The Pastor as a Leader: The Catalytic Leadership Model

By Mark Crocco

One of the most alarming, dangerous, and distressing trends in the church of Jesus Christ in this hour is the ever-increasing lack of biblical discernment that is currently permeating our churches. The words of Paul to his young protégé Timothy could not be more relevant to pastors than they are in this hour, “Preach the Word! For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2Tim. 4:2-4). Biblical discernment is the ability to distinguish between the truth and error. On an intellectual level, this gives us the ability to make a distinction between God’s truth and doctrinal error. On a moral level, this gives us the ability to choose between what is morally right or wrong.

In many Christian circles, leadership has become a hot topic. As pastors, it is critical that we exercise biblical discernment when analyzing secular leadership models, especially before adopting them into our own lives and introducing them into our churches. How we think about, and practice leadership significantly impacts the quality of our relationships and ministries. Paul cautioned the Elders at Ephesus to be discerning about how they were leading both themselves, and their people in Acts. 20:28, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.” Biblical leadership requires self-management and biblical discernment. A biblical model of Christian leadership must be grounded in Scripture, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered, and character-based. The ultimate goal of Christian leadership is the glory and exaltation of God in all that we plan, decide, and do (Isa. 42:8; 43: 6-7; Matt. 5:16; 1Cor. 10:31).  God is calling us to think biblically in all areas of life, and most especially in the area of Christian leadership.

In this article, I would like to propose a leadership model that is rooted in Scripture and that is consistent with a biblical philosophy of pastoral ministry. I have spent many years investing my life in developing leadership in organizations, institutions, and churches. The leadership model that is presented in this article has proven to be effective in both ministry and organizational settings. I am a strong and passionate advocate of the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of the Word of God. I believe the Scriptures are sufficient to provide us with a biblical framework to construct a biblical model of leadership (2Tim. 3:16-17; 2Pet. 1:3). The biblical leadership model that is presented in this article is the Catalytic Leadership Model. In the world of chemistry, a “catalyst” is a substance that accelerates the speed and growth of a chemical reaction. In the world of ministry, a pastor is to be a “catalyst” that accelerates the growth of others into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29; 2Cor. 3:18; Col. 1:28-29; Eph. 4:11-16). The Catalytic Leadership Model is the combined union, intersection, and convergence of servant leadership, transformational leadership, and situational leadership. This model is the merging of three equally important approaches to leadership. When they are skillfully combined, they will create growth environments for leaders and their people. This model is designed to transform lives, ministries, and organizations.

The Catalytic Leadership Model 

Servant Leadership
Transformational          Situational

The personal character, and integrity of a leader, is the foundation, and starting point, of any discussion of biblical leadership. Throughout the pastoral epistles, the Scriptures are abundantly clear that it is the moral character, godly lifestyle, and personal integrity of a leader that qualifies an individual to lead in the church of Jesus Christ (1Tim. 3:1-13; 4:7-8; 16; 6:11-14; 2Tim. 1:12-13; 2:1-6; 2:20-25; Titus 1:5-9; 2:11-15). In light of the fact that the transformation of our lives into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ is God’s purpose for every Christian (Rom. 8:29, 2Cor. 3:18), those who provide Christian leadership to others must clearly model, exemplify, and embody the character of Christ in their own lives. In the world of leadership, the principle of leading by example never becomes irrelevant (1Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 4:9). The example people need from their pastors is a Christ-like example. Any proposed leadership model, or theory, that is considered biblical by those in pastoral leadership must include a strong emphasis upon the supernatural nature of the Christian life, and ultimately, the supernatural nature of Christian leadership. When Our Lord Jesus Christ declared, “Without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5), among many other things, He was referring to providing leadership for others.

In many secular leadership models, the emphasis on leadership development is focused upon external human factors like a leader’s charisma, knowledge, and experience. I would not deny that these factors can contribute to leadership effectiveness. But, in sharp contrast to this emphasis, Christian leaders are called to lead out of their poverty of spirit and humility (Matt. 5:3; 1Pet. 5:6), spiritual brokenness (Psalm 51:17), and the divine power that is released in human weakness, rather than in human strength (2Cor. 4:10; 12:9-10). The calling of Christian leadership is a supernatural calling, where, in light of our union and partnership with Jesus Christ in ministry, Christ is able to live His resurrected life in and through us (Gal. 2:20; Phil. 4:13). As pastors, we are to be living and ministering, in and through, the supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16), while continually yielding our lives to the control of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). This divine empowerment, and influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, will lead us to exhibit “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23) in our attitudes, behaviors, and relationships. From a biblical perspective, Christian leadership, properly understood, is primarily a divine, rather than simply a human endeavor.

