When it comes to leadership, churches face a distinct disadvantage.
I’ve served with many different organizations, companies, and associations. They all have their leadership issues. But none compares to the leadership vacuum found in churches. And this problem plagues churches of all sizes, at all levels of notoriety or obscurity, and in both paid and non-paid positions.
Generally speaking, non-leaders occupy leader positions in most churches. This leadership drought causes a multitude of problems. Churches suffer from a stunted vision, fear-based paralysis, misalignment of goals and direction, neglect and mistreatment of staff and volunteers, budget bumbling, and on and on. Too often ministries fall far short of their potential because the people in charge, while often well-intentioned, suffer from a leadership low dipstick.
This isn’t happenstance. Predictable things cause this absence of leadership. The nature of today’s churches makes it difficult to attract and keep gifted leaders.
Frequently the volunteers who head church boards and committees do not come from spheres of leadership in their regular lives. They often rise to church leader positions because they’re good-hearted, have the time and desire, and jump at the chance to finally be a boss. The problem with their lack of aptitude and experience in effective leadership extends beyond their scope of responsibility. Their inability also repels qualified leaders, who lose patience and ultimately distance themselves from church boards, committees and teams. It’s simply too painful for good leaders to watch leadership train wrecks. So, weak leadership breeds more weakness.
Then, what about the paid leadership, the ministerial staff? Most pastors acknowledge that leadership is not their strong suit. They more often claim other gifts, such as teaching. They admit their seminaries did not prepare them for leadership duties. But they know their congregations expect them to exude effective leadership. It’s a frustrating brew for everyone involved.
Some (the really dangerous ones) believe their high-profile speaking skills automatically certify them as effective leaders.
So, what can be done? Pastors and other paid staff who lack leadership gifting need to acknowledge, at least to themselves, for the sake of the ministry, that they need help beyond themselves. They’d be well-served by surrounding themselves with a small group of proven leaders, people who have demonstrated their effectiveness in leading in the real world. These are not official or elected positions. These proven leaders serve as informal advisors, helping the pastors make good decisions, cast vision, and lead other team members.
These seasoned leaders can also eventually help to influence nominating committees to recognize and invite qualified people to serve in volunteer leadership positions. It takes one to know one.
If we desire to see the Body of Christ become more effective in pursuing its mission, we must be ready to let the heart be the heart—and the head be the head.