Themes of Healthy Community: Part 4

Community Built on Collaborative Leadership

In this new millennium, effective churches are moving away from a committee structure and are instead gravitating to ministry teams to help them live out Christ’s mission. For some reason, God chose to construct His church in such away that for a healthy body of Christ to emerge, we must first find our own spiritual gifts, and then find how they fit together with the gifts of others. Together, we are Jesus' hands and feet in the world.

I think the Spirit gives each of us a piece of the picture of what He is calling forth in the local church. It’s kind of like a holographic image. Each of us sees the image from our perspective, like a two-dimensional slice. It is only when we can come together and see how our slice of the picture fits with others that a three-dimensional picture can emerge.

For that kind of synergy to happen, we must first have good relationships. I don’t know about you, but when I’m surrounded by a group of people who aren’t like me, they mostly aggravate me. It’s only when I have entered into a deeper relationship that I will hear what you have to say, if it is dissonant with my own beliefs. We rarely listen to opposing viewpoints unless we believe that person has our best interests at heart.

If we each sit around trying to persuade others that "your picture doesn't look like mine, and mine is right," then we never see the big picture. The essence of collaboration is valuing the strengths of others, acknowledging our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and leaning on each other for strength as we work together to find solutions that are a win for everyone.

If we do not love each other, we will never work together in a healthy body of Christ. Yet in most of the team-based work I’ve done in churches, we never take the time to learn to love each other, warts and all. We always want to jump right into the work. Without understanding each other’s personality and negotiating style differences, we just end up annoyed and frustrated with each other, and the work suffers.

Do you want these patterns to stop? Want to see true synergy emerge in your fellowship? Engage your team in understanding personality and conflict styles, the gifts and passions in the room, so you can understand why you see things differently. Allow the bigger picture to emerge. Admit you don’t have all the answers, and commit to join in discernment to find the Spirit's leading. Balance a focus on task with a focus on the relationships on the team. Do that and you will be amazed at the results. Synergy!

TAKE A MOMENT  Where have you seen true synergy emerge in your work or your church? Have you often found “flow” where everything was working together seamlessly to accomplish a goal? How can you create more opportunities to find “flow”?

So, what does scripture have to say about this?

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. -Romans 12:4-8

The natural tendency is to let differences divide us. Implicit in these verses is that we can find ways to overcome differences. Paul says it this way in Ephesians 4: But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.

TAKE A MOMENT   How often have you been willing to admit areas where you’re not gifted, and invite others to use their strengths where you are weak? Think of an example, and what happened as a result.

It’s as if God has composed a symphony, and each of us has our own part to play. The symphony can only be realized when we blend together with others under the Spirit's leadership. In a strong team, weaknesses become irrelevant, because others on the team have strengths where we are weak. Building strong relationships helps us overcome our differences and learn to trust those who can help us see our blind side.

There you have a great picture of team: different people coming together in unity around a noble purpose. This is the essence of the missional communities I described earlier. When we envision the shift from committees to ministry teams, we must make the contrast between the two clear and provide the coaching to make it possible.

When you work with a strong team, the end product is inevitably better than the ideas each individual brings to the room. When that team is intentionally listening and discerning where the Spirit is leading, true Kingdom synergy can emerge. And the culture that is created can draw our individual sparks together to make a strong flame, one that is infectious and draws others towards Christ.

This is what ministry teams and collaboration look like. Unfortunately, few pastors I’ve met truly understand collaboration. Clericalism is still rampant in the church, and it impedes pastors inviting lay leaders into collaborative leadership.

The clericalism that still exists in the church is not healthy, nor is it Biblical. The idea that "ministry is the pastor’s job” is crippling churches. I worked with the newly elected leadership of a large church recently. It was clear when we talked about expectations that many were holding onto the small church idea that the pastor should be the one “doing” ministry. That they were in a larger setting just meant there could be several pastors and additional staff to do ministry. In many churches, there is a general feeling that when a layperson does hospital visits or other such pastoral care, that “it’s just not quite the same as the pastor coming.”

