The current issue of Leadership Journal has one of the best articles on shared leadership between staff and eldership in churches I have ever read. Ben Merold, an elder-statesman in the Christian church, writes a succinct-yet-powerful piece that I hope every church leader/pastor/elder could read. As my own journey has led me to experience some of the best and worst that shared leadership has to offer, I wish the following wisdom from Ben’s article could be ingrained into each and every leadership team in churches today.
Ben says beyond governance models, meetings, processes and procedures, the most critical elements that a leadership team (including the roles of pastor and elder) must engage in are:
Prayer – Not only about decisions, but about and for the members of the team. I heard Mark Driscoll say that he prays for God’s guidance to avoid elders/pastors who “care more about the title elder than the title of Christ-follower”. Leaders have to pray for each other and create a loving, prayer-centered community where they lift each other up. Ben relates how the elders in his first church gathered around him before every service… lifting him up in prayer, affirming his role as “quarterback”, and asking how they could help clear the way. That prayer, Ben says, carried him over his thirteen years as pastor there.
Fellowship – “It is a mistake to think that elders and staff can be friends in the decision-making process if they are not friends socially”. The leaders should intentionally plan and budget for times for all leaders to simply hang out as friends. This is not only a legitimate use of church resources, it is critical to harmonious leadership. Leadership boards… take the initiative to become true friends socially with pastors, staff, and other leaders. Social separation isn’t regal, “executive”, or business-like… and it definitely isn’t Christ-like.
Compassion – “Compassionate men will be leaders and not controllers.” Many examples of church leadership create a system where a governing board has authority, but the paid staff is held responsible. Compassion for the church, and the church staff, creates a balanced system of authority and responsibility in a leadership team where love and compassion dominate, instead of the politics and back room deals which are unfortunately still occurring in the local church from time to time.
Vision – Church leaders must know where they are. Culturally, leaders must be in tune with what questions the church is asking, what needs it has, and what the culture around the church is saying. Often times, conflict arises between paid staff and leadership teams because these two entities have differing views of current reality. Every leadership team, taking their cue from the Lead Pastor, must ask “Who are we trying to reach?” and “What do we need to do to reach them most effectively?”. I love Ben’s account of the elders surrounding him – “You are the quarterback, and we are here to run interference and help. Please do not get involved in things that hold you back. Call on us and we will be there.” A common vision allows the team to play together for the benefit of the Kingdom.