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24 Jan '13

Rethinking the relationship between pastors and lay leaders

Posted by T.J. Addington in lay ministry
If you are a pastor you have high expectations placed upon you to preach, to be a great administrator and lead well. That you must lead is usually a non-negotiable. But, let's face it, many of us are not wired very significantly in the leadership area - and that's not what we signed up in ministry to do. Yet in most of our congregations there are highly skilled leaders from the business world who are just waiting to be tapped and their skills used in the ministry arena but they are left on the sidelines or asked to usher or serve in a role that is not in alignment with their significant leadership gifts.

God never asked us to be what we cannot be. All of us are wired and gifted in a few specific areas and everything else is a weakness. Our weaknesses will never be our strengths. We need to bring around us a team of qualified individuals who can play to strengths that we do not have so that we can play to strengths that we do have.

The most untapped resources in our churches are lay leaders who could use their leadership skills in the church, come alongside pastors who may not be wired to lead, and as a team, bring a level of leadership to the congregation that would infuse it with huge energy, creativity and missional impact. When we don't tap into those resources we leave much of that impact unused on the table.

What gets int he way of this happening? First, I think it is our assumption that as the pastor we must be the leader. Why? God gave different gifts and if that is not our primary gift we are fooling ourselves that He thinks we can be the prime mover. Certainly we must be a primary spokesperson for the vision but why would we expect that we must be the primary developers of mission, vision and strategy if that is not our gift? It is theologically contradictory.

Second, I think it is often an ego issue. We look at leaders who pastor large churches and we think we should be able to do that (by the way not all of them are good leaders either). Our ego can get in the way of realizing that their gifts are not our gifts. We forget that the mission and effectiveness of our congregation is more important than our ego and that we need help. Yet, surrounded by people who could help us, we sometimes are reluctant to share the leadership ministry of the church in any substantive way or to seek other's counsel, advice or invite them to help us lead more effectively. One day God might ask us way.

Churches need good leadership. I am an advocate of finding the best-possible people and asking them to serve on the senior leadership board of the church and then to take the best of those leaders and bring them to the table to help craft the most missionally compelling ministry paradigm the church could possibly have. It is not about us - it is about Jesus and His Kingdom and bringing the maximum number of people to Him and deploying them in meaningful ministry so that we reach maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4).

The alternative to this kind of Biblical view of gifts and the humility to admit we need help is found in the ineffectiveness of so many churches today and in ministries that founder. Bill is an example. He is the quintessential shepherd/pastor: high relational skills and great caring skills. His preaching skills were good enough that the church he led grew to about 500. Each time it reached the 500 level it was like it hit a ceiling, would level off for a while, then decrease.

The church was filled with highly trained professionals, many of whom had strong leadership gifts and several of whom led huge organizations. Over time, Bill invited many of these onto the board but once there, they experienced huge frustration because they were not invited to help lead the church in any strategic way. That was Bill's prerogative and he saw himself at their level and could not admit that he needed help (and these were his friends who desperately wanted to help him).

When a crisis developed over the lack of congregational direction and people started to migrate out of the church (lack of missional direction will do that), Bill clung to the belief that he was a leader and could solve the problem. He could not and eventually resigned, bitter and angry, under the pressure of a church leadership crisis. Six months later he found himself another congregation to lead where the scenario played itself out again and two years later was asked to leave over failed leadership.

Bill and the two congregations could have been saved a whole lot of pain if he had admitted that missional and directional leadership were not strong suits and had surrounded himself with willing leaders who would have played to their strengths while he played to his and together led their congregations to places of missional effectiveness. But his ego would not let him do this and the churches suffered because of it. Ultimately it is the kingdom that suffers when we don't engage other highly gifted leaders!