One of the big beefs resurfacing on these threads from time to time is the question of strong leadership – whether a local church can thrive just as well with a democratic consortium as it can with a strong visionary leader and team.
I was going through a stack of old books my wife gave me to sort, when I came across a George Barna publication, ‘Turnaround Churches’, which assesses why a number of once declining churches had been able to recover, when many don’t – recovery from a slide being difficult to achieve.
Interestingly, amongst the essential ingredients of recovery from a serious slide is strong leadership, as Barna points out:
Throughout this book, I will return to several key themes. One is the extreme importance of strong, visionary leadership in a church. More often than not, the churches that declined found themselves with a pastor who failed to provide effective leadership.
Most people are followers and need a leader to point them in a direction, to motivate tem to act, to monitor their progress and to react to their efforts. Most of the declining churches attribute their tailspin, in large part, to weak leadership.
Interestingly, some of the pastors who led the church to decline were, at one point in their tenure in the church, providing the type of leadership required. However, one of several realities struck. In some circumstances, the pastor burned out and simply lost the will and energy to lead effectively. In other churches, having reached some level of success, the pastor was at a loss about how to move forward. (This is reminiscent of the Peter Principle: People will rise to their level of incompetence and plateau at that point.)
In some of the churches studied, the problem was that the pastor never was a true visionary leader nor was he capable of becoming one. In other situations, we discovered that the visionary pastor, no longer challenged by the church or tempted by other offers, had departed and was replaced by a less-skilled person.
The loss of momentum provided by the visionary leader eventually caught up with the church, sometimes 5 or 10 years after the departure of the leader, and the church had to undertake radical surgery to restore life to the ministry.
Just like any organisation that hopes to make an impact in its environment, a church needs a strong leader to provide direction for the people. The absence of leadership is like a deep-sea diver who makes a dive without air tanks: The diver can survive for a short period of time, but without a key resource needed to successfully accomplish the mission, the diver eventually becomes disoriented and suffocates.
Along with strong visionary leadership there have to be effective management strategies in place. Church is more than a gathering point for saints and lifestyle education, it is a mission organisation with a mandate to win souls and make disciples. This means leadership, vision, strategic purposes and organisation are of the utmost importance.