A reader asks,
Have you written on the issue of elder-led vs. the lead pastor model? At work, I’m a big believer in the sole leader — follow or get out of the way — model. I’m not sure that’s what God had in mind for the church. Any practical ideas on governing without squeezing the life and passion out of the staff?
Here’s where I am in my thinking.
1. The scriptures give us considerable flexibility but elders cannot abdicate their jobs. They can delegate, but they can’t give away ultimate oversight.
2. The preacher should be treated as a near-elder, meeting with the elders and part of the team. He doesn’t get a vote, but that should never matter.
The reason is that, like elders, he visits the sick, teaches doctrine, mentors future leaders, etc. They do the same things and the elders need someone on staff to coordinate getting their vision into effect.
I understand why many don’t want the preacher to be an elder (especially in a small church), but a strong elder/preacher divide is always unhealthy. Elders and the preacher must work hand-in-glove.
If there’s an executive minister (in a larger church, a minister who handles many tasks the minister handles in a smaller church perhaps including staff oversight), he’s a near-elder, too.
3. Ministers and elders should be as close as possible. How close depends on the degree of authority given the preacher. If he can hire and fire, then elders have to work through him, or else you have two chains of authority.
But in the normal case, the preacher isn’t given that much authority. The rest of the ministerial staff are not near-elders, like the preacher, because many are too young and need to be overseen by the preacher and elders. And it’s just not practical to put every staff member in that position.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable gives a very healthy model of how to do this.
4. Staff cannot be allowed to silo — that is, youth ministry, children’s ministry, and adult ministry must be planned together, indeed, must have a shared vision, fulfilled together.
The youth minister isn’t de facto pastor of a sub-congregation made up of teens. He has to work with the rest of the ministers and volunteers in a teamwork fashion, toward a common, church-wide vision.
The preacher is normally best situated to chair the ministers and insist that they work in tandem, putting the elders’ vision into effect on a coordinated basis.
5. The shepherding model can be good or bad. It’s bad when the elders give up being overseers and elders to be pastoral counselors only. This is abdication.
But elders should certainly take on pastoral responsibilities. And in many churches, the elders specialize based on giftedness. Some serve as administrators (with the preacher and/or executive minister) and some purely serve as shepherds and some do a blend of both.
I’m opposed to all models that rotate administrative authority among the elders, as administration is a gift required to be used in God’s service.
In short, you govern without squeezing the passion out of the staff by —
A. Getting away from simplistic organizational chart thinking. It’s more important to build relationships than to draw charts. Think more in terms of drawing inclusive circles than lines of authority.
B. Setting a clear vision, with the ministers heavily involved in the process but not dictating the process. Participation by staff gives them a sense of ownership and gives elders the benefit of their education and experience.
C. Giving the staff freedom within the vision, but without abdicating the obligation to oversee (translates the Greek word for middle management). Don’t micromanage. Do manage. (Some ministers can’t tell the difference.)
D. Spending time with the staff. We meet weekly for lunch on Wednesdays. Building personal relationships and sharing your hearts with each other breaks down barriers and allows many problems to be resolved early and without great pain.
E. Having the preacher charged to keep the staff from being in silos and to assure that the ministers (and other church leaders) pursue the vision and stick to it.
F. Having certain elders assigned to be a “liaison” for certain ministries. We do this, and some elders have grown very close to their ministers or volunteer leader. This keeps the eldership from having to vote on Sunday morning teacher assignments — but allows an elder to know what is being taught and who is teaching. It’s been a good balance for us — the elder knows what’s going on but doesn’t run things so long as another leader is in place. He does mentor whatever leader is there.
F. Insisting that the ministers and elders honor the system. All this assumes you have elders and ministers who are willing to work within this system. Some ministers will demand autonomy. They must repent or be fired. It’s an unscriptural attitude. Some elders will insist on being overlords. They should resign or repent.
G. Working hard to build trust. Communication leads to trust. Time together leads to communication. There are no short cuts.
H. Lifting us Jesus as the goal, to be pursued according to the church’s agreed vision. Set goals that are audacious enough to challenge the church and the ministers and yet be doable — with God’s help. Aim high. Work hard — together — to achieve the goals.
When goals are unclear or when the vision is vague, elders and ministers will pursue their own preferences and projects. When the goal is concrete and well understood, the leadership will pull together and will be tightly bonded to one another by the shared work and victory.
I. Pray together.