Dear fellow pastors and leaders,
Our theme this issue is congregational leadership. Though a large topic, it’s vital to our ongoing journey of renewal. The old adage is generally true: “As go the leaders, so goes the church.” By definition, leaders are influencers, thus who they are as people and how they exert their influence, have a significant impact on their congregations, for good or for ill. In GCI, we highly value our pastors and other leaders, and this issue is devoted to equipping them for their high calling. In this letter, I focus on a particularly important aspect of congregational leadership, summarized by the phrase team-based and pastor-led.
Team-based and pastor-led, what is that?
I’m privileged to teach the Polity of GCI course at Grace Communion Seminary (GCS), where in lectures and online discussions, I often use the phrase team-based and pastor-led to describe GCI’s system of governance within congregations. But what does that phrase mean? Rather than defining it with sterile statements of policy, let me provide some insightful and helpful responses from my students when I asked them to describe what they understand team-based and pastor-led to mean.
GCI’s modified-Episcopal polity makes our churches pastor-led, but our Trinitarian theology exalts those pastors within a model of community leadership. Our emphasis on how the Father, Son and Spirit perichoretically lead together creates a framework for team-based leadership. I sometimes struggle figuring out how being led by one pastor fits within our understanding of Trinitarian leadership, but in this imperfect world, I totally understand the need for a pastor to lead the way. I think the team-based, pastor-led model is the best one for us—it’s the one we’re following with our church plant. A team creates a network of checks and balances, a wide array of gifting, and the critical ability to share burdens and workload. But being pastor-led provides direction, focus and unity for the team that, without that leadership, may wander in 100 different directions.
I understand it to be a model that reflects the God we believe in. The Father does nothing without the Son, and the Spirit, and vice versa. This system is one of protection and growth. I recently learned that a little pessimism is sometimes required because the eternal optimist may try to make things go that need to be stopped. We need other people that are different from us to see things differently and to use the gifts and talents that they have. When we put all of these things together we have a balanced approach. Lead pastors should help build a team of ministry leaders and have an advisory council in place to make sure that the congregation is being equipped, listened to and going in the right direction, joining Jesus in ministry. The lead pastor should support the congregation and they should support him as they both are accountable to the denomination and even more-so to Jesus Christ.
It’s a model that reflects the God we believe in. It blew my mind when I first thought of that! It is very true that God as Father-Son-Spirit work as a team and are led by the constant unity and fellowship of pastoring each other and completely serving the other at all times. This beautiful system of relationship truly is a system of protection and growth. That is why the Body of Christ is such a great example because we each play an integral part in what the Head, Jesus Christ, already has planned for us.
As my classmate noted already, “We need other people that are different from us to see things differently and to use the gifts and talents that they have.” If we only look for people who are like us (who have the same viewpoint, come from the same cultural/political/social background, etc.) we wouldn’t have a very balanced approach to life in general, let alone church governance. So it’s good to be reminded that joining Jesus in his ministry work means that we acknowledge the God-given strengths we have and use them for God’s glory. In the words of Morgan Freeman, we should each “do what you’re made to do.” God created each of us to be in relationship with him, thereby fulfilling his purpose for us to love him and in turn, love one another.
Team-based and pastor-led is an operational style that puts emphasis on outside accountability and trust in a divinely appointed/trained pastor to ethically lead a congregation within GCI under the Headship of Jesus and with the constant guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I thank God for my GCS students. Who they are, and the abilities they exhibit, give me tangible reason to be hopeful about our future. Their insights point up the fact that effective congregational leadership is both team-based and pastor-led. This is important food for thought as we ponder how to exercise our leadership within the beautiful expression of community that we refer to as church.
It’s a relational art
Executing a team-based, pastor-led model of leadership is more an art than a science. It’s not about merely implementing rigid rules in a one-size-fits-all system. That’s because this model, as a reflection of the triune being of God, is fundamentally relational. It’s about being a community where strong, meaningful relationships are forged over time. Journeying together in community will often mean going through adversity together. But rightly approached, this can be beneficial, leading to healthy self-examination, working together to come to solutions, giving up our own ideas for the overall good. It can lead to more carefully listening to others (thus empowering them to share ideas), submitting to one another (in love), and growing together.
Leaders who know and lead themselves, then work in teams
This relational, dynamic approach to the art of leadership calls for leaders who both know themselves (are self-aware) and thus are able to lead themselves (on this point, see Rick Shallenberger’s article in this issue). Leaders who possess these self-governing qualities are then able to come together in teams to discern where and how the Holy Spirit is guiding them and then, under the lead pastor’s overall direction, shepherd the community of believers forward as it, together, follows the Spirit on mission with Jesus, to the glory of the Father.
I thank our triune God for you, and for your leadership. I encourage you to take some time to evaluate your own leadership style along with your congregation’s leadership system. Is that system, in a balanced way, both team-based and pastor-led? For related food for thought, I encourage you to study Gary Deddo’s essay on the church and its mission being published serially in GCI Weekly Update (click here for part 1).
Director of GCI-USA Church Administration and Development