How would people describe your church’s organizational and leadership structure? Close-knit community–or secret syndicate?
Every congregation–and each ministry within it–takes on a style of governance that shapes its work and effectiveness. As I’ve worked with churches over the past 40 years I’ve noticed several different organizational profiles. Some work well for certain congregations. Some are disasters.
Take a look at these predominant profiles. See which ones look familiar to you.
The family-run church relies heavily on two or more related persons in key positions. It may involve a married couple, and/or their children, and/or their siblings. When the relationships among the family members are healthy, this style can work. When all relatives work in harmony and compliment one another, they can accomplish much. But, this form, to work well, requires an intentional objectivity. Other staff and members need to feel free to discuss one family member’s performance, actions and demeanor, without fear of mob retaliation. The family-run church can become clannish. You’ll know you’ve crossed the line when the community starts saying things like, “That’s the Joneses’ church.”
The celebrity-centered church focuses on the public persona of the top person–often referred to as the “lead pastor.” This individual typically sets the mission, drives the agenda, and centralizes decision-making. Without the encumbrance of others, the celebrity pastor can get a lot of things done, through expediency and laser focus. The celebrity, typically lauded for oratory skill, knows how to attract a crowd. But that often leads to an inebriation of pride, ego and power. Today’s celebrity pastors sometimes insulate themselves, appointing a big-government-styled “cabinet,” replete with a chief of staff, to keep the people at bay. And when the celebrity eventually steps down, the people may no longer have a reason to gather.
Some churches are closely managed by a select group of lay people–deacons, elders, boards or councils. This structure can provide continuity and congregational representation–if these people are seasoned leaders with a unified heart and mutual trust. They can provide valuable guidance and perspective to the paid staff. Or, sometimes they can become a cliquish gang, wielding power ruthlessly. Or sometimes, if the group is populated by selfish grandstanders, or lacks interpersonal trust, it can become an ugly riot of emotional outbursts. Little gets accomplished in that kind of atmosphere.
Some operate a church as a team sport. The staff, volunteers and members all view themselves on one team, working toward the same goal. When it works well, the team-oriented church recognizes and empowers the various strengths and specialties represented on the entire team. Everyone knows where he or she fits. But a good team needs a good coach. Without a good coach, or with a coach who loves the spotlight or won’t let the players play, the team can become unfocused and disjointed. And, sometimes a close-knit team can become so internally-focused it forgets to look outside the locker room to the larger world outside.
Some churches follow a highly democratized model. All members frequently come together to make decisions, large and small, for the good of the congregation. This process can help to make everyone feel involved in every aspect of ministry. Everyone can rally around a common, well-known vision and mission. But, this structure, with its layers of committees, can become so cumbersome that it slows forward progress to a crawl. Every little decision needs majority approval. And this style often attracts highly political operatives who attempt to manipulate public opinion through not-so-subtle campaigning and arm-twisting. And a democracy-weighted church can gag itself on Robert’s Rules of Order.
Sometimes a church’s structure becomes its very focus. People become devoted to the system, rather than to God. Ultimately, the best structure is a Jesus-centered one.
So, what have you seen? Which style of governance do you think works best (or worst) for the churches you know?
This is so true. I find your timing humorous as I just posted this chart on my Facebook page: http://bit.ly/1Bw6ZDa
Thom, one variation on the family is the one where the “old timer families” rule the church. Newcomers (less than 3generations) have little if any say. OTF’s donate most of the money so no one wants to offend them.
So true, Dale. And don’t you dare sit in their pew.
Thom, when I was about 16, I was attending an old historic (slave balcony, etc) church on Edisto Island, SC. Each pew had little gates on them. Church was getting ready to start, and I was seated, when a little old lady in a very old, important, condescending manner walked up and said: “that’s my pew.” I said: (in a very polite southern way, large smile): “yes ma’am, and it is very comfortable. Have a blessed day.” Then I looked away. (I still have burn marks from the laser stares) She went off with a very loud hurumph.
You point out–as does Todd’s chart–that there are obstacles in ANY form of leadership in a church. Ditto for companies, universities, chicken farms, and non-profits. But none of the leadership forms are outside the reach of being Jesus-centered anyway. Sometimes you work with the leadership structure you’re dealt as a pastor–and you work to bring members of the church closer to Jesus. Give me a board of God-led men and women and we’ll accomplish incredible things for the Kingdom. A board of infighting egotists will stymie every nudge from God that comes our way. A mega-star pastor who lights up in the pulpit and faithfully communicates the vision God has for a congregation may need every bit of forty hours to prepare for Sunday morning; let others do the administrative work but be sure they’re solid and caring–it’ll work out. This is ultimately about the heart, not about structures. And if you want the structures to change, work on hearts.
