I recently read a post at Learnings at Leadership Network, by Warren Bird, Ph.D., Research Director at Leadership Network, and co-author of 19 books on various aspects of church health and innovation. This was posted on May 16, 2008 in Church Visits.
Warren wrote, “Unfortunately, too many churches exist where the senior pastor is a tremendous leader but an even bigger bottleneck. In such churches nothing of importance can happen unless the senior pastor is at the hub of it. Neither long-term volunteers, nor senior staff, feel empowered to take initiative on anything major. They feel underutilized – and they are.
When I visit churches like that, I am saddened by the waste of so many people’s God-given talents, energies, and spiritual gifts. It’s like the church is running on 10% of its potential and calling.”
This post led me to think about the importance of empowerment as a key to effectiveness in ministry. Believers are gifted and empowered by God to participate in God’s redemptive work. The pastor is responsible for leadership, yes, and the pastor’s leadership has great influence on the effectiveness of the ministries of the church. However, in a volunteer-based, congregational setting, the members of the congregation have significant influence on congregational effectiveness, depending on two factors, 1) how well the members discern and respond to the call of God in faithful obedience, and 2) the extent to which the congregational system empowers them for service.
Warren makes a significant point. To my great sadness, I have witnessed pastors who lead in ways that kill the spirit of congregants who want to serve. What congregations need from pastors is not to be told what to do, how and when to do it, or overt analytical criticism that makes members feel inept, but pastoral leadership that empowers members in living out their Spirit-led passions and gifts for ministry.
I believe lay persons get it! They get it because God is in them! They need to be empowered and released for service because they are called of God. Pastors need to get out of their way, trust them, and even let them mess up on occasion.
Pastoral leadership practices and attitudes need to give attention to systemic structures and processes that develop a culture of empowerment. Some of the obvious signs that indicate that this is not being done in pastoral leadership are:
- A neglected theology of calling – no clear, intentional teaching about calling that respects the Spirit’s call in the lives of believers.
- A lack of respect for and attention to the God-given abilities that reside in the members of the congregation.
- Support of a “watch-guard” stewardship philosophy that hordes finances and does not resource members for ministry.
- Structures and processes that do not give church lay leaders and clergy staff adequate authority commensurate with responsibility.
- The need to control and have the final decision-making power for all things, which is evidence of a lack of trust in the leaders in the congregation.
Our power for effectiveness comes from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God resides in every congregation! But the Spirit cannot work when the system gets in the way—pastors, finance teams, attitudes, or structures and processes that impede persons from living out their faith. It’s exciting to see pastors who do understand this important need in congregational life.
Ultimately, the lack of empowerment is a relationship problem. It is a lack of trust in God and others. And the congregation that does not empower persons for ministry will have a difficult time developing relationships and being effective in its mission.
Questions to ponder:
- How does your congregation empower persons for ministry service in terms of decision-making power, the launching of new ministries, use of member gifts, instruction about calling, and providing emotional support , resourcing, and financing?
- What bottlenecks in your congregation impede effective empowerment?
Date posted: Thursday, May 29th, 2008 3:47 pm | Under category: administration, bowen family systems theory, congregational life, discipleship, leadership, spiritual gifts, theology, vocation
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