I'm including another snippet from one of my research-interviews this summer that I will be unable to use fully in my thesis, but it's just too interesting to leave any bit of it on the cutting room floor. This section of our conversation steered a bit from our focus (on handing over leadership to the next generation within a local church) and, for a moment at least, the topic moved to church governance. Many churches, and certainly most Baptist churches, are supposed to be led by the congregation according to their constitutions. The pastor of this interview suggests that a church should be instead led by the leaders. He's got an interesting take on things that I thought some of you might find encouraging, enlightening or at least intriguing. Let's jump in around the 25 minute mark of the interview:
Me: How do the Elders fit into all this?
Pastor: They are key players. That’s one of the key things for us is to try to take more
of a…, you know, in the past the Elders carried a lot of the responsibilities
around here. But we’re trying to
take more of the business side of the church. So we’re trying to streamline what they’re role is and put
the details in the hands of the staff so that they can be leading small groups
and be a part of shepherding. We need them shepherding small groups
more than we need them making business decisions for the church. That’s what we’re trying to do. Right now we meet every other week with
our Elders. We’re hoping we can
get it to where we meet once a month.
Because that’s what I want.
I want them… all of them but one right now are leading a small
group. That’s really crucial for
us. If they’re here all the
time for Elder Board meetings then it’s hard for them to spend the time in
ministry. Another key phrase for
us is “fewer and finer commitments.”
That’s key for us. You
know, are we making disciples? Are
we developing leaders? Call it
what you want, but leadership development is discipleship. If our Elders are too busy with
meetings that they can’t mentor and be involved in discipleship then what are
Me: So it doesn’t sound like you can be attending here very
long without having that permeate?
That’s all part of our DNA that’s a part of our membership process. And, you know, some people have left
our church because they don’t like that.
They just want a nice little country church that they can go to. Well, I’m probably saying that a little
bit more harshly than it needs to be said. But when I came they asked me to lead; they needed someone
to lead them. They hadn’t been led
effectively, so I’m doing what they asked me to do.
Me: You would say the call to commitment is high?
Pastor: Yeah, but I mean that its not like we have shut down a
whole lot of ministries but for me it’s always the issue that if the leaders are
burnt out then I will shut down a ministry. Some people are like “well, we’re consumers and you have to
provide this for us.” And they
don’t care if the leaders are burning out or not, they just want what they
want. But our leaders are going to
determine what’s being run. It’s
like a football game, the people in the stands aren’t calling the plays. And so if people want to have influence
on decisions that are being made then you have to be part of the team. Not just an audience out there. So we’ve had some that have felt like
they had an attitude and we said, “Hey, we want you to come here but don’t mess
with our church, this is our church.”
And we’re going to be doing things our way. And we’ve had a really lengthy discussion with our Elders,
really healthy discussion asking if this is going to be a representative government
and have us going to the people and doing surveys in order to make them happy
or are we going to be a leadership government that says what is it that is on
God’s heart for this church, what are we going to lead these people to do? And that’s a big difference. I would say in the past it was very
much a representative government where we would let the people do what they
wanted to do as long as they were happy.
But that’s not what God has put on my heart. A lot of the churches…
do it that way, but that’s not what I believe when I look at the
Scriptures. Jesus led, and people
left! You look at John five and
six, you know, where they walked.
They didn’t want it. He was
talking about drinking blood and eating flesh and they didn’t want to be a part
of that. And Jesus looked to the
twelve and said, Hey are you going to leave to? And that’s when Peter stepped up and said, Hey where are we
going to go, you’ve got the words of eternal life. So you know, we’ve just tried to set an agenda saying that
we believe God wants us to be a disciple making church. So what I’m saying is that we invite
everybody to come along, the door is wide open. We have vision nights, we have leaders meetings. I’ve got nothing hide and nothing to
prove, but not everybody wants that.
And so for some people, they’ve just said, and it hurts, you don’t want
anybody to leave. But I’d say, you
know, we’re pretty much through that process. I mean anytime you come into church you’re going to experience some of that.
I agree with this, Len. A couple of the churches I visited on my research escapade consider themselves to have a “plurality” of leadership with no one officially in the role of a Senior or Lead Pastor. What’s remarkable is how these churches strive to function with honesty and integrity. One potential problem, however, is that the 2-5+ people who are considered the lead-leaders can monopolize power and direction in an unhealthy way. The same struggles of power exist… but hopefully there is more accountability and spiritual formation present.
