When I first became a head of school, I had no idea what a head did. After all, I had been a practicing attorney for ten years, and I had only begun working at Grace a year previously as the development director before God called me to this particular job. It was pretty intimidating to be put in charge of 900 kids and their teachers as a 36-year-old who had no idea what he was doing. But, the part of the job I really didn’t understand, the part that I probably would have run for the hills screaming, never to be heard from again had I known was coming, was the pastoral role.
You may not think of a head of school as a pastor, but in a Christian school, a head certainly plays a pastoral role. I found this out as I lived life among you: praying, advocating to the Lord on behalf of our kids and teachers, counseling, even marrying and memorializing people. As I talked to other heads of school, it turned out none were aware this was a part of the job when they began, but all discovered later how critical it was to the success of their schools. I became so fascinated by it that I decided to write my dissertation for my PhD program on the topic. What I learned applies to heads of school, but it actually applies to all of you, as well. You see, in a very real way, you, too, are pastors.
A pastor is a shepherd. And, a shepherd is a very specific type of leader, a Christian leader, a servant leader, one charged by God for the teaching, equipping, and caring of others. Leading is about influence, and if you find yourself influencing others, you are a leader. This means if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ and you own or run a business, lead a team or group, or have children, you are a pastor, of a sort, charged by God with the care of people. You may not lead a church or congregation, but you pastor people. And, in my study I discovered some basic things good pastors do to lead ably the people with whom God has entrusted them.
Pastoring begins with a Kingdom of God mindset, how one measures one’s mission. If you own or run a business or team, there’s a temptation to focus on profit and numerical growth first, and to view people as a resource or asset employed to further that growth. If you’re a parent, this translates to success as measured in economic terms (like, “my primary goal is to get them a good education, so that they can get into a good college, so they can get a good job, so they can make good money, so they can….what? Be happy? Give you something to talk about at cocktail parties with your friends? The fact that there’s not a great ending to this line of thought shows its vacuity).
A Kingdom mindset, whether manifested in leading companies, groups, teams, or kids, begins with glorifying God and promoting human flourishing. As a head of school, the board hires me to make enrollment and budgeting important, but only as a component of teaching Jesus, advancing the gospel, and flourishing kids and families. Your work is a ministry, as is your family. The calculus is the same. Profit and numerical growth are important metrics, but if God is not glorified by how you lead and care for your people, representing integrity and grace, mercy, loyalty, and honor, and if your people aren’t flourishing under your leadership, your pastoral care, you are failing, no matter what your P & L statement says or how many trophies your kids win. A pastor has different metrics for success than the world around him or her, and those metrics begin and end with listening to what God says and obeying Him.
Here are some things good pastors do. First, pastors proclaim. They proclaim God’s Word and truth to their people. They tie His truth to their work, and they help their people contextualize that truth to the world around them. At Grace, this means speaking to our kids and teachers, writing this blog, and bringing God’s Word to events and ceremonies like orientations and graduations. But, it also means working with the board and leadership team to develop the mission and values of the school, talking about those values frequently, making all decisions according to the values, and, most importantly, living out the values incarnationally in front of our teachers, students, and families. In doing all these things, heads of schools build out strong, healthy cultures that promote the flourishing of the school community.
Owners and leaders of businesses and teams do the same types of things for their business, and parents do likewise for their families. In a business or team, it looks like creating compelling values for the group and making decisions according to those values, living them out in everything the group does. The leader is the chief symbol of the group, and almost everyone will eventually do what they see the pastor or leader do, regardless of what he or she says. In families, it means bringing God’s Word to all of life, to every struggle kids have or every victory they experience, and living that truth out loud for our children.
Next, pastors care. They pray for their people, advocating to God on their behalf, and love them well. They provide protection, counseling and encouragement. Values mean nothing to people if they are not lived out by people who genuinely care for them (and people, especially kids, know when they’re being loved and when they’re being manipulated). Whether directly or through faculty and staff, the head of school’s job is to ensure that kids feel loved and encouraged, praying over them and ensuring they have access to followers of Jesus who will mentor and care for them. Teachers and administrators cannot provide what they don’t feel or have, and the only way they can love the kids under their care is if they themselves are loved; therefore, heads have to make sure teachers are loved and cared for, as well. School has to be a great place to work.
The analogies are obvious for teams and families. If employees are truly cared for, equipped and allowed to master their work and flourish within it, trained and given the autonomy and expectation to care well for customers and other with whom they come into contact, these factors create strong and healthy cultures in which employees flourish and where they love to work. Likewise, where love, care and prayer exist within families, kids are secure, healthy, and appropriately self-sufficient. Kids are also more likely to follow Jesus themselves, because they see their parents living out Christ’s love.
Finally, pastors equip. They recognize it is their job to give their people the skills and tools necessary to fulfill God’s callings on their lives well. As a head of school, it’s my job (and our principals’) as a pastor to equip teachers spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, so that they can provide for their students. Whether we’re team leaders or parents, we recognize that equipping other people to be successful is a critical part of our pastoral role. What may be less obvious is that equipping isn’t only about giving our people the technical skills they need to do their work. Because God has created our people as holistic beings, they need to be equipped emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, as well as physically. It’s this understanding and willingness to equip holistically that distinguishes bosses from pastors.
When our biblically-based values are clearly articulated, reinforced regularly, and lived out faithfully; when those values are reinforced in a culture of genuine love and care; and, when people are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually equipped to do their work, it creates a culture where people are secure, and where they thrive and flourish. Because they are secure, they feel free to innovate, to take appropriate risks, to collaborate, and to do those things that make schools, businesses, teams, and families healthy and successful.
One of the amazing things I learned about pastoring people well is that these concepts are common-grace insight, meaning God’s revelation of truth that certainly comes from His Word, but is also self-evident even to those who might not be believer, but who are simply paying attention to the world around them. The same concepts are the ideas (not called “pastoring,” of course), that famous CEOs like Herb Kelleher at Southwest Airlines and Tony Hsieh at Zappos implemented to build ridiculously-successful organizations where people loved to work. All truth is God’s truth, and the reality is that pastoring people well causes them to flourish, honors God, and brings the kind of success we’re really seeking: the advancement of God’s Kingdom and disciples made throughout the earth, in this generation and the next.