Effective Lay Leadership 1
This is the first of a two-part series aimed at both pastors and lay leaders. How can lay leaders can be most effective in their calling while encouraging paid workers to better understand their unpaid colleagues?
Lay leaders are vital.
In fact, most churches are absolutely dependent on these unpaid leaders. Few churches can afford lots of staff leaders, but all need good lay leaders.
In Exodus 18, Jethro’s insight was that good care starts with a leader of ten people. Leaders of ten are the basic building blocks. Without them the whole deck of care collapses. But very few of these leaders of ten will be paid.
That means a senior leader or group of elders who do not develop lay leaders all the way through the church’s structure, may stultify its ability to reach its potential.
Let me explain what I mean using a simple formula:
T + L + V = PC
T is good Bible Teaching. L is for Leaders. V is for mobilised Volunteers. PC is a Prevailing Church going forward – irrespective of its size.
Notice that it is ‘L for Leaders’ who are the key bridge between the teaching ministry and the active volunteers. These leaders take the teaching, embody it their own lives, and then exemplify it really up close and personal to the small number of people they lead in a face-to-face context.
Good leaders of ten are vital for your church’s health.
A word to Pastors
But what do lay leaders wish that paid pastors better understood about them? My guess is that a response may go something like this:
1. Remember the Three T’s of Time, Talent, and Treasure
Time: Lay leaders are under much greater time pressure then paid workers realise.
Talent: Work, family, and home life require a lot of a lay leader’s best efforts, and sometimes they may not have that much energy left over. Scheduling leaders’ meetings for Friday nights for example (as we have done here at Grace Community Church far too often), is not doing lay leaders many favours after a long and stressful week.
Treasure: When paid workers talk about giving remember lay leaders (gladly) give sacrificially to pay your salary and get no financial reward in return; so please don’t beat lay leaders up about the need for increased giving, even if it is a source of frustration to your expansion plans.
2. Don’t play down the other Three T’s: This Time Tomorrow
This is a neat phrase from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity which is used to emphasise at a Sunday service what volunteers will be doing to serve God on Monday: This Time Tomorrow. Mark Greene cogently argues that all too often the key task becomes, “to recruit the people of God to use some of their leisure time to join the missionary initiatives of paid church workers.” That view of ‘mission’ just doesn’t encourage lay leaders much during the 110 waking hours when they are not doing church work!
Lay leaders wish paid workers would more often affirm that they are serving the Lord too; the lay leader’s work is important to him and therefore should be important to the pastor, and calling them ‘lay leaders’ doesn't imply inferiority in anyone's eyes, let alone God’s. (See Colossians 3:23, 24).
So, Pastors, do we affirm the God-given calling of other leaders, or do we secretly think that we the paid leaders are really doing his work and they, the unpaid, are just filling in time or earning money?
Now let's move on to helping people to become more effective leaders. John Maxwell in his now famous book, The 360° Leader, can help us all.1
He emphasises that we all lead in several directions, not just those who are directly under our leadership.
Maxwell devotes most of his book to this, the importance of ‘leading up’. Lay leaders can do a terrific job for the whole church if they support the paid leader/leaders.
I recall a comedy Western entitled, ‘Support your Local Sheriff’ that I watched as a boy. The point, of course, was that at the first sign of trouble the local townspeople didn't! Many church leaders will think: ‘that sounds familiar’.
So how can lay leaders help, as an unpaid leader, to ‘lead up’ to a paid pastor?
Recognise ‘stipendiary hours’
Back in the day a church minister was paid a stipend, which is a sum of money to free him to fulfil his calling. In law his ‘employer’ was not the church, but God, and he was answerable to his Master. What, when, and how he did his work, was left to his conscience before the Lord.
Lots has changed and employment legislation now means that many are in a different kind of situation. Churches now have some kind of employment contract, staff have legal protection, pensions are taken out, and there is a Working Time Directive, which is all to the good. But don't forget that whatever contracted hours are described, most church pastors work weird and long hours.
For example, I have often worked out how to structure a talk at 5am when my mind was clear. The great singer Glenn Campbell had a hit with, ‘You are always on my mind’. The church is always on mine (2 Cor 11:28). So I cannot log my hours like that.
Sometimes I visit someone and I should pay them for the joy they brought me. But sometimes money could not pay for the challenges experienced during a difficult pastoral meeting. So be understanding of your paid leader’s difficult working schedule. Remember he never feels that ‘Friday night’ or, ‘it’s the weekend!’ feeling of relief.
Terms & Conditions
Churches will differ in the terms and conditions they've attached to full-time workers’ contracts. Some offer sabbaticals, some don't. Some increase pay with experience. Some tie in to an external measure such as the teachers’ pay scale. Others seem to set it arbitrarily. Some give to the pastor via provision ‘in kind’.
Whatever the financial provision, good lay leaders can stop meanness developing. For example, I knew of one church which kitted out the manse (church-owned house), but then everyone had an opinion on the colour, quality, and especially cost of the carpets. How would you feel if everyone else in the church was discussing your house décor, mostly critically?
Most churches give a holiday entitlement similar to other full-time ‘secular’ paid employees. But can I encourage you to be generous in holiday entitlement, especially encouraging a really good summer break? Christmas and Easter are often very busy church periods for the paid pastor and his family. Summer may be the only time in the year when a pastor gets a proper mental break. Give him longer than others have. It will be a tangible expression that you are leading up to him, and expressing care for him and his family. It will enable him to serve effectively for the long-term.
In his book, ‘God’s time, God’s money’, the late Sir Fred Catherwood argued vigorously from the Bible that churches should err on the side of generosity with terms and conditions.2
Of course there are other ways of leading north. Here are some of Maxwell’s other insights. Think about how you might improve in these areas so that you become a more effective leader in relation to your pastor:
- Lead yourself exceptionally well
- Lighten your leader's load
- Be willing to do what other’s won’t
- Invest in relational chemistry
- Be prepared every time you take your leaders’ time
- Know when to push and when to back off
There is a lot of wisdom distilled in those bullet points. Take time to reflect upon them yourself and with your co-leaders.
In the next article we’ll focus on encouraging lay leaders to lead East/West and South. Read part 2.
1. John Maxwell, The 360° Leader (Thomas Nelson, 2005).
2. Sir Fred Catherwood, God’s Time, God’s Money (Hodder and Stoughton, 1987).