Thursday, February 14, 2008

A little Me on church leadership

Home-Grown Leadership

I hate interviews. The whole job search ordeal bugs me. Recently, I was involved in an interview process that lasted nearly five months and consisted of a conference call, six face-to-face interviews in one day, plus background and reference checks.
My dislike of job hunting and interviews has little, if anything, to do with the actual places I have applied, and everything to do with the process.
The job hunt is like dating. Everyone involved showers, gets all dressed up, combs their hair, sprays on their favorite scent and tries to have a good time all the while hoping for a love connection that leads to a lasting relationship.
Shortly after making a commitment, the guard is let down and real truths are revealed. Expectations are changed or revealed for the first time and things that were once pretty grow dull. It is at this point when the shock of a relationship based on superficial façades and very little time together becomes crystal clear.
What saddens me most is not that I have been drawn into working relationships like this, but that the church uses this very same model for hiring her pastors. When a leadership vacuum arises in a local church a committee is usually formed to send out a clarion call for a new leader -- typically an outsider, a gunslinger, a pastor-for-hire -- to come and save the day.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that churches have copied the corporate model of hiring without thinking theologically about leadership. One church application questionnaire asked, “What salary level do you believe is necessary to make you comfortable and effective in ministry?” Another church’s job description states that they are looking for a “Functional CEO.” This kind of thinking seems to be at odds with Scripture.
In the early days of the young Christian church, Paul gives Timothy advice in 2 Timothy 2:2, “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” This sounds similar to what Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations…Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”
Notice any pattern here? Paul taught Timothy who was to teach other people, who in turn would faithfully teach other people! Similarly, Jesus revealed the kingdom of God to the disciples and in so doing modeled what the disciples were to teach to others.
This organic model of developing church leadership can be seen coming to life through church history. Jesus taught John. John taught Polycarp. Polycarp taught Irenaeus, and so on, and so on and so on. The very reason we even have pastors today is because of this chain reaction dating back to the early church’s value of entrusting the teaching of Christ to faithful men and women who taught, mentored and discipled others right up to the present day.
The “dating method” of providing church leadership is a modern convenience, one the early church did not have. It was not possible for the early church to list open leadership positions in denominational newsletters or on church staffing websites. They could not pull from a professional class of clergy because one did not exist.
I have to wonder, has the church grown lazy in its commission to “make disciples?” Shouldn’t some of these disciples grow to become leaders in their own community? We seem to think it is simply easier to follow the corporate world’s hiring methods, to hire a professional pastor rather than train someone in a pastoral role. Could we go so far as to say that the church has shirked its responsibly to raise up leaders and likewise has pressed Christian colleges and seminaries into developing an elite group of specialized churchmen?
In general, I would say that the church has missed the boat on raising up its own leaders and the almost universal need to staff leadership positions with people outside one’s church community confirms this. Now, would I go so far as to say that hiring a church leader from outside one’s own body is sinful? No. Is it less than ideal? Yes.
When a local church takes seriously its responsibility to disciple people, those with gifts in leadership will emerge (1 Cor. 12:27-28). When our church community is looking for elders, we take note and see who is essentially already doing the job on their own. Thus, our future leaders have been leading, pastoring and caring for our community long before they are given a title or even a salary. If a church faithfully passes on the truths of Jesus and is observant of those who are growing spiritually, it will find leaders and pastors already serving and loving their own community!
By filling leadership positions with those who are already a part of a worship community, no one needs to go through first date jitters. Relationships have been established and people really know each other. There is no need to “make a good first impression.” No one has the awkward duty of carrying the conversion along if things don’t go well.
With pre-exiting relationships, trust has been established and does not need to be built. (If it does, then the wrong person has been chosen for leadership.) For the most part those selected for leadership have shown their faithfulness by being a contributing part of the community.
Choosing leaders from within gives the community an invaluable opportunity to have first-hand experience of the potential leader’s life. There is no façade that needs to be removed. There is a corresponding truth between what the person does and says and between what they value and truly believe. Since familiarity exists, hiding is harder to do.
The community knows the very heart-beat of the home grown leader, since they have spent time growing together. The person’s passions, desires, and spiritual growth are a matter of public memory and can be easily charted. Blind spots and shortcomings are recognized and addressed up front. This minimizes the shock of seeing what the other looks like without their makeup on, so to speak. And because they are known, the home-grown leader is encouraged and supported, rather than scrutinized.
While compatibility in the dating method is key, it is not such an issue for the home-grown leader. This person knows the focus and vision of the community and has already bought into it because it is their vision too. An outsider has to be baptized into the common vision of the existing community. The home-grown disciple does not.
The use of organic leadership is also a solid indicator of whether a church is faithfully teaching scriptural “truths to other trustworthy people.” It can be seen as a litmus test of their efforts to grow and disciple people. Regardless of whether a Christ follower is ever a church leader, it is still the church’s responsibly to help them along the path to Christlikeness.
Establishing any long-term relationship requires wisdom and commitment. Brief meetings and background checks only reveal a portion of a person and risk future disillusionment. Conversely, home-grown leadership provides an realistic and faithful way of recognizing future church leaders and pastors. There is no need to pump-up a resume, dress the part or even to sell one’s self, since the community has witnessed the individual’s growth, passions and abilities firsthand.
Of course, you can still utilize the dating method and risk the most frightening aspect of it -- the possibility of getting dumped before a real commitment can even develop. This is usually harder on the candidate than it is on the organization. I’ve been there. If you were wondering about the outcome of my own marathon job interview process…they said, “let’s just be friends.”

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