TAKE A MOMENT  What is the best team experience you can remember? How could you create such synergy in your work or church? Pastors, have you shed vestiges of clericalism in your church? Laity, do you still see the pastor as the one who should “do” ministry? In what ways is that limiting your church?

The idea that the pastor’s primary job is “equipping” rather than “doing” has not sunk in with many laity. They’ve grown up seeing pastor as chaplain and know nothing different, and many are somewhat suspect of the changing role.

In a healthy body of Christ, clergy and laity share the leadership roles. In such churches, the gifts of lay leaders are recognized, celebrated and integrated into a collaborative leadership team. For this collaborative environment to emerge, one factor is critical. Shared leadership in a healthy church is built on a foundation of trust. We can only truly value the diverse opinions of others when we have built this foundation. It begins with trusting God.

Once we can trust God, the next steps are to trust ourselves, be trustworthy, and finally to trust others. Where this trust exists, we can build a permission-giving environment that empowers others to lead. Most churches today have a governance system based on control rather than empowerment. Micromanagement screams to the people, “I can’t trust you to do it right. I have to control every step.”

So, what would a healthy body of Christ look like? The foundation would be a core of lay leaders who are committed to their personal discipleship, serving in their area of giftedness, discovering a passion for mission and working together to create a collaborative leadership team with the pastors and staff. Once established, this leadership team would work together to discern God’s calling and vision for the church and model servant leadership for the congregation.

A sense of mission emerges from the vision of the core team and radiates out from the center. As people commit to missional outreach rooted in their own gifts and passion for Christ, the church will start influencing a broader and broader circle of friends and acquaintances both in and beyond the church, drawing people to Christ, and growing a community of disciples.

It’s important to keep in mind that a radical change like this will cause anxiety. As we move from dream to vision to creating what God is calling forth, we are birthing something from the plane of imagination into the real world of our faith community. It can be a painful process. It is only when we can look past the pain of birth to the beauty of new life that we can bear the discomfort. If we don’t frame these changes as a birth process, then people just want the pain and anxiety to end.

Surrounding oneself with a diverse team will also ensure a clearer picture of reality. No one person can see all the facets of reality. Reality emerges in the divergent views. A clear grounding in reality is critical for a leader to stay one step ahead.

In the Bible, most of those God used as prophets did not come up through the system of religious preparation to be a rabbi. Paul was a great exception, and God had to break him of most of his rabbinical teaching to use him for the Kingdom.

TAKE A MOMENT  Have you surrounded yourself with truth tellers in your life and ministry? How open are you to God speaking his vision through someone who has not gone to seminary? Can you recognize a calling in the life of one of your people? Honor it?

Pastors need support through this time of birth. They need to be in relationship with others who are on this journey. They also need mentors who have already been down this path. The great challenge is that so few pastors feel the call to move their church towards discipleship and serving. Consequently, there are few peers and mentors available to help guide the way and support those who are struggling with anxiety and conflict as they move towards the future God is calling forth.

The biggest challenge for pastors who are truly visionary leaders is to create shared vision. It is easy to go to the mountaintop like Moses, come back down, and cast a vision before the people. It is another thing altogether to see that vision lived out in the lives of the people. For the many pastors who are not visionary leaders, the only hope of igniting a Godly vision in your church will be to encourage those who are wired for visioning into their own discipleship journey, and then enter into a collaborative journey with them to discern God’s vision.

Collaborative leadership. It worked in the first century, and it works in the twenty-first.

TAKE A MOMENT  Is your church on plateau or in decline? What have you done to build a sense of urgency? Gather a leadership team? Cast a new vision? Are you choosing the alternative, a slow death?

See the rest of the Themes of Healthy Community here:

Community built on trust, not fear

Community built on discipleship and mission

Community of transformed hearts and souls, growing mature in Christ

Community built on shared leadership

Community built on multiplication and sending

Conclusion: Circling the Drain, is your Church among the Walking Dead