Follow the Leader: More Jesus, Less Personality Pastor

March 1, 2010 by

Every church’s brand has a face. And that face belongs to its head pastor. Yes, other components help define the brand: its logo, its graphic standards, its facility, its style of worship. But I’d argue a growing number of churches’ outward identities are inextricably wrapped up in the humanity behind the pulpit.

That’s because, unlike cars, software or fast food which we marketers regularly anthropomorphize by giving them brand attributes like a personality, a sense of humor and a voice, people (pastors) come from the factory with all those things pre-installed.

And in an era where video preaching is becoming ever more popular and makes more of an impact, the connection between church pastor and church brand can’t help but grow stronger. After all, every podcast downloaded is one more lengthy impression with the consumer (to use crass media buyer-speak).

Therein, though, lies the rub. Every pastor I’ve ever met is a person. A fallen, imperfect, inherently sinful person–just like every human who has ever lived, except for one guy about 2,000 years ago. So when a pastor leaves, falls publicly into sin or just goes on sabbatical for a few months, the church, its identity and its brand come tumbling after.

That is, unless the church and its leadership has a culture in place that’s deliberately, intentionally and passionately committed to pointing people toward Jesus and away from the guy with the wireless mic. That’s how disciples are made, how Christ is lifted up and how all our churches are made healthier and stronger.

In a recent interview at Leadership Journal, Rob Bell cautions about this very thing:

“With technology today it’s easy to spend all your energies reproducing your own voice, but there is a longer view that says, what if instead of beaming video into those ten locations, we train ten people who can go there and lead.”

I’m not arguing for or against video. Heck, I subscribe to a gaggle of vodcasts myself. What I am arguing for, though, is decentralizing leadership in an effort to avoid the worship-the-rock-star scenario that both non-Christians and Christians alike often fall into. If we do, not only will we be helping create stronger, more enduring church brands, we’ll be spreading the gospel more effectively.

Post By:

Brett Borders

Brett Borders has worked as a creative in the advertising industry for nearly 20 years—13 of them as a freelance copywriter/creative director. Brett is a longtime Pacific Northwest resident and currently attends Sisters Community Church in Sisters, Ore., where donates as much time as he can helping to brand groups like,, and others.
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18 Responses to “Follow the Leader: More Jesus, Less Personality Pastor”

  • kevin
    March 1, 2010

    Just a couple of comments, first being, lets be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Rob Bell is always good for a quote, but he himself is his own brand, a product of his own marketing…he’s the quintessential “guy with the wireless mic.” But that is not the worst thing. Not by a long shot. Fact is, we need leaders, people willing to wear the robe and stand in the pulpit. Paul did say that some were called to be pastors, yes pastors, who lead and exercise a certain amount of “zeal for the house.” A congregation needs a leader, they just do, and it is incumbent on that leader to do so from a benevolent center that points to the mission instead of the man or woman.
    And that is my second point. It is 2010. Women pastor as well as men. It’s proven. So lets do away with male centric refrences when referring to the pastoral role. To do otherwise sucks.

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  • David
    March 1, 2010

    Thought of 1 Cor. 1:12
    How much of that same language is denominational too?

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  • Chris
    March 1, 2010

    This, I think, is one of the strengths of being pastor of a church with a denominational affiliation. Even if some of the pastor’s personality rubs off on the congregation, the congregation won’t fall completely apart if the pastor leaves.
    Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule.

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  • Erik Teichmann
    March 1, 2010

    Kevin, I think that a congregation needs a leader, and I think that’s exactly what Rob is saying. Instead of having a church with ten campuses and one Pastor, beaming out sermons from a central location, let’s have ten churches with ten pastors. It’s not all about preaching the gospel here–it’s also about pastoral care. How can one shepherd tend to ten flocks from one spot?
    Oh, and I agree with your point on inclusive language–my wife graduates from seminary in May and will have the dubious honor of being called “Pastor.” :)

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  • doug
    March 1, 2010

    There is a movement of “doing church” that started in Europe 25 years ago and has spread to the states in a really under-the-radar kind of way. It really goes to the heart of what you’re talking about here.
    Check out this wikipedia article on “Missional Communities” that is much more descriptive of what’s happening and not as amorphous as that term has come to mean recently:

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  • David Holmes
    March 1, 2010

    The model of the Methodist church is to swap out the pastors after a fairly short rotation (say, a couple of years) so that the congregation must confront the fact that THEY are the church, not the pastor. Its a hard lesson to learn but it is crucial.

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  • MooBee Mama
    March 1, 2010

    Excellent post! Your Commentors, however, are killing me!
    So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
    Will we ever get past this ridiculousness? I’m surprised they didn’t also ask you to refer to God as a “she.”

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  • Bryan Nelson
    March 1, 2010

    Interesting post. Recently, our church has hired an outside firm to capture NPS scores (Net Profit Score) to help us learn how people are viewing the church — from the book “The Ultimate Question.” Interestingly enough, we took the comments people made through the phone survey and created a Wordle. Look where the pastor’s first name ranked. See link —

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    • Chris
      May 12, 2011

      Good to see “Bible” prominent, but noticed “Jim” was still much bigger than “Christ” and didn’t see “Jesus” anywhere. Not trying to be snarky, althougth I am likely succeeding unintentionally.