Steven commented on Facebook: “Well I come from what you called a “deacon possessed” church. But The question is what does the bible say about how the structure of the leadership should look. I believe the scripture gives an outline of an servant leadership with elders taking the lead in areas of spiritual matters, deacons (men and women) working together in areas of service with the congregation. This can only be effective when everyone works together toward the common goal of sharing the “the good news” and remembering that it is not about who we are but about who He is. Much care must be taken so that this structure does not get out of balance. Remembering that we are all servants of Christ.”
I agree with your premise wholeheartedly. But I know one of those “servant leaders” that is so humble (NOT) that he has made it his title. Signs off with (name) “Your Humble Servant Leader”. Would it not be far better that the people give him that title instead of him giving it to himself?
The one I left 4 years ago was run by a few select people. In fact, before leaving, I told my fellow elders that the church didn’t belong to Jesus; it belonged to this little cluster that was allowed to run things their way. And one of them ruefully admitted they needed to rein in one of the people who was usually allowed to run rough shod over people.
Pat, I know of what you speak.
Jerry commented: “There is a great void in leadership today and a fear to lead. The church and church leaders have given in to the model of our government that wants to lead from behind. I see the desire to be liked handcuffing church leaders and pastors. Leaders who need to be liked fear conflict and so by avoiding conflict at all cost we become a church without clear vision and always trying to just catch up. I see this changing as millennials move into leadership. They are a bold and adventuring group. Just like in Star Trek they will go where no one has gone before. The question for the church will be do we want to stay planted on the space station or will we venture into unknown territories with them.”
We all think it would be so great to find that perfectly run church (or job) with perfect and great leadership. What fun would that be? If put under a microscope, we are all uniquely strange and weird individuals each with our own uniquely odd personalities. The things that happen when when the different personalities are mixed together in a pot called church (or work). As the great old wise king said,”As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” We don’t grow as human beings into good people outside of tough situations. We don’t build character if we are not living in a pressure cooker, in long tough frustrating and challenging times. Wimps bail out under these bad regimes but the tough stick it out and are shaped into better, more patient and more understanding people who learn to live in and better the bad situations. Their character grows and they become better people and better leaders.
I wonder how @TomShultz list matches up to Jesus’ list in Revelation!
This article is spot on but it didn’t address, adequately at least, the patriarch/matriarch church organization; typically where a single lay person rules the roost.
I’ve seen all of the church governance models outlined. But the worst I’ve ever seen is one declaring itself to be democratic & team focused in a blended form, when all along it was a single family that called all the shots. And when confronted with that fact they were in such denial that they then set about making everyone else miserable for pointing it out, and then went right back to an even tighter grip on things.
[…] Thom Schultz lists four church leadership models (and the problems they can run into): […]
I think our church has a decent balance between the Staff and Elders. Coming from a much smaller church, I’m still trying to figure out the average parishioner’s role when things are run largely by full-time staff. Sometimes, as a volunteer, it feels like I’m treated as an employee in a quite top-down management style.
What you are experiencing, top down governance, is becoming more and more prevalent in churches. Church leadership seems to be taking their cues from the federal government.
Willie commented on Facebook: “No matter which method is used, leadership must be accountable for maintaining the integrity of the doctrine and finances of that church.”
Regarding church leadership, our preacher says “as the shepherd of this flock, it is more important for me to tell you the truth according to God’s Word, than it is for me to be your friend and buddy.” I like that view!
What stops the average church member from discovering for himself/herself ‘the truth according to God’s Word?’ Generally, the clergy-laity divide has paralysed the church and continues to do so. Time we not only professed but practised the priesthood of all believers.
This reminds me of the blogs on “The Dones.” Long-time, serious Christians who are done with sitting and being talked at. In smaller churches I’ve attended, if you have anything going for you at all ( serious about your Faith, show up regularly, etc ) you will probably get drafted into a ministry fairly quickly. Now that I’m in a larger church it seems that if you want to do nothing but warm a pew, the “professional” full-time staff will let you do that. Not everybody can or should be an elder or deacon, I understand that. It may just be the way larger churches have to function and I’m slow to adapt. If this isn’t your “first rodeo” ( been involved in church government before ), then I think you want a voice at the table. Your ideas may not be adopted, and you should be graceful in that, but it shouldn’t be like a general moving a bunch of mute pawns around.
Did I here mention of an ordained ‘despot’ running the show? Great is she/he is benevolent! Difficult if it is ‘my way or the highway’ leadership. I have seen the benevolent leader moves on (because The Lord called them to go elsewhere) and then the floundering of the flock begins. (Crystal Cathedral anyone?) Notice what’s happening in the USA mega church ministries? I avoid any church advertising it is being run the way the New Testament church operated.
In years of ministry I have worked with/beside/against the family run congregation who eventually wanted ‘their’ church back as new people joined the church and entered leadership roles. In younger years, I learned it was the meetings AFTER the formal meetings that adjusted motions, second guessed suggestions and new vision. As a person on the other side of the pulpit now, I can look back and look forward. Kind of refreshing.