The Phases of Church Leadership: Identification

As I continue this series of posts concerning five phases a church must go through in order to move toward and to remain in a place of strong health, let me remind you to please read each posting. The overall discussion of and the relationships between the phases will make much more sense! Remember to think in terms of the Olympic rings as one phase intersects with another.

Today I want to introduce and discuss the second phase. I call it Identification. It must be preceded by a strong assessment phase (phase 1) or it will be lacking and shallow. Therefore, only after the church has worked through an honest assessment and evaluation process such as I described in my last post, will leaders be ready to develop a current profile based on their findings. Identification is the final report or the conclusions discovered based on the thorough assessment that took place.

Some may call this phase simply part of or the final aspect of the assessment process and I am not going to argue too strongly with them. But I personally believe and have experienced in over 34 years of ministry that it is important to separate Identification out and call attention to it specifically as a next step due to its high significance. It is helpful to think of assessment as the actual research and data gathering and to think of the next phase of identification as the analysis and compilation of the assessment results.

Unfortunately, I have known far too many churches who conduct assessment but then it never leads to anything. There are no findings discussed, no further steps planned. What a waste! A healthy Identification phase leads the church to not only remember where it has been and recognize where it is now, but to use this knowledge as a basis for phase three action which will be the Vision Development.

Identification done well compiles a current profile for the church. It creates an understanding of and answers to qualitative questions of both being and purpose as well as the pathway to developing goals and objectives. Questions are answered such as: Who are we as a church? Where are we as a church? Who do we need to be? What do we need to know? What do we need to do? These answers provide a platform, a foundation, upon which action can be planned and implemented. To understand who you are as a church, where you fit into God’s plan for this time in this place for these people is crucial knowledge for church leaders and members.

It is helpful to put this profile in writing so it can be easily communicated, discussed and become a useful tool for the next phase. Helping the entire leadership team and congregation to be aware and fully understand this honest summary of reality can be vital. Once everyone knows who and where the church really is, they can begin to build and move forward in a united way that transcends simple opinion. The church can move beyond the questions of the past and often the polarization that they can sometimes bring. When everyone is on the same page from the beginning, planning and vision development can proceed in oneness. Healthy Assessment and Identification phases set the stage for biblical Vision Development. Watch for that next time!rpg online mobile gamemobile game online

The Five Phases of Church Leadership

In a previous post I introduced what I refer to as “The Discipline of ‘Why?’” This is an important leadership principle that guides us to remain focused upon the mission of God and a biblical vision to fulfill it. We must be disciplined to ask “why?” before “who?”, before “what?”, and before “how?” in order to stay on track with the vision to fulfill His mission for His church. I encourage you to go back and read about this important discipline.

Over the next several weeks I want to flesh out the five phases a church must go through in order to not only implement this discipline, but also to either move toward or to remain in a healthier state. These phases have come from my own twenty plus years in full time local church ministry, as well as nearly twenty years of church consulting. I have had the privilege of consulting hundreds of churches face-to-face as well as several denominations around the world. The need for these phases has been consistent in both the healthiest and most unhealthy situations I have personally seen and experienced. I am now teaching them as aspects of the Church Revitalization course here at the seminary.

I do not want you to misinterpret these five phases as formulaic, however. This is not “A+B guarantees C.” Instead, these phases are simply processes that churches seeking to be biblically strong will walk through and constantly repeat in an evaluative loop. In addition, at times they will not be completely linear. Leadership might need to weave in and out of the various phases at various times to address specific issues. There is, however, a logical beginning order that I will use to introduce these concepts. Think of the Olympic rings as an image of how these five phases interact with one another.

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One last significant aspect of these five phases is that they are also incredibly beneficial for the individual believer. Just as they provide a strategy for moving forward and for evaluating an entire corporate body, they can do the same for the church member. As a leadership team embraces these concepts, they will find how they can be implemented on both levels.

