Why governance fails and why it needs the missional family model

For generations people have talked, argued, and fought over the model of leadership for the church.

Many support the episcopal model, which has a single leader- the bishop. This is the type of leadership used by the Catholic church, Anglican church, and many entrepreneurial-style evangelical churches. One person has the final say in what the church does and believes. The leader is autocratic in making many, most, or all of the decisions. The problem with the autocratic leadership model is that it draws authoritarians who can abuse the church. It is almost always hierarchical. Lesser members of the church either have no voice or have obstacles to reaching the leader so that their voice can be heard.

The second model of church leadership is the elder led model, particularly described as a plurality of leaders. In this case some number, usually a small number in respect to the total membership of the church, make their churches administrative decisions. In some cases, these elders are chosen for their spiritual maturity. Sometimes they’re chosen for their business sense. And sometimes they are chosen based on their contribution or connection to the church. Elder led churches can avoid the dysfunctions of a single leader misleading the church, but, sadly, elder-led churches often lead to a culture of ins and outs. That is, there are those people who are the inside group. Everyone else is on the outside. Elders can wield a lot of power and often the church becomes inbred.

Finally, the congregational style of leadership breaks down the walls of the church leadership. This democratic model gives voice to every member. In a purely democratic system, authoritarians are silenced as the congregational meetings give equal power to all people. The problem with this kind of church governance is twofold. First, there is seldom a truly democratic church. Most churches have a hybrid polity where some decisions are democratic, but the rest of the decisions revert to either a single leader or a plurality of leaders. The same problems exist as under the two previous forms of leaders.

The second problem with a democratic church is that not all people are equally knowledgeable about what a church needs to help its members grow in maturity. Therefore, people’s wants and their needs are given the same weight. When this happens churches easily begin to pursue their wants, and selfishness can rule the body.

While all the above models have grave limitations, the solution isn’t to contrive a new form of leadership. To be sure, there is not another way to arrange humans to lead an organization other than a single leader, a plurality of leaders, or democratic leadership. The solution is to reconsider the organizational nature of our churches. We do that by developing a family model of ministry where our churches are not non-profit organizations to managed and directed toward greater efficiency. Our churches are families, or clans. The core of our purpose isn’t productivity; it is community. Our leaders aren’t rulers or managers. They aren’t visionaries take the church to new and better places. They are siblings with the rest of the church, but mature siblings at that, who care more about the spiritual destination of the people than about what is produced.

Our churches will be better governed when governance is minimized and parenting the children of God is maximized. As the Apostle Paul put it:

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. (1 Thes. 2:7-8)

Follow up this post by reading:

Leadership: Two tensions to reconcile

Marks of the early church and the family model of ministry

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