At the moment I feel like I have more than enough challenges in my life to keep me busy. Knowing that, however, I have decided to take on one more. In my spare time over the next couple of years, I am planning to write a book. One of the topics that I hope to cover is the question of developing strong leadership in a small church. At the moment I am devouring every book on leadership that I can get my hands on and trying to draw out of them truths that apply to small churches.
I am tentatively planning on calling the book Three Challenges for the Small Church. The first of these challenges is the development of a strong leadership team when the potential team members are limited. The large church selects six or seven leaders for its board from the hundreds or maybe even thousands of people available. The small church selects from a pool of maybe fifty or sixty people. If most of the adults are married that narrows it even more since the church probably doesn’t want both a husband and wife serving on the same board. Then age – too young or too old – removes more choices and before you know it, the small church is left with maybe a dozen possible candidates.
So how does a small church develop a strong leadership team? Here is a short answer to what is a very complex question. For the full answer you will have to wait for my book to be published.
Leaders cannot lead people any deeper in their walk with God than they have gone themselves. This is a fundamental rule that applies to anyone in a leadership position in a church but to no one more than the pastor and his leadership board. For anyone placed in that position there is nothing more important than his daily walk with Jesus.
In too many churches the spiritual depth of those holding leadership roles is a long way down the list of criteria for a leadership position. In some small churches a willingness to serve is probably the first thing on the list. Some times longevity in the church is number two. In churches with a congregational structure popularity might enter into it. If a church is looking for someone with experience, business leadership might also be on the list.
Churches need to put spiritual depth at the very top of the list and then develop ways of helping each person in leadership to grow even deeper. In a setting in which the Bible is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice, how does a church help leaders grow in their ability to study and understand what God is saying through his Word? In a place in which prayer is supposed to be the foundation of everything that happens, how does the church develop prayer warriors among its leaders. In a world in which the church is supposed to be making an impact in its community, how does it encourage and train its leaders to be part of that impact?
How does a church make sure that its leaders are on a continual path to deeper spirituality? That has to be one of its primary considerations in choosing leaders.
Suppose you were contracting with someone to build you a new house. He arrived with a couple of young adults whom he introduced as his new apprentices and then told you that this was their first day on the job. After introducing them he got in his truck and drove away not to return until the end of the day. I am sure that you would let him know at the end of the day that you were not happy with the idea that two untried and inexperienced workers were going to build your house unsupervised.
Now suppose that you went to the doctors office to be examined for a serious problem. The doctor comes in, says hello and then turns you over to the receptionist for your examination. You would probably leave and report what happened to the College of Physicians.
If you visited your child’s class at school and discovered that the teacher was your next door neighbour who had no training or experience in teaching children, you would no doubt be paying a visit to the principal’s office to complain.
We expect that the people who service us in every important part of life will have the training that enables them to do their jobs. Doctors need to be trained to be doctors, carpenters to be carpenters, teachers to be teachers. That is the way that life works.
Yet we accept the idea that people put into leadership positions in our churches are equipped to do the job with no training or experience behind them. Often, especially in small churches, we are forced to accept people without a lot of leadership experience. That is one of the realities of small-church life.
That is why it is so important that the beginning point for a leader is not also the ending point. There needs to be ongoing training that enables leaders to grow into the role that they are filling. The church is too important not to provide this kind of training.
A community of trust
In his excellent book The Advantage Patrick Lencioni describes what he calls vulnerability-based trust that he argues is the foundation for everything else that appears in his book. He points out that it is that kind of trust that makes teamwork possible. (p. 37)
Lencioni is writing his book for business people. When I first read it, I couldn’t help but feel that if it could work in a business then it should work even more in a church. After all, within the church, the people on the leadership team in a church were operating under the direction of the Holy Spirit. I was sadden when a few chapters later Lencioni stated that the church was the most difficult of all the groups with which he work .
One of the goals of every leadership team should be the development of a deep trust that enables the members to work together for the good of the whole group.
I have barely introduced these three topics. I will have a lot more to say in future entries and will probably devote a whole chapter to them in my book. They do give us three ways in which leadership can be strengthened in a small church in which the possible candidates are few.