In my study, two themes keep emerging in terms of succession planning. One, the character of the leader is essential. Two, the culture of the organization/church is essential. There must be cohesion between these two components. (I like “c” words. Castor, Christ, Church… although I don’t like cats.)
One other thought… to me our model of sola pastora is not biblical and has damaged the fabric of community life. I think Hirsch and Roxburgh are right here that we have to recover the Eph 4 plurality.. another argument also made by Wagler.. who is Canadian btw 🙂
This is similar to what Phil Wagler argues in his new book “Kingdom Culture.” In these strange transitional times we live with this paradox: we need courageous and focused leadership. But we have congregations that are trained in passivity and consumerism. How do we lead with strength and vision without further encouraging dependence?
Re: the question of succession — we have to build a leadership culture. It is the elders and community that endures when hired staff move on. Makes sense therefore that they bear the primary responsibility for sustaining the life of the community.
Leadership succession is a huge issue, Karl. You’ve nailed it. I would think the best possible scenario is one where the leader who moves on has prepared the group and the next generation of leaders to continue to grow upon what already exists and to keep enhancing the direction that God has already launched. And you are right to say that the people will be more willing to stretch and grow in their faith and vision in that sort of environment. Go ahead and regurgitate, bro. It’s awesome.
I’ve always loved that phrase, Rob. Leading from the Middle. Seems to fit with the missional church sideways triangle…
Just a thought….what happens to a church when the leader(s) step down or move on for whatever reason? Does the church return to a more constitutional, voting process until a new leader(s) is appointed? This more “cyclical” approach (that is, switching back and forth from a ‘congregational’ led to a ‘leader’ led church) I think achieves two things. The first is that the church can still function in times of transition. The second, assuming that the congregation is actually seeking God’s will and direction for the church, appoints a leader that has a similar calling to what the church is to do. Thus once the leader is charged with the task of guiding a church, the people of the church are way more willing to stretch and grow in their faith and vision for the church as the leader guides the people. After all, they’re the ones that felt called to appoint the leader in the first place.
Perhaps I’m just regurgitating the gist of what the Pastor in the article was trying to say?
Thanks Ken. Being relatively new to a church and pastorate myself I think that there is some truth to the, “This is our church,” thinking. We dont just lead we participate or as I have spent too much time writing to say…we lead from the middle. We lead people we actually love (real people). We lead people we are living and growing with authentically with those real people. We lead with a team of elders, using all of our gifts and strength, to lead the organization for the sake of the real people we lead.
That’s great reflection Dan. It does seem like leaders should generally be underneath others, lifting them up to what God has planned. At times, a leader will need to stand out, point the way, stand firm in strife while others around them flee. But generally, I suspect that the goal of a leader is to enable others to accomplish what they were created to accomplish.
Amen, I love his comment about people leaving Jesus’ leadership because it was difficult. To often we forget that our Job as leaders is to lead rather than please. I can’t imagine where I would be if every time God confronted me on an issue I decided to walk away and ignore him. Scarier still, what I would be like if God did not prune or confront my issues. Leaders need to have servant hearts but that doesn’t mean you default into doing whatever someone wants you to do. In some ways I see leaders (churches/business) setting the vision and then stepping down to lift up those who are trying to enact that vision
Hi Jason! I just noticed the other day you were at Hillsong! I was thinking about asking you about that… and then here you are commenting on my site. Thanks bro! What an incredible opportunity! Can’t imagine all the things you are learning and experiencing there. How’s Brooke? Kathy and I love her music!
-Yeah I just found this quote really interesting. His point ultimately is that those in the congregation that choose to be leaders and not just seat-fillers should be the ones who decide what the church is going to do be involved in.
Hillsong is really doing amazing things, but having just one visionary person can create an interesting scenario down the line. Hopefully the leader(s) at Hillsong are preparing for the future and raising up a myriad of leaders to which they can transfer the vision and direction for the next generation.
Blessings, Jason! Thanks so much for commenting. Please keep in touch!
I’m not sure if you remember me from Parksville Baptist or not, but your blog caught my eye on Facebook and I couldn’t help but read and just write a quick comment. I’m not in Parksville at the moment, I’m actually at Hillsong International Leadership College which is, as the name suggests, part of Hillsong Church. Coming here from a Baptist/Evangelical, congregationally led background, I was very intrigued by the style and culture of leadership here. The church is very much led by the leadership, from the top down with everybody ultimately following one visionary leader. As one of the most successful/fastest growing/most influential churches on the planet right now, one would presume that they must have something right in their style of leadership.
Just thought this observation was worth mentioning…
Hope you and your family are well and not just growing but flourishing where God has you planted in this season.