Why strong leadership is important…

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.

4 thoughts on “Why strong leadership is important…

  1. Strong, wise and visionary leadership is extremely important. Where I differ with Barna is in thinking it must always come from one person, the “Minister”. This idea of the “visionary” assumes that everyone else is blind and must be lead by the one person who can see. It might work for a while, but it keeps everyone effectively disabled, dependent and in need of guidance lest they trip over something. And as the article points out they are very vulnerable in the cases of leader burn-out, loss of interest, or if the leader gets a better offer somewhere else.

    If a group of people cannot have a shared vision except by an enforced blindness on all but one person, then they should not meet together. They are unlikely to achieve any worthwhile purpose and the leader is likely to fall into temptation.

    I was on the committee of a Christian school a few years back, and I was amazed when a ‘Pastor’ was accepted onto the committee, how deferential everyone became. This guy was a business-man, quite forceful and arrogant in my view, and had just opened up a small Pentecostal church. It was almost as if everyone was relieved that they had a strong leader, and could now offload most of the responsibility of judgement, vision etc on to him.

  2. Yes. I emphasised the need for a strong visionary leader with a team. In fact the goal of each leader should be to replace him or herself. Leadership has to have a generational element, and others should be developed to bring a high degree of continuance.

    It sounds as if your school board was made up of followers, who were relieved at the inclusion of leader. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. at least 80% of people are followers. Only 2 to 4% are leaders with initiator’s skills – primary leaders. Then, with them, there are leaders with the ability to run departments and lead others, but who need an overall leader – second tier leaders. That’s why pioneers tend to be few and far between.

    Leadership teams, such as school boards, are generally made up of those second tier leaders. We can’t do without them, but they tend to enjoy a primary leader, all the same.

  3. It sounds like what you are talking about when you mention the 2-4% of people who are “leaders”, is social-dominance. Social dominance and social status are related to various biological factors such as testosterone in males, serotonin levels, aggression, appearance of certainty, verbal abilities and a range of other factors. All these attributes affect an individuals power in a group and cause others to defer to them once the pecking-order is worked out.

    When these individuals attain peak social dominance their biology also changes. In males the testosterone levels are further increased.

    But I wouldnt call that leadership. This type of person knows how to get others to defer, can fend off challenges to their authority and can get most people to follow. But it dosent mean that person knows where to lead.

    Proverbs 11:14 says “Where there is no vision the people fall” most visionary leaders stop there, but it goes on ” But in abundance of counselors there is victory.”

    some translations say “in abundance of counselors there is safety” which kind of implies it is unsafe to rely on one vision.

  4. So does God, when he calls people to leadership, merely supercharge their testosterone level, or does he call them to lead through grace?

    Christian leadership isn’t social-dominance, it’s serving.

    Leadership is the ability to engage others in unified interaction which accomplishes a given purpose.

    That is service, not dominance. Domination based on the psychological and biological factors you espouse requires a high level of physical, emotional and spiritual enforcement and manipulation to attain its goals. God will never bless this.

    True servant leadership requires the ability to see ahead and construct pathways and functions for people with a shared cause. It has nothing to do with deference or pecking orders, but everything to do with skill and knowledge based action.

    Thus Bezaleel is filled with the Spirit of God and given the wisdom, knowledge, understanding, ability and practical skills necessary to build the tabernacle in the wilderness. But he doesn’t do all the physical work. He oversees the construction according to a God-given pattern. Others are filled with the Spirit to assist him, and given the ability to organise and train teams of skilled workers to undertake and complete the given task. This is a type of the way the Church operates through God-graced leadership.

    Grace and service, not social dominance and serotonin!

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