Dwight Stinnett ABC GRR Logo Current Thoughts
from Dwight’s Corner

December 1999


Effective Organization

Effective organization is one mark of a healthy congregation. And pastoral leadership is essential to organizational effectiveness. The best organization for a church maintains the creative tension between pastoral leadership and empowered membership.

Oftentimes pastors say they don’t like administration, and congregational search committees say they don’t want an administrator. Both are short-sighted. The New Testament says that administration is one of the spiritual gifts. Also, we know from experience that administration is not divorced from leadership. Indeed, administration without leadership is anemic, and leadership which does not include administration is ineffective.

What is appropriate pastoral leadership as we enter the next millennium?

It is a question many of us have been asking. At the last GRR staff retreat, I spent my assigned time talking about changes in pastoral leadership. It has become clear that leadership matters. It matters in business, it matters in sports, it matters in families, it matters in non-profit organizations. We shouldn’t be surprised to find that it matters in congregations. However, it is not what has been called “heroic” or “charismatic” leadership. In just about every area, we are learning that leadership modeled on Attila the Hun or the Rogue Warrior is counter-productive, and almost never results in a healthy organization.

The dominant American model for large organizations and their leaders originated in the military, and was filtered through the manufacturing corporation, before it found its way into congregational life. This model reached its zenith in the large theater operations (like D-Day) during World War II, and subsequently General Motors Corporation. It collapsed in the 60’s.

Robert Greenleaf unveiled a radically new model of leadership in the 70’s – a model that was striking in its use of biblical imagery. Since then the cutting edge of business leadership studies, while not overtly or even consciously Christian, is filled with biblical and theological language. Those with ears to hear might be surprised to hear business gurus talk about servanthood, covenant, faith, spirit, values, trust, stewardship, etc. While not a substitute for the New Testament, pastors and congregations would do well to learn from organizational and leadership studies by business on the threshold of the 21st Century.

Too often we find ourselves replicating leadership and organization models that have become suspect, if not rejected, by both business and the military. For example, General Peter Schoomaker, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command, recently wrote an article on leadership. In it he writes: Conventional wisdom says that military units are most likely to succeed in the field when they follow strict command-and-control procedures—when they operate within a rigid, topdown hierarchical organization. But that is an outmoded, inaccurate, and dangerous model for leadership—and for followership. There is a new breed of highly trained, highly skilled military leaders.

Schoomaker goes on to describe that new breed of leader: (1) focus on your mission, define your identity; (2) pick the right people, build the right team; (3) to be a leader, demonstrate leadership; (4) teach people how to think, not what to think; (5) core values hold the ranks together; (6) action learning is the way to learning; and (7) make everyone a teacher.

In a study of what business leaders are saying about leadership, I find six common components (in the words of business leaders, not church leaders). I believe each of these can be supported biblically, and worth considering when we think about pastoral leadership.

Servanthood, not lordship. As long as power dominates our thinking about leadership, we cannot move toward a higher standard of leadership. We must place service at the core. Leadership is always dependent on the context, but the context is established by the relationships we value. Leadership shows up in the inspired actions of others.

Navigating change is essential to leadership. Leading, changing, and learning are virtually synonymous. The leader of any organizational change process is engaged in leading an emergent social change movement. Though there is no cookbook for change, it is increasingly clear that leaders must themselves undergo a change [a metanoia???] before they try to lead their organization into change. Change is a dynamic relationship between follower and leader.

Leaders take and allow risk in an environment of trust. Leadership, as we have created it, leaves little room for mistakes, ignorance, or confusion—which means it has little room for humanity. Imagine what it would be like to be part of a community of commitment where learning and questions were more important than knowing and certainty when it comes to “What to do next?” What creates trust, in the end, is the leader’s manifest respect for the followers. Trust is first; nothing will move until trust is firm.

The notion of “power” is transformed. Authentic service is experienced when there is a balance of power. Collaborative power is completely different from the types of power we use in traditional groups, where we rely on our position or the pecking order. Power in organizations is generated by relationships. Love in organizations is the most potent source of power we have available.

Followers comprise a volunteer team. The traditional chain-of-command is displaced by a network of commitments, communication, and support. The leader’s role is to ask rigorous questions and to help elicit the collective intelligence of the group. Leaders in the next century must be committed to a culture that values mentorship and learning. Followership is a responsible role because it means that the individual must take the risk to empower the leader and say that, in the matter at hand, I will trust your insight.

Values are the foundation. We are just now noting the impact of vision, values, and culture. Leadership is not about style, but ideas. The ideas are the images of a better tomorrow based on fundamental moral principles and universal values. If the structure changes, but the belief system about maintaining control and consistency and predictability remains untouched, nothing fundamental changes.

How are you leading? What kind of pastoral leadership does your congregation deserve?

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