Please read through this entire series of posts to come. I seriously pray this will be helpful as I walk you through the five phases of: Assessment, Identification, Vision Development, Adjustment, and Implementation.

 

On Plural-Elder-Led Congregationalism

For nearly a decade, I’ve been convinced that the most faithful contemporary adaptation of New Testament polity is a plural-elder-led congregationalism. Since January 2012, I have been a part of the elder team at my local church, First Baptist Church of Durham.  I’m thrilled to be able to serve the Lord and His church as a full-time seminary professor and a voluntary pastor.

I’m convinced that plural-elder-led congregationalism is a healthier alternative to four polities that are very common among Free Church evangelicals, including Southern Baptists. Option 1 is pure democracy. In this polity, the whole congregation votes on nearly every decision. The pastors and church staff are often treated as mere employees of the church who direct various ministries, but who have no real authority in the church. All of the authority rests in the whole congregation assembled in a church conference or members meeting (often called a “business meeting”).

Option 2 is committee-led congregationalism. In this polity, the church uses democratic processes to make key decisions, but the real authority rests with certain key committees or similar small groups that are compromised of influential church members. In many Southern Baptist churches, the committee that runs the church is the so-called church council. In others, it might be the personnel committee, since these are the folks who keep tabs on the staff. A very common variation of this polity is deacon-led congregationalism, where the deacons function as the chief committee in the church’s hierarchy.

Option 3 is single-pastor-ruled benevolent autocracy. In this polity, the solo or senior pastor is called by the church, but after that, he wields most of the authority. In a larger church, he typically hires and fires all ministry staff, including other pastors. The lead pastor is as much a CEO as he is a shepherd. Members meetings are kept to a minimum; in some churches, only once a year. The pastor is the leader and the people follow his lead.

Option 4 is plural-elder-ruled benevolent oligarchy. In this polity, which is not as common as the others, a plurality of elders rules the church in much the same way as the single-pastor-ruled option. The difference is that the authority is vested in a small group rather than a single individual. In many ways, this polity could be called “poor man’s presbyterianism.” The church is ruled by her elders, but there is no presbytery or classis beyond the local congregation. This polity also frequently makes a presbyterian-like distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders; only the former are considered pastors.

No doubt these are simplistic summaries of the various polities found in our circles, but I doubt they are overly simplistic. I’m personally acquainted with many (sometimes tons) of SBC churches that hold to each of these polities pretty much exactly as I’ve described them. Options 1 and 2 are very common among traditional-minded, small and medium-sized churches in small towns and rural areas. Options 3 and 4 are more common in contemporary-minded, larger churches in suburban areas, as well as newer church plants.

Plural-elder-led congregationalism differs from each of these polities in various ways. Unlike Options 1–3, there is a plurality of pastors. Unlike option 4, all of the pastors are elders, and vice verse; the terms are synonymous. All may be paid staff, or some may be paid and some may be voluntary. Unlike Option 1, the elders/pastors have the freedom to exercise biblical pastoral authority over the congregation in matters of teaching and shepherding. Unlike Option 2, no committees or deacon “boards” are elevated to an unbiblical level of authority in the church. Unlike Option 3, all pastors are equals, even if, based upon prudence and giftedness, different pastors have different roles within the leadership team. Unlike Option 4, the final earthly authority still rests with the whole congregation as it corporately seeks God’s will under the lordship of Christ as it is revealed in the Scriptures.

If you are interested in reading more about the ins and outs of plural-elder-led congregationalism, including the biblical justification for the view, I would recommend the following books.

Thabiti Anyabwile, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons (Crossway, 2012).

Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, 2nd ed. (Crossway, 2004), especially chapter 9.

John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Kregel Academic, 2005), especially chapter 7.

Benjamin Merkle, 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Kregel Academic, 2007).

Benjamin Merkle, Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members (Kregel Academic, 2009).

Phil Newton, Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model of Church Leadership (Kregel Academic, 2005).