Servant Leadership

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the single most influential leader in history. Christ alone is the ultimate model of a leader for every pastor. He is the supreme servant leader. The Catalytic Leadership Model rests upon the foundation of servant leadership. As servant leaders, one of our highest priorities in ministry is to create relational environments for others. Leadership, and ministry, are primarily about relationships. The apostle Paul stressed the relationally driven nature of leadership, and ministry, as he poured his life out to the Thessalonians, “Having thus a fond affection for you, we were pleased to impart to you not only the gospel but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1Thess. 2:8). As a servant leader, Paul acknowledged that ministry involved investing his life in others relationally, as he faithfully proclaimed the gospel and biblical truth to those who were the recipients of his ministry. This is why Paul, and every pastor, must come to the same conclusion Paul did about his life and ministry, “Without love, I am nothing, and without love, I accomplish nothing” (1Cor. 13:1-3). As servant leaders, we must practice and model the New Testament one another passages in our relationships with others while creating a variety of opportunities for our people to practice them in their relationships with each other (Rom. 12:10; 16; 14:19; 15:5; Gal. 5:13; 6:2; Eph. 4:2; 32; Phil. 2:3; Col. 3:13; 1Thess. 4:18; 5:11; Heb. 10:24-25; Jam. 5:16; 1Pet. 4:9). 

In Matthew 20, the disciples were equating leadership with self-interest, self-advancement, and self-exaltation, embracing the leadership models and paradigms of the rulers of their day. In response, Christ passionately called them to Himself and said, “You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28). The purpose and mission of Christ is defined in the words “to serve and to give” in verse 28. As Christ-like pastors, we are called to lead our people with the mentality of Christ, who humbled Himself, and self-sacrificially gave His life on our behalf upon the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). Servant leaders exist to serve their people, rather than positioning themselves to be served by their people.

In a period of church history where pastoral leadership models mirror the corporate role of a CEO, servant leaders acknowledge that their highest calling is to faithfully and self-sacrificially serve, love, and invest in their people. The leadership style of Christ was the epitome of humility. He has taught us that we are called to wash the feet of those we serve (John 13:1-17). This is done by disciplining ourselves to value others above self (Phil. 2:3) while placing their needs, and agendas, before our own. As radical, counter-intuitive, and counter-cultural servant leadership is in our world, it is the single most compelling leadership model that gains leaders the trust, credibility, and loyalty they need to lead others effectively. A Christ-like servant leader uses their position, power, and authority to serve others in a spirit of humility, rather than for their own advancement, reputation, or glory. This is the heart of servant leadership and the foundation of the Catalytic Leadership Model.

Transformational Leadership

The second major component of the Catalytic Leadership Model is transformational leadership. A transformational leader is a leader who experiences continual change in their own life while viewing their role as a catalyst of change in the lives of others. All leaders must strive to be change agents in the lives of their people, as they focus on the growth and development of their people. This necessitates creating a learning environment in every ministry context. As transformational leaders, pastors are to create learning environments where the task of making disciples prioritizes “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). In every ministry context, both pastors, and their people, must continually devote themselves to strong biblical teaching, loving relationships, the centrality of Jesus Christ, and prayer (Acts 2:42).

The divine authority we are given to speak biblical truth is sourced in the reality that all Scripture is “God-breathed” (2Tim. 3:16) and originates in God Himself, rather than in man, or in ourselves. Our calling as pastors is to “accurately handle” the Word of truth (2Tim. 2:15), exposing our people to all facets of biblical truth in a balanced manner (Acts 20:27), faithfully proclaiming God’s truth at all times (2Tim. 4:2). The privilege we have been given to “shepherd the flock of God” (1Pet. 5:2) must be driven with the passionate conviction that the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to “save” (1Pet. 1:23), “sanctify” (Jn. 17:17), “nourish” (1Pet. 2:2; Heb. 5:14), “cleanse” (Eph. 5:25-26), “expose” (Heb. 4:13), “teach and bring hope” (Rom. 15:4), “liberate” (Jam. 1:23-25), “promote moral purity” (Psalm 119: 9-16), “revive” (Psalm 119:25; 37; 40), “comfort” (Psalm 119:49-52), and “transform our lives into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ” (2Cor. 3:18).

