The lesson Alan Hirsch identifies in The Forgotten Ways comes out of the explosive growth of the church in China. When the missionaries were expelled, and when the pastors were dead or in jails, suddenly the Church exploded in creativity and in life and growth. Too often leaders become bottlenecks in a system, stifling initiative and fostering dependence. When leaders need to be recognized, or need to be needed, they shape systems that are limited by their own gifts, energy, and abilities.

There are a few correctives we need in thinking systemically about leadership. First, leadership is as much a process as it is a characteristic of individuals. Second, leadership is more about change than about stability. While many good leaders are also good managers, leadership is not primarily management. Third, effective leaders exist more as a hub than as a hierarchy: they are connected, and they may be central, but they are not above. Furthermore, hubs need to multiply and network. Picture many spinning wheels, with relational connections running between them. Yeh – the starfish is better than the spider. Fourth, leadership cannot be abstracted from its context. The community and process itself is always primary. In this sense leadership is situational. When the context changes, leaders must become learners, developing new competencies and/or expanding the team to include new competencies.

The challenge facing existing organizations and communities in Canada today is to innovate and adapt or die. The largest challenge is to move from a centralized, controlling environment to one of release and empowerment. This is the movement that Breen and Hopkins identify as “from control to high accountability and low control.” They specify three pieces with the acronym “CAR.” C – change environment; A – agreed core values; R – relational trust.

The largest shift is the first one. To fundamentally shift a culture is the largest challenge – we face all the homeostatic mechanisms, and we face the huge anxiety of individuals dealing with change.

Moreover, accountability cannot be imposed. Accountability that is imposed is simply control masquerading as relational concern. In other words, we can’t merely add a new label – “accountability” – in an existing environment that is hierarchical. As the authors put it, “we need to change both the perception and the process if we are to create healthy accountability that will be welcomed not endured.” They note at least two stages in the movement from control to accountability.

1. A grassroots, bottom-up initiative of accountability must begin. Preaching, teaching, and key relationships must all reflect this ethos. In other words, leaders must lead in this by example. Moreover, the emphasis is on the health and growth of persons in life, mission and ministry. It is not about making leaders or the organization look good. Questions invite responsibility within the context of personal goals: “What do you want to see change in your life? Where do you sense God is challenging you?” Accountability partners do not exist to run your life but to serve and support.

2. A more formalized accountability framework has to become the norm at every level. This is a structural shift and if clusters are assumed then the leaders of clusters become accountable to one another, facilitated by meeting together regularly for this purpose.

family systemI won’t rehearse the “Agreed Values” and “Relational Trust” components here. Instead, I’ll offer a diagram that comes from an old book on family systems written by Jack and Judith Balswick. Jack and Judith researched family dynamics and identified a range of family styles that are healthy, and unhealthy. They were interested in how families grow and change over time, and how parenting styles shift as children grow and mature. They worked with a clear vision of what “maturity” looked like, and described maturity as “the capacity to be a servant.” Healthy parenting, especially in the latter stages, was described by terms like “empowering” and “releasing.” Just how closely this mirrors a healthy process in church families can be seen in this statement: “Parents who are empowerers will help their children become competent and capable persons who in turn will empower others.” (The Family, 103). Substitute “leaders” for parents, and “disciples” for children.

I know – this will connote control and paternalism for some. But churches, no less than families, are not democracies. They have structure, goals and necessary processes. They are healthy or unhealthy in relation to these components. And organizations, families and communities are all complex adaptive systems. The added complexity of the church is that it is a creation of the Spirit and its life is ordered dynamically by the living Spirit.

Yet having said that, the goal of leadership is to create mature disciples in caring communities who will then form others as followers of Jesus and found new families of faith.

In order to reach that goal, leaders use multiple styles, including Telling, Teaching, Participating, Delegating and Empowering. It turns out that these styles correspond to levels of maturity, moving from dependence in the early phases (with teaching and telling the dominant leadership styles), to participating, delegating and empowering on the right. Moreover, the level of socioemotional support required changes from fairly high in the middle stages, to low in the later stages.

For a more detailed article looking at parenting and family styles, go HERE.

2 Comments on leadership in new churches 2

  1. […] pages detailing this shift. There is no diagram for this section, but I have one in mind. It is a bell shaped curve, with socioemotional support on one axis, and control on the other. The movement of maturity for […]

  2. […] Elsewhere, Mike Breen and Bob Hopkins note the need to move from “control to accountability.” […]