lead the process not the people

R. Paul Stevens and Phil Collins (no, not the pop singer) wrote a cool little leadership book for pastor about 15 years ago called The Equipping Pastor.  Here’s a great quote from this ahead of it’s time resource:

Lead the Process Not the People – The way in which the equipper engages the culture, makes decisions, and makes changes is more important than the specific achievements accomplished.  Leading the process involves envisioning, defining one’s own convictions, and dreams.  Changes must be made systematically and not merely organizationally.  In one sense this is leading the people, but the ultimate leader of the people is Christ.  Our job as equipping leaders is to facilitate the process of Head-body connection and help people find their source in Christ, not in the official leadership of the church.”

-Stevens, R. Paul and Phil Collins, The Equipping Pastor: A Systems Approach to Congregational Leadership (Alban Institute, 1993), 128.  To order this book: The Equipping Pastor: A Systems Approach to Congregational Leadership<img src="http://www.assoc-amazon.ca/e/ir?t=jesusfollow05-20&l=as2&o=15&a=1566991080&quot; width="1"


  1. Thanks Andrew. I’ll have to post some more material on this topic. Strategy is so crucial to serving God and his mission for us. Blessings my friend! Thanks for engaging this topic so well. You have brought up some great observations that will help shape my thoughts.

  2. I know, Ken. I have witnessed your style of leadership and have complete faith in your style and faithfulness to God’s leading. I am simply bringing these points up as a matter of personal dislike of the theory for its possible pitfalls. I do not think that you are going to fall into this trap yourself, but I do think that you think a lot and I do not want you to obsess over the possible theories of process development instead of living the life you are called to. Thanks for being who you are called to be thus far in Calgary. Please continue as you are called.

  3. Ahhh… Okay… maybe I’m getting you a bit better now. I think the last thing I have in mind is setting up programs or committees. I didn’t quote this book to suggest those things. I think you know this from my leadership style in Calgary. The process I use is actually an attempt to equip and release people… I am a part of actually ZERO committees and besides the weekly hub gatherings have very little programming. I do organize lunch get togethers and an occassional retreat or camping trip. But everything else that happens organizationally is actually derived from the initiative of others within our community. Girls Nights, Young Marrieds, etc, etc are all set up by people other than myself. This creates some appearance of disorganization, but it is actually an awesome Eph 4:11 sort of process that champions people through networking and hopefully inspiration as people use their passions and gifts to serve God. This is my aim at least.

  4. I would agree. Even in Jesus’ life we see that dedication to the right process, the Father’s will and his ultimate death on the cross, led to active involvement in the lives of those around him. I think the problem is not that people are not committed to the right action, the disciples, after all, had to be committed to the way of Jesus in order for the church to begin growing after his resurrection, but I feel that we can be too focused on the ‘rightness’ of the action, or worse the ‘wrongness’ of the other’s action, and lose sight of the goal. Reading Paul points to a goal, ever focused on heaven, but not so much a process as a striving for a goal like running a race not organizing the committees and meetings, etc. I think that is my greater problem.

  5. Some of the trouble with my post, Andrew, is that I quoted only a very small portion of a larger book. I think you are identifying that tension. It’s not really fair for me to be making a big statement from one small quote.
    Neither am I an expert on leadership or management issues. It’s just so curious to me that new trends in systems structures are emphasizing a priority on the process of development or movement of an organization. Michael Fullan’s book was really intersting in this regard (see my readings page) as have been several others.
    Biblically, I’m still working this out. I think that I could probably come up with my own preferred style and then read that back into the text. Like you, I know this isn’t fair or right to do. Jesus cared for people deeply… but he also never let people get in the way of the process (“Get behind me Satan!” et al.)
    Process isn’t an evil word. It doesn’t have to be mechanistic… but can be more organic. In no way am I implying that people don’t matter or that they are a means to an end. Actually, I’m trying to imply that the true goals and needs of people are better addressed if leaders are dedicated to the right process of accomplishing those ends.

