By Randy Richards and Gary York
Competent visionary leadership is a critical component to the ongoing success of the local church. The role of elders in a growing church can be complex and overwhelming. To protect against that, a new model exists that is compelling, expedient, and satisfying. And it is based on biblical principles of leadership and empowerment.
This is a guide to help you navigate through this new leadership model. It should assist you to:
- Understand the role of the elder (as overseer, 1 Peter 5:2)
- Recognize empowerment possibilities
- Understand issues pertinent to the elders/overseers
- Embrace the new leadership model
Visionary leadership and strategic thinking are inseparably linked in this model. Elders, with diligence and discernment, must demonstrate competence in both, while possessing the character qualities described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
Elders and staff are at the heart of service to the local church. This leadership model (pictured above) clearly distinguishes the respective responsibilities for the two. The elders are primarily accountable for establishing vision and establishing policies that foster achievement of that vision. This is called “strategic thinking.”
The staff is primarily accountable for initiating and implementing a strategic plan, within the policy framework, for the fulfillment of the vision. This is called “strategic planning.”
Effective elders establish good policies, monitor progress toward the vision, and avoid meddling in day-to-day operations of the church. Effective staff plan ways to achieve the vision. Clearly defining responsibilities is a strong step toward effective leadership.
Policies reflect the elders’ collective voice. Using this model, the elders lead through key leadership policies that guide decisions within the church. This new model of leadership provides a framework for consistency from year to year as members of the eldership change.
The origin for this leadership style is in Jesus Christ who said, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” Good leaders are good servants first.
Leading with this new model demands proactive, rather than reactive, service by elders/overseers. It calls for empowerment and delegation consistent with the biblical command (Ephesians 4:11-16) that leaders seek to prepare members of the church for ministry. It entrusts people, but monitors progress. In such leadership, the church can make quicker progress toward fulfilling its mission and achieving its vision.
This style of leadership:
- Distinguishes clear roles for elders and staff
- Eliminates trivial/unnecessary meeting time
- Equips elders/overseers to lead
- Promotes practical tools for leading
- Cures micromanagement
- Focuses agendas on vision, direction, and achievement
- Clarifies expectations/evaluations for the senior pastor
- Sponsors creative thought
- Fosters a proactive mind-set
COMPONENTS OF THE MODEL
1. Values—The elders lead based on a simple, but well-defined set of values that provide a spiritual framework for decision-making across the work of the local church. The elders model these values.
2. Unity—For any given leadership issue, the elders speak with a single voice or they do not speak at all. This single-mindedness stems from a fundamental belief that consensus on key leadership issues leads to stronger and better decisions for the church. Without a single-voice approach, the elders have little authority to lead.
3. Decisions—Under this model, elders make few decisions because they are focused primarily on high-level policy issues. When a decision is needed, consensus is required. Sometimes this means that policy refinements are addressed as part of the decision-making process. While this may take longer than “voting,” it elicits innovation and values the input from everyone. In the end, stronger decisions are made, motivation is increased, and division is avoided.
4. Empowerment—In more traditional settings elders are accustomed to giving permission to proposed plans, ideas, and requests that are brought to them. This can limit the creativity, agility, and responsibility of those in frontline ministry. With this new leadership model, vision is established, boundaries are defined, and an empowerment environment is set for people to use their God-given talents, resources, and gifts. If a proposal is consistent with the mission, shows progress toward the vision, and is within the defined limitations, a “just go get it done” attitude prevails. No permission is required! Good elders seek to clarify, encourage, and develop this environment of empowerment.
5. Policies—An eldership that speaks with one voice expresses itself through policy. These policies provide clear and steady direction as well as freedom and empowerment for progress.
6. Vision—The elders focus on clarifying and documenting the church’s vision, realizing that their vision must come from God. Vision is what so many churches desperately need.
7. Limitations—All groups need boundaries (God demonstrated this with the Ten Commandments). Through limitations policies, the elders actually empower the senior pastor, staff, and volunteers to use all reasonable, legal, ethical, and prudent means and resources to make progress toward the shared vision.
8. Design—Looking always to the Scripture, elders design what they expect of themselves as a team by proactively addressing such issues as values, norms for personal behavior, elder responsibilities, and job products. While all policies are subject to change, the elders constantly recognize such policies are considered binding and basic to their structure and behaviors for leading.
9. Personnel—The elders are responsible for one employee, the senior pastor, who also serves as a full member of the elder team. They empower staff through this direct linkage.
10. Metrics—Performance is monitored rigorously, but monitoring is aimed primarily at measuring progress toward the vision. Monitoring can be very focused and efficient with this model and can help elders understand more about the progress of the church than ever before!
POSSIBILITIES FOR YOU
Churches that apply this “Guide to Effective Leadership” will find tremendous leadership improvements in the church leadership environment. The relationship between the elders/overseers and the senior pastor will be strengthened as an intertwined rope. Those who make the transition to leading with strategic thinking and managing with strategic planning will find great efficiencies and growing momentum.
Gary York, senior pastor with Eastview Christian Church, Normal, Illinois; John Martin, church executive director/administrator; and Randy Richards, businessman, author, and elder, have developed the Center for Leadership Development (cflex) for the purpose of building church leaders. For more information, go to www.cflex.org.