Effective Lay Leadership 2
In the second of this two-part series, we see how lay leaders can effectively work alongside other unpaid leaders and how they can best use their gifts to lead small teams to support church growth.
In my first article on Effective Lay Leadership, I outlined how paid workers can best relate to unpaid leaders and how lay leaders can helpfully “Lead North” to support the paid pastor. Now I want to deal with “Leading East-West” and “South”.1
How do you relate to other leaders like you who are not paid by the church? How well do you submit to, communicate with, encourage, and appreciate those fellow leaders? Some report good relationships and satisfying team leadership life. But many do not. So what are some of the problems?
a) Silo building and turf wars
A responsible and capable leader shapes things. It may be an area of church life such as finances, running the welcome team, developing small groups, or music. It can feel almost impossible to stop yourself thinking, 'This is my zone.' You may begin to derive your significance from it, and use it add to your sense of self-worth. You feel that you have contributed something tangible and worthwhile. There is a good side to this, but it can be dangerous too.
You may sense this is happening if criticism of it, feels like criticism of you. Do you find yourself beginning to fight your corner too robustly? Are you resentful that others get resources that you don't, such as a notice given out from the front, or some money for a project? Do you find yourself feeling threatened by change? Do you feel undermined if other leaders suggest better ways of doing things?
Being aware of these danger signs helps a leader counter them and learn to hold on to areas of ministry with an open hand. Encouraging others in areas of church life which do not involve you directly is also a good antidote to silo development. Opening yourself to regular review is a way of carrying out your responsibilities without becoming unhealthily attached to them.
b) Time and tide
They wait for no man, but we think we can stretch the boundaries out for at least a little longer.
Firstly, words to (slightly) older men.
To make a point I once asked our leaders where we would like to be in five and ten years’ time? Then came the twenty-year time horizon. They all looked a little puzzled, ‘We don't usually do that far ahead Ray!’ they commented.
‘I know that’, I said, ‘But I want to point out that several of us by then will be in our late 70s or early 80s. This means we have to hand things over sometime between now and then, so let's begin to plan for that sooner rather than later’.
There were some groans in the room, as we realised that ageing comes upon us much more quickly than we like to accept, and that we have to pass the baton on sooner than we think.
I know some churches wouldn't function without very old leaders helping out, there are just not enough young guys around. The service of these older leaders is marvellous. But my observation is that some leaders hang on, reluctantly passing power to others. Is this a danger that older lay leaders are prone to? Perhaps.
By giving power away you gain influence. You will then be asked for advice, others will come for your counsel, and though you may formally lay down a leadership mantle you will go on helping the church well into old-age.
Secondly, words to middle-aged men.
Some middle-aged men can be prone to feeling threatened by the energy of young leaders. They can hold younger pastors back in a negative way. I have seen lay leaders control the progress of the church in a way that has frustrated young men.
One irony is that lay leaders can make decisions and affect outcomes, but their income and livelihood does not depend on living with the consequences. A full-time worker, if he makes bad decisions, will eventually feel it in his pocket. He will know his leadership affects his livelihood. He is likely to be both more thoughtful and more adventurous in his faith. He knows that his good decisions, under God, helps the church to progress and grow so that others can be released into ministry too.
Lay leaders can have the luxury of making poor decisions without any real impact on their personal lives, but perhaps blighting the young pastor’s life. They have to be careful of the position of power without consequences. My advice would be that you encourage the younger pastor to do all he can to take the gospel forward. And never speak down to him.
Thirdly, words to younger leaders.
Younger men are told to flee the evil desires of youth (2 Tim 2:22). Instinctively we tend to think that means sex, and perhaps money. But as with young King Rehoboam, it's mainly about the dangers of power (1 Kings 12).
The Apostle Paul is insightful. In affect he says, ‘Don't be in such a hurry and full of yourself that you can't wait for others to get out of your way.’ Instead he counsels that young Timothy makes his gentleness evident to all, especially to those who oppose him. He exerts him to be patient, to be pure, and to be kind to all.
Young lay leaders need to remember that other people may have invested a whole lifetime in the church. Heaven’s wisdom will teach a younger leader to ‘speak up’ about the past, to validate it, celebrate it, and affirm the sacrifices the older generation has made. (And of course older people should ‘speak up’ about the future, be positive about the new plans, and pray boldly for the new steps of faith - which may come to fruition long after they’ve been in heaven.)
c) The world of work
Lay leaders will all bring insights from their experience in the world of work. Validate each other's contributions and be glad for them.
But beware of speaking as authoritatively on church issues as you do in your area of expertise at work, unless you really know what you are talking about.
I have seen men ‘transfer’ the authority they have at work as an expert or boss, into the church and do much damage. Sadly I have noticed that some men who have been passed over in the secular workplace start using the church as a place where they either vent their frustration or demonstrate their control.
You may be an Elder or a Deacon, but don't use that position as an excuse to just throw your weight around. Humility towards others, especially younger leaders is very attractive. Be an encourager of other leaders even if it's hard for you in your work just at the moment.
How can you best help those whom you support and lead?
May I encourage you to revisit the CARE acronym? It is just great for busy lay leaders. It’s a fantastic tool we can use to help our teams become great teams. Master it, use it, teach it, and you will find yourself as a leader who has released God’s people into effectiveness.
So – effective lay leadership; just some hints, tips and observations. But which, under God, you can use to make you a servant who is ‘good and faithful’, and who will hear the, ‘well done’ from the Master.
1. John Maxwell, The 360° Leader (Thomas Nelson, 2005).