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  • Mike Ricks
    March 2, 2010

    While I agree with the premise of the article and for the most part Rob Bell’s quote I have one word of caution. The phrase “decentralizing leadership” is concerning. A central leader of an ministry is crucial. Having ten “equal” voices sitting around a table discussing ministry and vision could get crazy really fast.
    If you are a church thinking of adding additional campuses it would be wise to develop strong leadership for that campus as long as that leader answers to THE leader. This is not the same as a church plant. That’s a different story all together. I’m thinking along the lines of Prestonwood and it’s newest satellite campus.
    If you are a smaller church that may be struggling with too much of it’s identity being wrapped up in it’s pastor you may try adding a senior associate pastor position. While the pastor still remains “the face” a senior associate can become the man behind the scenes that keeps the train moving so to speak. If the pastor leaves you won’t be left without strong leadership that understood the workings of the church while the pastor was there thus minimizing the affects.
    Before you think I’m speaking from a pastoral perspective let me assure I’m just a minor associate pastor at a large church that has worked very hard to build a ministry that transcends it’s leadership.

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  • Kevin
    March 3, 2010

    Since I was a kid, I like to picture the scene and the drama that is present in so much of the scriptural record. Especially the gospels. I have pictured Jesus in so many different scenarios, his voice inflection, body language, the wink in his eye when he delivered the punch to a parable. To be sure, I imagine jesus with loads of personality and charisma…just picture his face on the road to Jerusalem when he answered the critic who told him to silence the crowd, “Man, if I told these people to be quiet even these rocks would start howling.” Awesome.
    I think Jesus had personality,he had a presence, an “identity” and I think it was not divorced from his mission and his message. Indeed, he was the centralized leader. Congregations need to reclaim their need for a leader, and pastors need to reclaim that call. It is hard, with ego and systems that tend to co-opt, but it is doable. The church doesn’t need more pastors who are buddies to the congregation. The church needs more pastors, and in that, more leaders. Perhaps it is a matter of expectation. I used to think I was a successful pastor if everyone thought of me as their best friend. I learned later, the hard way, that the burden of congregations friendship is too heavy when also shouldered with the burden of being the spiritual leader of a congregation. There are exceptions, and close relationships do develop naturally when doing life with people, but the role of leadership and authority is an important one not to be taklen lightly.
    Tis easier said than done to be sure, balancing that fine line between building a church around a person and building it around the Kingdom of God, but we do have a good example in Jesus.
    and mike, there are no minor associates. you do good work. the chain would not be as strong without you. well done.

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  • Steve Johnston
    March 3, 2010

    Many truths here, but as a brand guy, I must reinforce the idea that there is only ONE person who can be sure the face of the “church” remains consistent across all locations.
    If the Senior Pastor hands that off to someone, staff or lay person, that’s fine, but there cannot be ten people in ten locations setting the brand image the way they see it, and have the entitiy be successful. Too many cooks spoil the stew.
    Setting the direction is a whole different discussion. I suspect that multilocation churches really struggle with this, as well as doctrine and teaching efforts as well.
    Great discussion.

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  • Zach
    March 3, 2010

    You CAN’T decentralize your leadership (or pastorship) without the risk of kickback in the form of dissension. I’ve seen it happen too many times. Besides, who put the pastor into leadership in the first place? It was God, guys. Yes, pastors and leaders are fallible, but that’s just a testament to God’s grace, because how else would one person’s name CONNECT with so many people in order to help lead them into a better communicative life with God? People connect with either the pastor of a church, or with the leaders that pastor has entrusted to help carry out the church’s overall vision. Most people need that direct connection, whether via video or television or not, with a pastor in order to feel some kind of ownership in the church.

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  • Aaron
    March 3, 2010

    “Women pastor as well as men. It’s proven. So lets do away with male centric refrences when referring to the pastoral role. To do otherwise sucks.”
    The apostle paul writes to a young pastor and tells him “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” (1 Timothy 2:12) Who are you to say otherwise? Do you not know that all scripture is breathed out by God and is for our good? Repent Kevin.

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  • Ruben
    March 3, 2010

    This is a painful conversation for me. I agree that some pastors and churches go overboard with the celebrity thing. But I think that just goes with the territory if someone is that gifted.
    What bothers me is that the church has become so commercialized. This discussion simply reflects how our minds are entrenched in corporate mentality.

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  • Steve Rainwater
    March 5, 2010

    This problem may be less about the pastor and leadership model in the church and more about the culture. Jesus led by establishing a presence among the multitudes as well as intimate relationships behind the scenes. In his case it was OK to be a rock star because He is the one to be followed anyway. The disciples, Paul and others did the same with their leadership – always impressing the crowds while also working quietly behind the scenes. The difference today is that in our culture our behind the scenes relationships might be weaker to begin with. The relationship and all of the momentum created by the video pastor is just another type of our television and Internet lives. But we can’t discount the fact that it is a legitimate relationship.
    To the quote from Rob Bell – there is a sense in which the ten and the video pastor may accomplish the same thing. There are great benefits to decentralized leadership. But I think given our culture, it’s not simple and requires greater pro-activity than maybe any time in history.

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  • Fred
    March 15, 2010

    Where did it say that the pastor was this big leader? I don’t see that in my new testament. Does leadership mean leading us closer to God or does it mean being a CEO who decides to spend the church tithes on flights, hotel rooms and gourmet meals and hires his entire family, gives them a big salary and a big title?

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  • Dave Lindrooth
    August 23, 2010

    It takes time for a community to develop confidence in a leader. That would mean that a pastor can not operate optimally until that confidence develops (one study of the Church of England suggests that it takes 5-7 years before confidence really develops). Repeated pastoral changes can, therefore, be devastating to a church’s progress in the long term.

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