Why do some churches grow and others decline or close their doors? Is it their location? Is it their resources; is it their denomination or affiliation? Is it the preaching style or style of worship? Is it their children and student ministry? Is it the staff? After all, they all started out wanting to live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. They all had great intentions, so what happened? I believe the answer is found in leadership. Good leadership either happened or it didn’t!
All of our congregations will rise or fall on its Leadership! That is not hyperbole that is a fact. Jesus knew it, that is why in order to prepare the disciples for the coming mission of the Church He chose to invest and prepare 3 out of 12 out of 72, out of 120, out of a multitude of followers. The Holy Spirit impressed upon the writers in the New Testament books of Acts 6:1-7, 1 Peter 5:2-3, 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1: 6-9 the value and importance of godly leadership. Leadership, Eldership, Deacons or whatever your church calls it, is vital to the rise and/or fall of your church.
Church Governance Will Help or Hinder Church Growth and Health
If the Church has an unhealthy, unbalanced, or unsustainable leadership model, there will be ramifications. And while there are many facets to good leadership, such as spiritual leadership, leadership hindrances or traps, and leadership development, I want to focus on the leadership structure/model in the local church.
Some are structured- Preacher Led with no quality Elders in Sight.
Some churches are- Elder Led, Elder Controlled.
Some are- Staff Led, Elder Protected.
Pastor Led With Elders in Title Only
Some churches have a leadership structure that may be referred to as “a bunch of good old boys,” who are usually good old guys. Many of them came to be nominated/chosen as Elders because they were at the church a lot so when the church had a nomination Sunday, the people chose people they knew, recognized, are saw around there the most. They were great greeters; they were the announcement guys, they were in the choir, and so since they were great guys, obviously they would make great Elders.
I could write another article on CHOOSING WISLEY. We are a young church; we did not have our first elders until about 3 years in. I can tell you some of my first choices on 1st impressions alone would have been terrible choices, and some of the ones I wasn’t sure about or were off my radar have been golden. Before elders, I created an advisory team (I called them the Ezra/Nehemiah Team) for accountability and diversity of ideas. Then after a couple of years, we had an Elders Training Retreat for those who would be interested in serving as an elder or just more curious about what an elder does, looks like, etc… Our speaker, David Roadcup, did such a fantastic job teaching the duties and responsibilities of an elder that 18 out of the 22 who attended immediately vetted themselves out of consideration with remarks like, “not now” or “not ever.” If you are interested in some of David Roadcup’s Material, go to this link: http://e2elders.org/
Another Issue about this group of Good Old Boys is that it can become a lifetime position and then they have great influence to get their buddies to serve on the board as well. Earning the moniker, “The Good Old Boys Club.”
The problem with just choosing a bunch of good guys is, in some cases, that they love the title and the authority, but they still see the pastor as the one who does all the work. After all, they just greet and do announcements. So in those types of leadership structures, the pastor catches all the work and does all pastoral calls, visits, and counseling. These great guys are happy to do what they have been doing and let the preacher keep leading. After all, they are doers not necessarily leaders. However, they do love pulling out the elder card when they want something.
There seems to be 2 extremes to this group of leaders. They either become rulers and micro-managers over the pastor and wear him down on every little thing, or they are too tentative to provide any oversight or accountability. In both cases, they are content to sit back and let the pastor do all or most of the leading. When that pastor dies, retires or moves on, all the spiritual leadership goes with him and the vacuum left behind causes power grabs, dissension, and chaos.
The other response will be that the existing leadership will be in such a rush to get someone in there to lead (so they don’t have to) that they will rush out to find someone/anyone to come in and fill the hole so they can get back to watching and ruling. This can become a vicious cycle that eats up and burns out young pastors that cannot see it or sniff it out. Unless there is bold and courageous leadership willing to restructure the model of governance, eventually this church leadership structure will lead to death.
The Elder Led, Elder Controlled
This leadership style operates more like a Corporate Board setting. They use 2 guides for their meetings, the Bible and Robert Rules of Order, not necessarily in that order. Every meeting runs the same – there is a call to order, opening prayer, budget, staff reports, old business, new business, and a closing prayer. Other than the Lead Pastor, the staff is only requested for the beginning of these meetings so they can come in, give reports, and answer any questions the board may have. Then they are excused while the elders discuss old and new business.
Here are some of my observations on this model:
The old business grew larger after every meeting because the committees assigned to look into a matter had trouble getting together and working through the issue to bring about a solution. Or they did their work and came with a solution, and the rest of the group brings a whole lot of armchair quarterbacking and sends them back to rethink it. So every board meeting, the issue gets tabled for another month due to scheduling conflicts or the paralysis of over-analysis. So as you can imagine, the old business list grows and grows due to new business being added at every meeting.
From a staff standpoint, they feel like hired hands. They come in and run things by the board and have to give a full account for everything they do, did, or plan on doing. In this setting, there is also a little bit of fear and anxiety at those meetings. The room is filled with great guys outside of the meeting, they even mean well within the meeting, but there is this tone being set and a feeling of being somewhat over-managed and under-trusted. You also adopt this feeling that you better not mess up or you will have to answer for it at the next Elders meeting… However, the bright side to that is you would get to stick around for almost the entire meeting because you and your “issue” would be added to the new business portion of the agenda.
