Pastoral Leadership Challenges

Dr. Hugh Ballou has done some great work in his transformational leadership seminars. Last year Dr. Ballou interviewed me on church leadership issues. Here is a part of that interview:

Ballou: As you work with the churches in your conference what perspective can you give our readers leading in many types of churches about this area of foundations?

Willimon: An important foundation for a leader in the church is a sense of being called to do it. We pastors must be convinced that God really wants us to do what we do. In a broad sense we feel that we are here because I have been sent here. Methodists practice what we call a “sent ministry,” that is that you can’t be hired to do it you have to be sent to do ministry. This is a core United Methodist belief. At key moments that becomes very important to a pastoral leader to believe that God is in this and that I am here because God means for it to be this way.

Ballou: I work also with leadership in the business work that have their own idea of how it should be. In the context of church leadership, we are implementing God’s vision with a sense of calling. It this your sense?

Willimon: Yes, that’s a good statement, just what I’d expect of a Presbyterian! Whatever work a Christian does is supposed to be vocational. I think we are talking of a kind of transcendent sense of why we’re here. I’m not here simply managing the moment, but I’m here from some larger panorama that is being worked out through my little faithfulness right here.

Ballou: As you know I served the church for over 40 years. You knew me when I served a church in North Alabama. One of the things I have observed is that on a Myers-Briggs scale, both pastors and musicians have a dominant profile of introvert. How does this effect leadership?

Willimon: I remember reading where one observes that tendency toward introversion among clergy. The first thing is – acknowledge it and also acknowledge it as a real challenge. I remember reading that actors tend to be introverts. Which is counter intuitive – people on stage projecting, playing a role, communicating, which says to me that this is one thing that attracted them to the role of acting. They like cultivating and developing a kind of “unnatural” aspect of their personalities. I would say, it’s hard for me, (maybe it’s because I’m an extrovert, although I don’t remember how I score on the Myers-Briggs) but I do think that the parish ministry is essentially an extroverted activity. You’re in a politically charged situation. You’re a public leader. You’re up on view. You’ve got to find a way to work that. I am thinking of some pastors who are very shy, but they get over that shyness when they are leading their church or they work their shyness in a very positive way.

I got into some difficulty with some people in my book, Pastor, where I just said that I thought it was problematic if one was introverted and a pastor because so much of a pastor’s work is “political,” that is, it’s very public. Many of my seminarians, confirming what you said, were introverted people. They like to think about ideas, they like to think about God, and they like to be alone with a book, or in meditation. That’s great, except, at some point, they have to be comfortable with standing up in front of a group and saying, “Hey gang, I’ve got a vision of this, let’s go with it. Who wants to go with me? What can I do to talk you in to this?” It’s helpful to acknowledge shyness or introversion and then to ask God to work with it.

For more information on the seminars, on-line coaching, and books by Hugh Ballou, visit

Will Willimon

3 thoughts on “Pastoral Leadership Challenges

  1. To understand how introverts can succeed in the public-ness of ministry, consider what you said about actors. As an introvert I have a well developed public persona. I put it on for Sunday mornings and for other people-centric events. Only the people who know me well will even grasp that I'm an introvert. While from my perspective I'm "acting," that acting also expresses a real part of who I am.Adam McHugh has a recent helpful book on this also.


  2. Hi Dr. Willimon,I really appreciate this post. I'm an introverted pastor myself, and it has taken me years to find the personal rhythms that enable me both to find the solitude I need and to be fully present to people when I'm with them. I actually wrote a book called "Introverts in the Church" about this topic, which includes 2 chapters on introverts in pastoral leadership. I've read that around 40% of pastors are introverts, and thus I wish this discussion was more common. Would love to connect with you and discuss the topic.


  3. Alas…I am a very extroverted future pastor. I'm currently on a year's internship with an extroverted pastor. Then I'll return to the Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg, PA to complete my classroom education. My supervisor has said he thinks it's easier in 1 respect for introverts because they don't have the need to talk as much as we extroverts do. Listening, which I admit is a challenge, comes more naturally. Thanks for posting this interview.


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