie chairing a panel discussing ecumenism at the 2014 convention of the Society for Pentecostal Studies.

My experiences at John Sevier and Asbury have been echoed in my overall pastoral experience. I have been in the ministry for nearly thirty years, more than twenty-seven of which have been spent serving as a pastor. I have enjoyed relatively successful ministry in each pastorate, yet I have not infrequently felt an absence of confidence concerning my leadership duties and abilities. Slowly, I have come to suspect that the missing sense of certainty may be due, at least in part, to a failure to understand and apply a specific, sound theology of leadership for the pastoral setting, especially in my own ministry context as a Pentecostal Christian and churchman.1

Looking at the theological foundations for an energetic theology of pastoral leadership ministry.

Therefore, the subsequent discussion will look first at understanding the practical value of leadership for effective pastoral ministry in the local church. Then, it will look at the theological foundations for an energetic theology of pastoral leadership ministry. Throughout, although drawing on an array of resources and assuming a variety of relevant applications, the emphasis is on a distinctly Pentecostal approach to pastoral leadership in the local church setting.


Discerning Practical Value

The almost incomparable worth of morally and practically competent leadership and the tragedy of evil or inept leadership is a consistent and recurring theme in Scripture. Further, an important element of the leadership challenge includes carefully defining leadership in local church settings.

Incomparable Worth of Competent Leadership

Throughout the biblical record the issue of leadership is noticeably prominent. Very early on the problem of corrupt leadership is latent. Hartley notes that Nimrod was the first empire builder.2 An enigma to scholars, he appears to have been regarded in almost godlike terms.3 He was apparently a powerful leader. Nimrod’s rule was centered in the region of Shinar (Gen. 10:8-12). The account of the height of human arrogance and divine displeasure over the tower of Babel is set in Shinar, later known as Babylon (11:1-9). That this “famous city symbolizes commerce, human achievement, and the pursuit of pleasure” appears clear.4 The attitude of heaven toward haughty human leadership is underscored in the divine dispersion and division of the human race. Throughout the Scriptures Babylon is often encoded as the enemy of God and of God’s people (e.g., Rev. 17-18).

In complete contrast to the pride and pomp of Nimrod and Babylon stands the piety of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. A comparison of the patriarchal narrative of Scripture with ancient historical evidence strongly suggests the patriarchs lived in a dimorphic society consisting of pastoral nomads and village dwellers, probably early in the second millennium BC. The family units of the patriarchs were basically “autonomous tribal chiefdoms”.5 In the culture of the ancient Near East, “the patriarchs themselves were chiefs of seminomadic clans”.6 The patriarchs exercised definite leadership influence within the realm of their usually somewhat large family unit and its accompanying assortment of servants, friends, visitors, and, to some extent, neighboring peoples. For instance, Joseph’s timely leadership position and ability is of key import to Israel’s physical and national survival and divine destiny as the people of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 37, 39-50).

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Category: Fall 2010, Ministry

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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