These leadership structures tend to focus more on the business of the church than they do on the spiritual issues of the people who actually make up the church.
There is nothing wrong or immoral about this model unless you have a sense of urgency or need to move yesterday! This structure is perfect if you have 3 months to decide whether to buy 2 tires or 4, and from either Tire Discounter or Wal-Mart, and where and if it falls within the budget. More seriously, if you want a staff that is hesitant and uncertain, or operates timidly and reactively, rather than raising up a staff that is not afraid to use their gifts and passion and become proactive and bold, then this is a risk you take with this style.
It really comes down to the message you want to send your staff. Are they working alongside you in the kingdom or are they working for you in what feels like a business?
Staff Led, Elder Protected
This is structured in such a way that the staff is hired to lead ministries, while the elders oversee, protect, guard and shepherd the people in the church. This is the model of leadership we have chosen at The Crossing, where I pastor. Our Staff meets twice a week (once for meetings and reports, the other time for training and study). Our Elders meet every other week. Our staff is welcome to any and every elders meeting and is welcome to speak into and contribute to every discussion.
We believe in the plurality of leadership, we also believe we are all filled with the same Holy Spirit. In our leadership structure whether you are the children’s pastor or executive pastor, your thoughts and input is valued and expected. If you were to attend a Staff/Elders meeting at The Crossing, you may have a difficult time picking out who fills what role. As the lead pastor, it is my goal to raise a cross-trained ministerial staff, a staff that is not territorial or concerned only with their “turf” but with the church as a whole.
When it comes to communicating with each other, we embrace honesty even if it is constructive criticism or the hard truth. We value everyone’s input. At times it may seem like a free for all but I love the freedom our Leadership (Staff and Elders) has in expressing themselves. Trust is absolutely essential in order to create an environment where you feel free to say whatever needs to be said, to whoever needs to hear it, lead pastor or elders are NOT excluded.
We still have Elders meetings, but not as frequently as we used to because the role of the elders has changed from managing to letting go and allowing the staff to lead and do what they were hired to do. This allows the elders to focus on protecting the vision, mission, and values of the church God has entrusted us to lead. Our elders spend more time and energy with families who are struggling, or with moral issues within our body. They let the staff lead the day to day, and they provide the guardrails that keep us from running the church off the cliff.
We are a staff led, elder protected church. The results have been more flexible, more nimble, more decisions on the fly. There has to be a culture of high trust and high accountability in this model.
How to Transition to Becoming a Staff Led, Elder Protected Church
Let Go of the Need to Know Everything…
Our Elders believe that just because they have the title of Elder, that doesn’t make them the expert or last word on everything. They actually believe that the ministry staff who spends 40-60 hours a week on the grounds, with the people, and eating, sleeping, and drinking the mission and vision of the church daily may be better suited to “RUN” the day to day of the church. And the elders are there to protect the church, to make sure it stays on track Biblically, missionally and with high accountability toward stewardship.
Our staff and elders see each other as valued teammates. The staff respects that the elders have the final word, but there is also such a high level of trust, authenticity, and respect that when the elders happen to say NO to something, the immediate staff assumption is, I must have missed something, good catch, and thank you!
You Must Also Love Jesus and His Church More Than Your Ego, Agenda, and the Need to Be Needed or Always Right…
We have operated under the idea that the same Holy Spirit in our eldership indwells within our staff, so with Christ at the Head of the Body and the elders with the call to protect, guide, and lead the Body, some of their best leadership moves are to get out of the way and let the hand be the hand and the nose be the nose. They are even honest enough to tell this preacher when he is playing his role as the mouth and when he is playing the role of the rear-end.
So what do our Elders Meetings look like now?
I received the P.A.I. from my personal ministry coach and friend David Vaughan, Senior Minister at Whitewater Crossing Christian Church on the Westside of Cincinnati. He has transitioned his church from about 300 to 2,000 and growing, so he has worked through some major leadership transitions. (He does coaching and consulting, if interested let me know and I will send you his contact information)
Now our meetings consist of Prayer, Permission, Affirmation, Information and then any Spiritual Issues within the Body.
- Permission is I/We can’t move forward till YOU Elders make a decision.
- Affirmation is I/We are planning on doing this unless you see something unhealthy and I/We are asking for your affirmation on our direction.
- Information is I/we made this decision and we just want you to know so you can be aware, in case you are asked.
What you will find is that the meeting breakdown in time segments for us is:
The remaining 30% of the time is split between vision, and spiritual issues among our church family (we are a Messy Church, filled with Messy people, Led by Messy people trying to introduce them to the One who cleans up the Mess.)
The Bottom Line
As the church grows in number, we need to be more intentional about transitioning our leadership model to where the elders empower the staff to decide things and then inform them of results. STAFF LEADS AND ELDERS PROTECT!
If the church lives or dies with leadership – regardless of whether or not you agree with everything I have said – as leaders, you owe it to your church to figure out where you stand now and where you need to be in order to become the best leaders you can be. It truly is a matter of life or death for the local church.
I would be happy to discuss this in greater detail if you would be interested, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Growing Church Series
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