A New Kind of Leadership
For twelve years I wrote a weekly magazine column almost exclusively devoted to the church. Today I write more about the social wars infecting American culture, though my thoughts often return to the church. Today is one of those posts.
During my years as the CEO of a church planting ministry, I was flexible on a number of elements about church planting, including the number of staff, the amount of money dedicated to the plant and the location. On one issue, however, I was firm. Each church needed one and only one senior (or lead) pastor.
I knew unless they had good character formation and an empowered board of overseers, founding pastors had a tendency to become benevolent dictators at best, and egotists at worst. Over the years I’ve watched more than a few self-destruct. But I still believed there needed to be a single person who was the most equal among equals.
I consulted with several new churches in which two co-pastors shared leadership. In each case I told them eventually one would emerge as the lead pastor. They all said I was wrong, but in every case I was right. Eventually one person would give me a call to say his co-pastor had departed.
I am now a member of a church of about 800 that is not quite seven years old. While there is a founding pastor, Mark Tidd, he is not the lead pastor. He is one of three co-pastors, all carrying equal responsibility. Two are women. Mark is one of the most balanced, sensitive, Christ-like guys I know. Jenny Morgan and Rachael McClair, the other two co-pastors, are extraordinarily mature women. There is little question the Highlands leadership structure would not work unless all three co-pastors were people of high character.
The resulting leadership, which they call Trinitarian, forms the cultural grounding of all leadership at Highlands. It also makes it one of the healthiest congregations I know. Would it be possible to have this kind of shared leadership if the pastors were younger, or all male? I know I can be accused of sexism, but when you have a room full of men, it doesn’t take long before the posturing begins. In my experience, women are more collaborative.
Can an existing church make the change to Trinitarian leadership? Could a church started with typical Evangelical (which is to say male) leadership make the change? I know of a church with two campuses on the East coast that has created a flat leadership model. They do have one senior pastor, but many congregants have no idea that is the case. They also have women and minorities comprising a third of the church’s pastoral staff and lay leadership. What is remarkable is that these changes have been made in less than 12 months, after the church was 10 years of age, a relatively short period of time when you consider the church’s Evangelical roots.
When I look back at all those years in a male-dominated Evangelical world, I wonder how I could have missed how out of balance the leadership structures were. Increasingly in America, there is only one place guaranteed to have only male leadership – the Evangelical church. If that is the only leadership community you inhabit, it is easy to miss how out of balance your leadership is. I am not sure how a group can lead adequately when they only have half of the image of God in the room.
Over the last couple of years my previous ideas about church leadership have been properly challenged. The question is what do I intend to do about it?
I am pleased to say I am involved in church planting again. I have begun working with a team to determine the location and staff for a new church. And yes, we are committed to planting a church with Trinitarian leadership, balanced with male and female members, equal in authority and responsibility. I’ll let you know what happens.
And so it goes…