As a consultant and leadership coach with churches, I often am involved in conversations about shaping and empowering the team at the top of a church’s organization. I’ve seen this team called by several different names. It might be the senior management team, the executive team, or the directional leadership team. For the purposes of this series, I’m going to refer to it as the senior leadership team.
This is the team of leaders that usually includes the senior or lead pastor and the group of leaders that oversees the day-to-day operations of the church. In some instances, the church’s governance also recognizes this group as the elders. Scripture identifies a number of specific responsibilities of elders in the church. Every church needs elders, but that’s not what this series is about. Instead, I want to focus on the role of the senior leadership team, which may or may not also be the elder team in your church.
Additionally, I know some churches that have a board of overseers that includes people from outside the church. Again, that’s not the team I’m referring to when I’m talking about the senior leadership team. An outside board will never have enough knowledge of the local church to provide the leadership and influence required to oversee day-to-day ministry. (As a side note, I’m not a big fan of outside boards of overseers. I’ve seen too many situations where senior pastors lack support and accountability because they don’t have other leaders directly involved in their ministry/life. But that’s a topic for another day…)
In this series of articles, I will address these questions related to senior leadership teams:
- What’s the role of the team?
- Who should be on the team?
- How do you empower the team?
- Where do you find leaders for the team?
- What are the big mistakes churches make?
Let me start, though, with this basis for the conversation: I never think it’s too early to begin developing your senior leadership team. The primary reason I believe that is because Jesus modeled team-based ministry from the very beginning. Jesus hand-selected twelve disciples (Mark 3:13-19). I firmly believe God designed ministry to be done in teams primarily because Jesus modeled it.
Because of that, leaders need to begin identifying and mentoring leaders from the very early stages. Of course, that may mean you are mentoring people who have leadership capacity who aren’t currently ready to lead. You may be discipling people with leadership potential who may not yet be Christ-followers or be spiritually mature. The question is who are you mentoring?
Over time, you will begin to select people who have demonstrated spiritual maturity and leadership capacity to help lead the day-to-day ministries of the church. Do not settle for people who are available but not spiritually mature. Do not settle for people who will give you time but do not have the leadership gift. The capacity of this team will determine the potential impact of your ministry. If it’s just you and no one else, your impact will be limited. If it’s just you and a group of people who aren’t qualified to lead, your impact will certainly be limited.
As the church grows, this team will also need to change. Early on, it’s not uncommon for everyone on paid staff to serve on the leadership team. At some point, that becomes impractical. You’ll eventually have too many people sitting at the table. Once you have more than seven or eight people, it becomes difficult for everyone to be fully engaged in the conversation and in decision-making.
Additionally, the team will have to change because God designed us to have different levels of leadership capacities. Some of us have the leadership gift, we clearly see that God has created some people to be leaders of tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands. As the church grows, it will require different leaders with more leadership capacity to serve on the senior leadership team.
The church will always need leaders with different levels of leadership capacity (and certainly people who have different gifts other than leadership)-but these people will have a bigger ministry impact and ultimately be more fulfilled if their ministry role better matches their gifts. That means many people in our churches, including those we pay as pastors or directors, should not be on the senior leadership team.
Let’s focus today’s conversation on developing leaders in the early stages of ministry. What are some practical strategies you’ve used to raise up leaders? What worked? What didn’t work? Join the conversation by leaving your comment.