  6. I have a few issues with church leadership which is process based. The first one is that I don’t really understand it. If one is to focus on the process of leadership, then, from what I see, theories on proper process are so diverse, how does one even choose one?
    Secondly, I am afraid I can’t see how Jesus’ life and ministry reflects a process oriented ministry. Perhaps it is, but, again, as in the first point, I am not sure I understand process, so I might be missing something. If the process is one of practice what you preach and engage your followers in your mission, then perhaps it is, but I don’t think that the process was his focus. I will, however, grant that he needed to instill his goals and desires in his followers for when he left them, physically, and in that way there must be some type of process involved there.
    Finally, my concern is that the focus on the process creates process. Certainly there is a process evident in any activity which involves a goal, so moving towards Christ-likeness (my assumed goal of Christian living) is goal-oriented, therefore an activity which involves a process. It might be effective to discuss organize and update the process when it falls apart, however, the focus of the ministry should be on Christ and his leading, teaching and developing through the Holy Spirit.
    I am willing to admit a lack of understanding in this area, but it seems to me that process orientation is an intellectual playground, but not necessarily a practical ministry focus tool.
    Sorry if it sounds harsh, but my fears are no assuaged yet about the discussion thus far.

  7. Thanks so much Shawn. This is a very helpful and insightful comment. Your East Africa experience speaks volumes too. Donavan’s book is one of the best I’ve ever read. Amazing account of God at work. I reviewed it in my “readings” page.

  8. This looks sort of like Vincent Donovan’s “Christianity Rediscovered,” which was written to critique the process of evangelism in East Africa. His argument is that a robust process would create sustainable indigenous worshiping communities, which East Africa did not have after 100 years of missionary work. That might be one place to look in terms of navigating the tensions implied in the “focus on the process loses the people” concerns.
    In a different domain, but one where I am much more familiar, Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and “The Innovator’s Solution” are very good, systematic looks at how companies can develop innovation strategies that are robust to changing industry trends and unforeseen competitors. His argument is that companies survive when their innovation process (in your case the methods of Head-body connection) allows them to operate across a range of product types rather than being fixed on one (in your case this might be the range of leadership styles and generational / denominational norms).
    To summarize my rambling, I think Donovan would argue the process leader is more biblically sound, and Christensen’s principles for how to actually execute process leadership might be applicable in a church context.

  9. Do you really think that a functioning leader can lead through the process and not the people? Is it possible to be truly inspirational in the manner Christ desired without inspiring by means of action? Is a process leader really functioning in the manner of Christ’s leadership or does that fall prey to the business model of the church? Is this really a negative model or is it taught by Jesus in some way? I don’t know Ken. IT seems sketchy to me, but maybe you have a brilliant way around it.

  10. Interesting thoughts Dan. I’ve heard some people say that a true leader works themselves out of a job by equipping others to work… and I’ve heard some people say that a true leader can’t be replaced. Both are probably true, maybe even at the same time on occasion. I think of the sudden deaths of many of the world’s greatest leaders… nobody could replace them, but everybody was equipped and inspired by them to carry on the work… perhaps sometimes to carry it on in a greater capacity than had the leader continued to live. So the personal stamp and the facilitation of the system can go hand in hand.

  11. How does a leader balance between facilitation of networks and leading (placing their personal stamp on things)??? I really wonder how that is to work when often ministry becomes leader focused… I would suggest that the leader is often focused on rather than the network. So how is this problem?? dealt with, can change even occur?

  12. Thanks for engaging this Rob! I find this a great quote because it is so very counter to everything else I hear leadership-wise in the church. The book focuses attention on the network theories that Hirsch talks about in The Forgotten Ways… a web of hubs and nodes so to speak… where people following Christ and serve according to their gifting. In this quote, then, the pastor is to “facilitate” the process of people finding which part of the Body they are… and help them serve the Head (Christ).

Leave a Reply to kencastorCancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.