In most churches, the senior pastor has the most theological training and ministry experience. Most church boards, on the other hand, have little or none; and the same is true with many staff members. That often results in differing perspectives and dueling ideas about leading a church, which can quickly turn into irreconcilable differences.
I have experienced this myself in every church I have been a part of and it is incredibly frustrating. For instance, when we first started PCC, I began this endeavor with many years of ministry experience under my belt while the people who I invited to serve on my senior leadership team (SLT) had little or none. The educational and experiential separation between me and them was a major source of misunderstanding and tension. We saw most things from different points of view. Although a few of the team members did possess leadership skills, it was all in the context of the secular workplace. That was the lens through which they saw everything.
On the other hand, I was overdosed with information about the ministry. Along with my ministerial education, I continually read books on church leadership, attended conferences, and spent a great deal of time interacting with other pastors and learning from them. But with every book I read and every conference I attended, I became increasingly distanced from the members on my leadership team, creating an ever-widening gap between the way I viewed the church and they way they viewed it.
Closing the Gap…
Searching for some way to close the gap, I decided to expose our key leaders to the same insights and principles I was being exposed to. But instead of using the standard approach of Bible devotions and doctrinal themes, I zeroed in on practical theology; the kind of nuts-and-bolts stuff that actually makes a church work; not theory learned in a classroom, but real world stuff that you only learn by being in the trenches.
Almost immediately, the gap in our perceptions of ministry began to close. Now that they were being TRAINED like pastors, many of our key leaders started to THINK like pastors. Even when we disagreed, we had an easier time understanding and appreciating the other’s viewpoint. Most important, we made better informed and wiser decisions.
Using this approach over the years at PCC we have tackled a variety of subjects together; church growth, group dynamics, management styles, and the role of New Testament elders to name a few. We have talked about church government, staff roles, decision making processes, unhappy church members, what to do when people leave, church discipline, and how a church should be structured. We’ve read articles written by Rick Warren, listened to CDs by Bill Hybles, and reviewed books together. I have taken key leaders to conferences in Chicago and California so that they would be exposed to the same things I was being exposed to. Also, whenever I learned something new myself, I would summarize for the leadership team any significant insights.
Training leaders like this makes a difference, a big one. It’s one of the most effective ways to build unity and increase efficiency in a church.
To begin with, leadership training draws people together by providing everyone with a common vocabulary, making communication easier. It doesn’t matter that everyone agrees with the content of the training. Just going through the process together gives us a starting point from which to launch a discussion. It enables us to invest in words, terms, and situations with an agreed-upon meaning. That way, even when we disagree, we understand one another’s position well enough to intelligently discuss the subject.
Secondly, a training program like this helps leaders to recognize the difference between churches and business organizations. Unlike businesses, churches are spiritually centered, educationally focused, and virtually run by volunteers. Also, churches have a radically different bottom line than businesses: relationships & family ties. While some leadership principles learned in the secular marketplace carry over, many do not. A training program helps everyone to understand the difference.
For the sake of our church’s long range health, I think it is important that I come carve out the time for this main priority – leadership training. I agree with Bobb Biehl: “Every organization is a direct reflection of its leadership, for better or worse.”
If pastors need on-going training to keep up with the complexities of ministry work, then the rest of the leadership team does too. And if I, as pastor, fail to train leaders to lead, then who will do it?
It’s no accident that Jesus spent the bulk of His ministry training a small group of (twelve) future leaders rather than investing in a large crowd. No doubt, He knew the future of the church, humanly speaking, depended upon the quality of its leadership.