by Doug Peters
“Leadership in a non-profit, largely volunteer, faith-based organization is the toughest kind of leadership!”
That sentiment was clear as I was privileged to gather with several great Christ-following leaders. They are the captains of industry and directors of business. And they are also leaders in their churches. They are CEOs, CFOs, Presidents, Entrepreneurs, and Owners. They each have demanding positions of power and influence. Yet, they readily acknowledge that leading their churches brings some of their most unique and difficult challenges.
They know how things operate in the office and the boardroom. Effectiveness can be fairly easily seen, measured, and rewarded. The bottom line is evident. There are clear channels of organization and communication. If someone or a segment is not on board with the organization’s mission and vision, there are set policies to move personnel out or into different areas of responsibility. Attendance of all key players within the organizations they lead is mandatory and full participation is not optional or subject to other competing priorities. Tasks are assigned and expectations are almost always met with a high standard of quality and excellence. But in the church, the group to which they often gave the next largest amount of their lives, things are not always so clear.
While these “Level Five Leaders” (see Good to Great, by Jim Collins) often give 50, 60 or more hours a week to their occupations, they also give considerable time to leading their churches. They are elders, shepherds and overseers. And they find it to be tough! If you listen carefully, you will hear them use terms like “frustrating,” “trying,” and “discouraging.” I hear phrases like “herding cats” and “nailing Jello to the wall” as they describe life on a church leadership team. Don’t get me wrong. Most of these leaders desire to sacrificially serve Christ’s church and can also relate many great blessings from that experience. It is not all doom and gloom. But it nearly always could be better!
I have found that these same leadership concerns are almost universally consistent and vexing no matter the church or leader. White collar or blue… Rural or urban… Tie or jeans… Mega or mini… Every congregation’s leaders would do well to ask some basic questions and come to some Useful Understandings related to their ministry of leadership in the body of Christ.
The Interim Season – that unique time when a church is between ministers and has the option of seeking God’s will for the next phase of their kingdom journey – is a prime opportunity to help elder / minister groups more clearly think through and define their roles, functions, relationships and “ground rules.” While most of the church leader groups I consult with are in autonomous churches and contextually unique, I find that they all can benefit from asking intentional and proactive questions related to how they will work together. They may not all be led to do things the same way, but they can all benefit from at least asking some basic questions and coming to agreement about how they will serve together.
Several years ago, my friend, mentor and former elder Wilson C. “Dub” Orr shared with me the value of leader teams coming to some “Useful Understandings” about how they would operate. Through the intervening years I have found myself frequently reflecting on his wisdom and noting a variety of key decision points that would be better settled in advance. The remainder of this Blog series will consider the distinct benefits of a leadership team taking the time to prayerfully develop some Useful Understandings and explore the various types of questions church leaders can work through to maximize their kingdom leadership capacity.