Ecclesial Miscellany: Of Leadership, Communication and Definitions of Ministry Success

It is interesting to me that Evangelicals (Mainline groups often fit into this as well) seem to have embraced models of Christian leadership which closely resemble that of the modern business world. Yet I wonder how much critical thought (dare I ask about how much prayer?) has been given to the way we do things? I wonder if we are filtering our ecclesiology first through the grid of business or first through the counsel and narrative of the biblical corpus?

Think of it this way. In many situations our pastors have become chief executive officers. Our elders have become members of the board of trustees. Specialized pastoral and directorial staff have become business associates with specific areas of expertise and clearly defined areas of responsibility (we call these profit centers in the business world). In large churches, there commonly is an executive pastor, not unlike the role of an executive vice president in a corporation. The list continues but the point is taken. This isn’t anything new. To be sure, it has been around a long period of time. So long, in fact, that we do not think of questioning it since it is simply the way things are done.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some churches even employ business turn around strategies modelled after six sigma and others. At a rudimentary level (My word choice is not meant to be derogatory. It is meant to be descriptive in the sense that NCD does not explore church systems, structures and processes to the statistical degree of depth, breadth or objective accuracy that we might find in a strategy such as six sigma), Natural Church Development attempts to look seriously at what is actually happening in local churches, with a view toward suggesting change tactics.

To be fair, there are good reasons for churches to organize themselves with high level intention resembling that of business. In our litigious societies around the world, but especially in the USA, there is clearly a need to structure ourselves within a framework of transparent, accountable roles and processes. Recent history is reminding us once again of the folly of secretive compartmentalization which protects perpetrators of crimes against children, parishioners, and members of the community. Yet, we have observed also a parade of issues in ostensibly accountable business organizations. So, obviously business hasn’t gotten it all figured out.

In spite of my brief caveats, I wonder if we are aware of the pitfalls of running churches primarily like businesses, rather than as, first and foremost, communities of disciple-making, Christ-following faith? Strongly worded question, I know. Bear with me a moment.

In much of the literature, both print and electronic, on children’s ministry leadership, I repeatedly observe that the relationship between senior pastor and children’s pastor (or director, or whatever other designation applies) is described in “CEO-to-subordinate” terms. For example, the children’s pastor serves the church at the senior leader’s pleasure. If the senior pastor wants to drop the children’s pastor, then most likely it will happen. There is not commonly a good, healthy mechanism for the children’s pastor to provide valid feedback to the senior pastor or to the broader church leadership without fearing for his or her job security. Even in the business world there is an HR department with procedures for handling feedback and complaints. Usually, the matter is handled person-to-person. One hopes that the senior pastor has the maturity to receive the feedback in the same way they would like the children’s pastor to listen to him. In my church I have been very blessed to have a warm working relationship with my pastor. It is based on a continually growing mutual trust and respect. I know that this does not happen in every church situation. So, what happens is that there is one person, the senior leader, who calls the shots. The buck stops with him. He holds the keys to the bottom line, despite what the elders, deacons, church membership may or may not do. Obviously, they can call a vote to fire him. But if the children’s pastor cannot work issues out with him and he is well-liked and apparently successful at what he does, then good luck presenting your point-of-view. Brush up the resume and be on your way.

I question the biblical validity of this. If the church is the gathering of God’s people who follow the way of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, our Great High Priest; if Ephesians clearly speaks of pastors, prophets, evangelists, teachers, and apostles (Eph 4:11), all in the context of providing ministry leadership to the church under the Lordship of Jesus Christ; if reciprocity characterized early church interactions in the context of fluid organic relationships and is based on proximity and living life together in mutual accountability, then….

Why are clergy treated as priests separate from laity, rather than simply fellow saints with uniquely ordained ministry roles? Indeed, did not the Apostle Peter write that we are all together a royal priesthood (One Peter 2:9)? Why are clergy, including staff pastors, especially children’s ministry leaders, treated as hirelings first, rather than elders among us given by God to the church to lead us in the way of Jesus? We hire headhunting agencies to scour applicants across the land to fill our positions while there likely are people already within our fellowship who, with proper encouragement, training and support, could rise to the occasion in providing expressions of ministry to our church families. We mourn the short-term survival rates of pastors and staff pastors alike, but we fail to realize it is rooted in a fundamental lack of authentic community. We hire to our weaknesses, rather than call on the Lord first and foremost. We define success based on measureables such as finances and attendance, even going so far as to measure water baptisms, confirmations (in certain liturgical groups), sunday school attendance (got an attendance record lapel pin anyone?), spirit baptisms with the evidence of speaking in tongues (welcome to the pressures of charismatic/pentecostal leadership), and so on.

Whew. By the way, this really isn’t a rant, though it may sound that way. Rather, it is my way of sorting through the minefield of cultural adaptation in the context of church leadership. I have said it before. I have no quarrel with business leadership or adaptable principles. I live them out daily in the business world. I do challenge us to think critically and pray passionately about the way forward in our ministry contexts. May we give equal attention to artistry and poetry, recognizing that faith is as much a matter of the heart as it is a matter of the will. In fact, the heart of emotions is the gateway to the will. Maybe this explains why the Psalmist waxed poetic with great artistry as he called his readers to worship.

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2 thoughts on “Ecclesial Miscellany: Of Leadership, Communication and Definitions of Ministry Success

  1. I am grateful to know it was helpful rags. I don’t comment on your blog frequently enough, but I can assure you that I learn a great deal from you. By the way, congratulations on your tenth wedding anniversary!

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