In recent decades, many churches have relegated the Word of God to a subordinate role in the church of Jesus Christ. The depreciation of biblical preaching, and in particular, expository preaching, has led to a man-centered rather than a God-centered approach to preaching. The result has been the tragic loss of a sense of God’s sovereign glory, majesty, and holiness in both His church and in this world. God’s people are commanded to “continually grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2Pet. 3:18). This is only possible when the Word of God is given the highest priority in the leadership we provide for others. In the spirit of the apostle Paul, those who provide Christian leadership in the church must once again “Determine to know nothing, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1Cor. 2:2), while proclaiming that “Jesus Christ alone is to have first place in everything” (Col. 1:18).

The Catalytic Leadership Model affirms that the single most powerful work of God on this planet is the saving of sinful human beings from their sin, and subsequently, transforming their lives into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. In light of 2Corinthains 3:18, the Word of God is the “means” of Christ-like transformation, and the Spirit of God is the “agent” of Christ-like transformation. We must conclude that Christ-like transformation to the glory of God is the ultimate goal of a biblical model of Christian leadership. When a ministry maintains a strong balance between biblical truth and loving relationships, we can be certain that lives will be transformed. This is the goal and purpose of the Catalytic Leadership Model.

Situational Leadership

The third and final component in the Catalytic Leadership Model is Situational Leadership. Situational Leadership is an approach to leadership that asserts that there is no one best leadership style that applies to all people in every situation. Effective leaders must learn the art of choosing the correct leadership style that is “in sync” with the performance readiness (skill and will) that exists in the lives of their people in relation to a specific task. The Situational Leadership Model is a leadership model that was created by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard in the 1960s. It is one of the most helpful approaches to leadership I have ever been exposed to, and it continues to endure the test of time, unlike many other leadership theories.

As situational leaders, pastors are to create synergistic environments where the sum of God’s people collectively is greater than any individual part. The most synergistic discussion of teamwork ever penned is found in 1Corinthians 12:12-31. In exactly the same way that “one” human body is made up of “many” individual parts, so the body of Christ is “one,” although it is made up of many individual parts. In this passage, Paul teaches us that the people of God are in a position to accomplish God’s purposes together in this world, as they relate to one another interdependently rather than independently. Every discussion of spiritual gifts throughout the New Testament highlights the principle that the sum of our parts collectively will always be greater than any individual part. God’s plan in distributing spiritual gifts was to make certain that none of us possessed all of the gifts so that we would all be mutually dependent upon one another within the body of Christ. This creates an interdependence that makes ministry happen as we exercise our gifts in ministry to one another (1Cor. 12-14; Rom. 12: 4-8; Eph. 4:11-16; 1Pet. 3:10-11).

As situational leaders, pastors must become students of their people. Ministering to our people requires developing the ability to discern the appropriate leadership style that a particular individual might need. Many of God’s people function for years within the body of Christ, without ever clearly identifying their gifts. Pastors, and their leadership teams, must work together to help their people identify their areas of giftedness and then deploy their people to accomplish God’s purposes together in ministry. God’s design for our role as pastors is that we would “equip and prepare God’s people for works of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). The role of pastoral ministry, when understood from a biblical perspective, is not about pastors doing the work of the ministry. God’s design for pastors is to create a disciple-making environment, where pastors, along with their leaders, are equipping God’s people to do ministry as they are becoming fully mature disciples of Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:11-12). Pastors should be viewed more accurately as ministry equippers rather than as ministers. When pastors are functioning as situational leaders who are promoting relational synergy within the body of Christ, this type of strategic leadership will produce relational unity within the body of Christ (v.13), intimacy with Christ (v.13), Christ-like transformation (v.14), doctrinal stability (v.14), and submission to the Sovereign Headship and Lordship of Christ (v. 15-16). Mobilizing God’s people to become disciples of Christ, who make disciples of Christ, is the practical outcome of the Catalytic Leadership Model.


The call of pastoral ministry is a calling to provide biblical leadership to the body of Christ. It is an undeniable reality that the quality of life in our churches is impacted more by the quality of leadership in our churches than by any other single factor. The Catalytic Leadership Model is a combination of servant leadership, transformational leadership, and situational leadership. This model, when understood within a biblical framework, will lead to the creation of relational, learning, and synergistic environments that are conducive to spiritual growth and transformation. Any leadership model that a pastor chooses to apply to their ministry must be grounded in Scripture, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered, character-based, and ultimately driven to bring glory to God. It is my prayer that those who have given their lives to pastoral ministry might find the Catalytic Leadership Model that has been presented in this article helpful in their efforts to lead others biblically and effectively to God’s glory.