Shared Leadership and the Church

Wheels of Progress

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In over twenty years of pastoring, I have not known the church to be on the “cutting edge” of culture. There may be an argument about some mega-churches focusing on innovation, but for the majority of churches, the wheels of progress move quite slowly. The statements of “We’ve never done it that way before…” and a fear of upsetting people, tend to keep churches from moving too quickly or too far out of their comfort zones.

The propensity to move slowly causes some to look to the business world to get ideas, processes, and inspirations. For years I hated this. “The church isn’t a business,” I would argue, quite smugly I might add. I never considered that both businesses and churches are organizations made up of people. Viewing the church as an organization causes me to wonder; would methods businesses use to effectively mobilize people for a common purpose work in churches? As I continue to see the church, especially my beloved United Methodist Church, slowly decline under cultural tendencies, and how some businesses not only address cultural trends in a way that is effective but thrive, I am convinced that it is time to explore whether any of their methodologies can help churches move forward in God’s mission.

Deja Vu Once Again

Have you ever felt like this?

“Consider the challenges of the 21st century enterprise: things change too fast for one individual to know how to best respond; there are many explanations for any event, and multiple perspectives are needed to understand what that event means and decide what to do; a pipeline of future leaders is essential…”

I know I have! I resonate with that quote. Actually, I resonate with the whole article (more on the article below). I even wrote something similar in Experiences in Transformational Leadership. In my article, I bemoaned how quickly everything changes, making adaptation difficult. Maybe you have similar feelings. You are working longer, harder, and have to know more than ever before. Technological advances help us find information in an instant, but with Facebook, Twitter, Email, text messages, and other technological tools that we have to learn and use, life becomes overwhelming.

Sharing is Nice

The article goes on to say:

“No wonder organizations today are drawn to the benefit of leadership that is shared, rather than concentrated in a single, charismatic individual. Regardless of the exact organizational structure or what it’s called, the times seem to call for leaders who can be first among equals.”

I could say the same thing for the church! Yet, this article wasn’t in Christianity Today, or Relevant Magazine. No, this article came from Harvard Business Review. Amazing.

Learning to Share

In the 21st Century, we must learn to approach leadership differently. If you are interested in the concept of shared or decentralized leadership, check out the article. I like the little twist when they write, “…leaders who can be first among equals.” The concept “first among equals” puts a bit of a spin on decentralized leadership where everyone is equal. Kaiser argues, in “Winning on Purpose”, that effective teams have someone in the lead. Someone, as Kaiser maintains, must be held accountable and it isn’t possible to hold groups accountable. Having a leader, however, does not necessarily mean others are unimportant or don’t have influence. Sharing leadership is one way to maximize the gifts and graces of those in the church. As the article explains, “things change too fast for one individual to know how best to respond…”

The article also states:

“This is more than delegation. It has to do with a team sharing a sense of purpose and responsibility for the overall leadership of the company. Different people may spearhead different aspects of the team’s work, but everyone is in charge, always.”

Shared values, purpose, and alignment of values and purpose, are topics that I plan on exploring on this blog since they are vital to flourish in the 21st Century. A new day has dawned,…well…actually a new day dawned quite a few years ago. The time has come for church leaders to embrace new leadership styles and develop leaders who move the mission forward.

Will shared leadership work in the church? What do you think it would look like? Are business methods even appropriate for churches? Is leadership overvalued in our culture? Leave a comment below.

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