Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Six Leadership Functions for Ministers/Church Leaders

Six Leadership Functions

According to Israel Galindo (in The Hidden Lives of Congregations), there are six leadership functions of a minister or pastor. These functions may play out differently in a church where there is a strong pastoral leader than in a congregation that has a minister serving under an eldership.

The first function is providing vision. Vision is the sense of purpose a congregation has for it’s existence and function. “Vision is a blueprint of a desired future state ... an image of that state of being and living that the congregation will work to achieve in the future” (140). Vision is developed after a congregation has a sense of its identity, meaning it knows what it believes and stands for, has a sense of values, and honors it’s past (144). When a church clearly knows who and what it is, it then has the understanding of itself to pursue it’s vision and fulfill it’s mission. Mission is what God wants all churches and Christians to pursue: preaching, teaching, and ministering to the hurts of the community. Vision is the direction of a congregation to fulfill that mission in a manner uniquely suited to its identity and make-up. Is the congregation an inner city church with a large homeless population? Then that congregation’s vision might be to focus its greatest energies and resources in ministering in Jesus’ name to that segment of the population. Is the congregation a rural or small town church with a number of teen pregnancies in it’s community, but little or no resources to assist them? Then the vision of that church might be to function in Jesus’ name by focusing attention, maternal and paternal mentoring, care and financial resources to those teenage boys and girls about to become parents. The mission of every church is to minister in Jesus’ name; the vision of each church is to decide, based upon it’s identity, nature and abilities, how to best fulfill that mission. One function of the minister is to study his congregation and community and help identify a clear and compelling vision for ministry.

Managing crisis is a second important function for a minister. Crisis is created by change that lacks purpose or focus and thus “introduces disequilibrium, uncertainty, and makes day-today life chaotic and unpredictable” (150). Changes in leadership, the perceived direction of the church, or corporate structures and functions, such as worship, can all create this disequilibrium for the members, especially if they cannot discern a purpose for it. They feel “threatened and out of control” because the personalities, processes and structures that have provided their spiritual security are gone (150). When disequilibrium or systemic anxiety hits a church, the following responses, as identified by Rabbi Edwin Friedman, can be discerned. One, reaction. Members may be scared, frustrated, angry, or nervous, all indicative of chaos. Two, blame-casting. No one immediately assumes they are responsible for the confusion, so they look to others to lay the blame on. Leaders become primary targets and, if they initiated the changes, they may be legitimate targets. Three, herding. People of like mind begin to group together, finding equilibrium and comfort in solidarity. Grouping together means there is an “us versus them” mentality and should signal to the leaders that there is a real problem in the congregational unity. Four, a demand for a quick fix. The inner turmoil caused by the chaos can become unbearable, and the sufferers demand an immediate remedy. It may be going back to an old practice, firing a staff member or insisting on the resignation of an elder or other congregational leader. At this point, the leaders can experience what Friedman calls failure of nerve. A failure of nerve is when the minster or leaders get caught up in the anxiety of the system and become part of the chaos by giving in to unrealistic demands or by participating in any of the members’ chaotic behaviors (reacting, blaming, herding or seeking a quick fix; Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, 54-55). Leaders must stay engaged and continue to function with the aim of helping to regulate the system (discussed in #3 below).

