Using high capacity leadership is about calling, not capacity

Throw out ‘one size fits all,’ but keep sound thinking when it comes to turning a church around.

By Ronald E. Keener

Bob Buford, co-founder of Leadership Network, writes in the foreword of Tilt: Small Shifts in Leadership That Make a Big Difference (Abingdon, 2010), by Eric Rees and Jeff Jernigan, that “perhaps the major change since the Reformation’s abandonment from hierarchical rule, has been a change in the work of leadership.

“Many churches haven’t changed their leadership style at all; they are still small and denominational, and the work is expected to be done by the pastor — not much different really from the Jane Austen days,” Buford notes.

As pastors in smaller churches are experiencing burnout, “the big change in the ever-growing megachurches has been that senior pastors have learned to be leaders more than doers. They have learned to release and direct the energy of their large staffs and their corps of volunteers to do the work of the church.”

Rees, in pastoral roles at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA, and Jernigan, senior pastor at Corona Friends Church, in Corona, CA, challenge readers to release their need for control and empower team members for maximum effectiveness.

Jeff Jernigan responded to Church Executive’s questions for both authors:

The first paragraph in your book says, “A simple tilt can transform something ordinary and commonplace, something well understood and familiar, into a powerful and unalterable different force. Just a simple tilt, a shifting of perspective, a change in approach, and everything suddenly takes on new meaning.” An example, please?

Much of my career has been involved in managing change and helping people and organizations turn around their lives, businesses and ministries. Early on I discovered that what works with mergers, acquisitions and organizational turnarounds does not necessarily work with a church, denomination or parachurch ministry.

Many of the principles are the same, but when ministry is considered there is a contextualization that must happen and must arise out of the ministry itself — not a model brought in and imposed upon the situation. The Tilt is seen in the replacement of an external imposition by the internal release of creativity, energy and vision.

The church followed through the book is an example of the successful integration of sound biblical principle regarding church growth and the vision of church leadership, the demographics of the body, and the needs in the community.

The “release” is described further as a contextualization of ministry resulting in the church becoming relevant to the congregation and the community it serves. Rather than impose a model for church growth, the leadership allowed the solution to emerge from within while acting with selective wisdom regarding proven principles for spiritual growth.

The Tilt practically consisted of a refusal to adopt wholesale a “one size fits all” approach to turning the church around, without throwing out at the same time sound thinking based on relevant experience of other churches in similar circumstances. Rather than take the advice of experts uncritically, they looked for opportunities to release from within their body the answers needed for their particular dilemma while being informed by the experience of others.

You write about how one can take “these simple truths and tilt them just a bit, discovering how this simple act has transformed so many people and so many ministries”?

Change doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It is always a response to something. You are cold so you put on a sweater. You are hot so you take off your sweater. Stimulus — response. People and circumstances are constantly changing, and so must the ways in which we lead and manage constantly be reviewed in terms of relevance — should something change about the way we do things?

Sometimes the answer is “yes,” sometimes it is “no” — but by not asking the question periodically we miss the opportunity to stay aligned with reality. A tilt in this sense would simply consist of examining something tried and true to determine if there is a need to shift it just a bit in principle or practice in response to something that has changed.

There are always slots available for people who want to direct traffic or usher. But how can churches use “high capacity” people? Should a man who is a banker in his day job be folding bulletins as his service to his congregation?

Of course! If their SHAPE, passion and interests draw them to this and it fits, why not? Jesus washed feet like a house servant. Paul returned to tent making several times. Peter left the family business to serve gentiles early on. As a retired corporate executive and business owner, I served in the parking ministry at Saddleback for a time and loved it — right alongside a banker and just down the way from a lawyer. The most important issue isn’t capacity, it’s calling.

What really is leadership in the church? How is it best expressed in a church where leadership is taught and practiced?

Transformational spiritual leadership is the strategic exercise of value-driven influence through relationships that results in spiritual and social change based upon the Word of God that advances the Kingdom of God in an enduring manner. In general, leadership involves influencing others to act through various means. It is concerned not only with the character of the leader but the expression of that leadership and its impact.

Leadership typically is about people and management is about tasks or things. Yes, leaders manage and managers lead to some extent but most of us have a clear natural preference for one over the other. Church leadership requires both if we are to be a good steward of people and of resources. We get ourselves into trouble sometimes when we ignore someone’s SHAPE, for example, and ask someone naturally designed, gifted, and called to manage to instead spend most of their time leading people. Square peg in a round hole — the mergence of the executive pastor role.

You say that a member might go away thinking, “They don’t have a place for me,” or “We want all our members to feel that there’s a place for them in ministry.” Sounds nice, but not enough churches are working at it. High capacity people aren’t looking for needs and tasks, and encounter instead, as Bill Hybels has called it, “the August recruitment wars.” What does your book say to this concern?

Enabling, sending and releasing practiced throughout the year are important concepts discussed in the book. Many churches take the plug-and-play approach of throwing willing resources at needs with barely a modicum of concern about calling, fit, passion and aptitude — all the things that make for longevity in service. The book’s position is that with intention, planning, prayer and perseverance there is no need for “August recruitment wars.”

You speak about “control” among pastors and elders. Controlling pastors quickly pushes out volunteers who might make a contribution. What is it that you want to say to pastors about control — no gloves on?

Whose church is it? Whose plan are you implementing? Whose glory is most important to you? Who is the builder? Who is the source of blessing? What Kingdom are you building? If you could be eminently successful but totally invisible would you still be in the ministry?

God is looking for men and women of patient submissive faith. People whose hearts are totally His yet strong enough to win through when others will slack off — meekness comes only with power balanced by humility. All of us fall short in this regard.

The question is what does your life leave in its wake when it travels through oceans of broken people looking for hope and redemption? We have been chosen by God to bear fruit: What kind of fruit does my life bear, fruit of His choosing or mine? Ambition is a good thing — if we are ambitious for the things of God. That drive within us that makes us controlling at times — where is that energy focused? Do we beat the water out of the rock out of obedience or defiance?

“Control” is a result in our lives and not a cause. It is the underlying cause that determines if our exercise of control will ultimately be constructive for ourselves and others or destructive, whether it will be pleasing to God or not. As a pastor, missionary, and counselor primarily to Christian leaders for nearly 30 years, I can share with you that one of the most destructive things in ministry are unresolved control issues and the dysfunction they create.

Erik’s and Jeff’s ‘all time best’ leadership books

Erik Rees’ picks:

  • Courageous Leadership by Hybels, Zondervan, 2002.
  • Simple Church by Rainer and Geiger, B&H Books, 2006.
  • Visioning by A. Stanley, Multnomah Books, 2001.
  • Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God’s Agenda by H. Blackaby, B&H Books, 2001.
  • Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner, John Wiley, 2004

Jeff Jernigan’s picks:

  • Words to Winners of Souls by Bonar; American Tract Society, 1866.
  • Spiritual Leadership by Sanders; Moody, 1973.
  • Leaders, Fools, and Imposters; Essays on the Psychology of Leadership by Kets De Vries; Jossey-Bass, 1993.
  • Insights on Leadership (essays by Block, Blanchard, Wheatley, Covey, Autry and others); Spears ed.; Wiley; 1998.
  • Winning with People by Maxwell; Nelson Books, 2004.
  • Good to Great and the Social Sectors (Monograph to accompany Good to Great) by Collins; Collins Library, 2005.

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