I’ve had this written for a few days now, but I’ve been hesitant to post it. I know at least two members of my church read this blog regularly, and I fear both hurting their faith and, to be honest, a potential backlash at me for publicizing these thoughts and opinions. But this blog is for me to help work out what I feel and believe, express myself, vent a little and solicit input. As always, these words represent me alone and do not in any way represent my church or its leadership.
Thursday night we’ve had another of our Deacons’ meetings. I’m not sure why I call it that. It’s more than just the Deacons, it’s our ministry staff (main minister and campus minister) as well and another respected member of the congregation, but some how “Deacons, Ministry Staff and Another Guy Meeting” doesn’t have a good ring to it.
Anyway, we had one Thursday. We’ve been meeting every other Thursday since the end of May, and it’s been quite good. At the beginning, it was just a little weird for me. The six of us have some pretty different perspectives on our church and where we need to go from here. All in all, however, it’s been a good six months. We’ve grown much closer together. Going in, I only had a decent relationship with one of these men, now I can honestly say I feel close to all of them.
Thursday night, however, was a bit unsettling for me. When we started this, we started with the idea of having a team leadership. The deacons went to the lead minister and sort of demanded, respectfully, to be included in the decision making. There would not be a single leader, we would lead as a team. I loved this idea. I’ve seen first hand in the ICoC what a strong, one man leadership can do. It can surely move a church, but it can also squash opposing views and trample on those who see things differently. A team approach would mean that the diversity of our leadership could be put to good use in directing the church. One man’s blindness would be counteracted by another’s vision. That was the ideal anyway.
On Thursday our main minister or evangelist, spoke up against the idea of team leadership as we’ve been practicing it. This came on the heels of the meeting two weeks ago. He was out of town and a couple other men couldn’t make it. The four of us spoke about the state of the church in light of some news of more folks leaving the church. We had a great talk at that meeting and came up with some ideas on how to change some of our structure and meetings to meet some needs and to move the church toward stronger relationships and deeper Bible study. I typed up a summary and emailed it to the group, explaining our conclusion and soliciting the thoughts of the men who were not there. Our intention was not to exclude the others, nor to make decisions without them, but we did come to a consensus ourselves on what we thought. In hindsight, my summary was probably too conclusive.
So he thought that perhaps we had gone beyond what we should have. Not just in that incident two weeks prior, but over time. He referred back to the appointment of the deacons, about a year ago, saying we were appointed to specific areas of ministry (children, poor, campus and administration) not to a broad leadership role. He thought we had gotten away from our focus on specific areas of serving and had taken on a larger role than we were given. He said that he did not see a team approach to leadership in the scriptures, that it was the evangelist who led the church until such time as there were elders in place. We have no elders, so it was his role to lead, not the group’s. His thought was that this was a better plan because, as our group has demonstrated, group leadership can lead to paralysis, lack of focus and stagnation.
Well, to say I was surprised would be an understatement. I did not see this coming. A plethora of emotions were running through my mind. He went to great lengths to reassure us that he was not trying to take over or grab power. He has grown to appreciate our meetings greatly and plans to rely on us for support and advice. He would be a fool, he said, to ignore our council, and other mature men in the church, in leading the church. He emphatically expressed his desire to involve us in the decision making process.
After a silent prayer for wisdom, patience and restraint :-), I spoke up. I acknowledged that I was pretty attached to the team leadership model and that there were some emotions involved that were probably clouding my judgment. I expressed an agreement that we had been distracted from our core responsibilities as deacons. I also agreed that we had become bogged down in an aimless leadership style that had not been serving the more pressing needs of the church. On the face of it, I did not necessarily object to the idea of him leading the church, nor do I doubt his sincerity in wanting to involve the deacons. My biggest concern was how are we practically going to move forward under such a plan? How would the deacons be involved in the leadership of the church? I am very much concerned that their influence and role will be diluted and marginalized. Now, I must check my heart here. I see in myself a little desire for power, a want to be influential and to have a say in everything. I have a control streak and I must acknowledge it and crucify it. But the deacons were appointed based on their heart, their lives, their character and their service to the church. They absolutely should be involved in the decision making and direction of the church, they have helped build this church. I am greatly concerned about how we make this happen. My fear is that without some formal definition of the roles and responsibiliies of deacon, minister and evangelist, and a plan to move forward together, we will revert to the old paradigm of one man leading, getting advice sporadicaly as he goes and as he sees fit, as opposed to consistent, active group involvement in the decision making.
Let me clarify a couple of things. First, I realize that as a deacon myself I am tooting my own horn a bit. Let me say, that I think that these principals apply to whomever is in that role. If there is a consensus that I am not qualified to be there, so be it, I will step down. It is not about me, it’s about what’s appropriate and best for the church and I believe that a strong leadership is a broad and diverse leadership. Second, do not misunderstand my words as criticism of our lead minister. It is not. I trust that he desires what’s best for the church. I agree with much of what he has said. I do not doubt that he respects the deacons and me personally and desires to involve us. He has said so emphatically and I take him at his word.
I’ve said some strong things here, but they’re not directed at anyone in particular. They are simply because I feel strongly for this church. I have been here from the beginning and I’ve helped build it. 16 years ago I pledged my life to God and His church and I take that commitment seriously. My wife and I dropped everything and moved here 8 years ago to begin this church. We came with big dreams to build a congregation that would meet the needs of men and glorify God. I’ve watched over the past few years as those dreams have faltered. I’ve been frustrated at the leadership’s, myself included, inability to stem the tide of men and women compelled to leave our fellowship. We’ve been fumbling with other, less important issues while people continue leaving. Why can’t we seem to get it together and shore up the foundation to protect God’s people and God’s name? Only then will we be able to build again.
As far as a leadership team of equals or a strong evangelist, I’m not convinced there is a ‘right’ way. I don’t see in scripture a prescription for how, specifically, to put together a church leadership. There is no place to find the roles laid out in plain, concrete language, like a job description. It seems that God left this open somewhat (outside of the ultimate goal of leadership by elders) to our discression. While I feel that a team approach is quite valuable, I cannot say that it is God ordained. What I don’t know is if the contention that leadership by evangelist is God ordained is true or not. That’s a topic for another study and another post.
In the events of last Thursday I see hope and I am afraid. I do not know what will come of it, but I did not know what would come of our meetings when they began 6 short months ago. They have brought us together and built a foundation of trust that can be built upon. In that I see hope. What was once a fractured, disunified leadership now has a foundation of unity. I hope that my fears are unfounded, the unhealthy result of an aversion cultivated by the past pattern. I’ve seen many years of hierarchy leadership with one man at the top and only 6 months of a team based system. It scares me to put one man in charge again. But now I know this man and I know his heart. I also think I know God’s heart a little better and I have a little more conviction and courage to speak up, and because of our new relationship I have the confidence that I will be listened to as well. As I said six months ago, time will tell what this means.