Thirdly, ministers exercise leadership by staying connected. This is especially critical during periods of conflict and upheaval. The best response of the leadership is to remain differentiated from (calm and above the chaos of) the members while at the same time staying connected to (visiting with and listening closely to) them (152). The calmness of the leaders allows the members to know leadership is still in place, and remaining emotionally engaged and connected with them helps regulate the anxiety. The tendency of leaders to “hunker down and fly under the radar”(151) during crisis and conflict to avoid attacks opens the door for greater systemic dysfunction and for others to vie for positions of power and influence. It is my experience that some people intentionally incite conflict in a family, business or church to disorient the leadership and open the way for the initiator to step in and begin to function as the leader, as invariably happens if the existing leadership is disengaged from the members of the system. Not all conflict is started purposely by someone to wrest control for himself; it is often the result of changes leadership tries to make for the health of the congregation, or changes that are inevitable, such as the aging or passing of older leaders. Whatever the cause of the crisis and chaos, effective visionary leadership means the minister (and elders) remain engaged. Leaders must understand that “effectiveness depends more on relationships (with the members) than on official status or in the office they hold” (152). Remaining connected means listening to the members to understand their perspectives, showing concern, and challenging them to responsible behavior (152).
Fourthly, ministers function as the resident theologian of the congregation. Without a strong orientation to scripture and what it teaches for the life of Christians and the church, many members will base decisions and actions on expediency. It is particularly important during times of crisis for theology (biblical teaching) to inform peoples’ viewpoints and behavior, since during chaotic times people are more prone to act out of intense emotions than reasoned and biblical thinking. Congregational peace can be sacrificed to a desire by competing sides to win. To challenge leaders to thinking more theologically, Galindo asks them how theology informs their decisions. He finds that even many ministers make church decisions based more on expediency than theology. One role of the resident theologian is to help people fit their story into God’s story. How does the life of the congregation and individual members fit into God’s ongoing story of redemption for his people? Most people don’t think in those terms: it is the theologian’s job to train them to. All of our lives must be interpreted in light of the Gospel and God’s claim upon us. Ministers continue the ancient biblical narrative into the life of the congregation by use of: 1) speech (terms for our redemption and relationship); 2) themes (key ideas, doctrines and dreams); 3) conflict (helping the congregation interpret and process fears, tensions and challenges); 4) rituals (worship, meals, and a sense of belonging) and 5) issues and stories of belonging (what it means to be part of this community) (156).

A fifth function of ministers or leaders is management. Some understand leadership to be relational (connected to and leading people) and others for leadership to be the management of an organization (“through process, procedures, organization, and the control of resources,” 158). Both approaches are actually necessary. To be a successful leader/manager, a minister must understand the congregation’s purpose, and have a vision to achieve it’s mission. In smaller churches, leadership/management is more relational than administrative. “Relationship management means being attuned to people’s emotions, and practicing influence with a purpose in order to move people in the right direction” (159). This requires being emotionally connected to and involved with the congregation.

The sixth and final leadership function according to Galindo is influence. More critical than any skill or ability is for the church leader to earn the trust of the congregation and thus be able to exercise influence. Leadership means influencing others in a way that “believers will trust and respond to the Head of the church for themselves, in order to accomplish the Lord’s purposes for God’s people in the world” (Galindo, 160; Stevens and Collins, The Equipping Pastor, 109). Influence in Christian circles is not charisma, manipulation or personal power; it is the proper exercise of positional and personal leadership within the church. If one is granted a position of leadership within the body (minister, elder, deacon, teacher, etc.), he or she has a degree of positional leadership. Personal leadership is relational: “influence is the result of the leaders ability to stay connected in significant relationships with the members” (160). The aim and direction of the minister’s leadership is to influence the people to live out God’s claim on their lives, submitting to his will, obeying, and engaging in mission to lost and needy souls.

These six leadership functions identified by Israel Galindo are a huge challenge for today’s minister or elders. Most of today’s ministers were trained to work within the church culture, meeting the needs of the members. Because of changing church and cultural circumstances, many churches today are in serious decline, and congregations are anxious about their church dying. It is imperative that ministers, elders, and other church leaders realize that ministry within the church is never to be an end in itself, but it is to prepare the people to engage the world with the Gospel (Eph. 2:10; 4:11-13). Leaders must exercise their influence to lead members out of the comfort and safety of the closed church environment out into the world where ministry must be done today. Kennon L. Callahan wrote, “The day of the churched culture is over. The day of the mission field has come” (Effective Church Leadership, 13). Galindo’s six points can help ministers and elders navigate the changes that will be necessary to posture the church for the future, by moving it from an inward to an outward focus.

Warren Baldwin
August 31, 2011

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  1. Warren:
    This would make a great class for RRFE...using 2 of the characteristics each day. What do you think?

  2. Sounds good to me, Jerry, thanks. Cheryl is excited about getting to be there this year.