Encouraging and Enabling Healthy Change in a Congregation:  The Issue of Church Staff (paid or unpaid) Over-Functioning and Volunteers Under-Functioning

September 11, 2019

Cindy chaired church council at a church I pastored.  She was a very capable and competent leader in our congregation.  We had seen this competence displayed in several areas of the church.  Yet, when we installed her as Council Chair I failed to truly enable and affirm her leadership.  For example, I unilaterally prepared the Church Council agenda in advance of our meetings.  I then handed the printed agenda over to her, asking at a very late hour if she was okay with this or had anything to add.  Cindy would usually agree that the agenda looked fine.  Yet, this was a very unfair process because I did not sincerely seek out her input on the agenda.  In addition, I asked for her input and feedback so close to the meeting deadline that she really did not have sufficient time to respond in any thorough or significant way.

As Cindy's pastor I had failed to practice and promote the ministry of the laity.  I had missed an opportunity to practice shared leadership with Cindy.   And, more important, I had not honored her role or her God-given gift of leadership.  What often happens in situations such as this, leaders, as I did, will over-function which often leads to another person, in this case Cindy, unknowingly or through complicity, under-functioning.  My preparing the Council agenda; not adequately consulting with Cindy prior to our Council meetings; and, then during the meetings frequently controlling and directing much of the conversation led to an unhealthy staff-driven, neglecting to share, ministry model.

I regret this unhealthy ministry style from the past.  Hopefully I have learned and discerned from leadership mistakes like this one.  I never visited with Cindy about this leadership dysfunction, as I had moved on geographically.  However, I could easily see how she may have felt slighted and perhaps even discounted in her role as chairperson.

Promoting and practicing the ministry of the laity requires a staff mindset and mode of operation which embraces shared leadership.  Ministry of the laity also mandates pew-sitters coming off the bench seeking, embracing, and employing their gifts.  When and where these healthy leadership dynamics of shared leadership and employing of gifts occur you will find a ministry moving forward with vitality and fruitfulness for the Kingdom.

This is when ministry becomes a joy.  When a person's God-given gifts intersect with the felt needs of others, and in the process lives are being changed, improved, and enhanced there results a joyous sense of fulfillment of one's call and purpose.  This, then, becomes the sweet spot of ministry.  This sweet spot ministry will draw in and retain a person to participate in life-giving, people-serving leadership.  One's gifts are employed for something functional, faithful, and fruitful.

As shared leadership through ministry of the laity contagiously multiplies and gains community traction, a congregational DNA evolves which results in additional and continual servant leader volunteer involvement, integration, and inspiration. This is the biblical practice of the ministry of the laity.  This effective and fruitful model of ministry in a local congregation is lay-driven while at the same time being staff-led, encouraged and guided.  This complementary team approach with laity and staff will greatly assist in pew-sitters transitioning and transforming into servant leader volunteers.

Taken from the book "Mentoring Pew Sitters into Servant Leaders:  Developing Servant Leader Volunteers Through Mentoring" by Michael D. Kurtz.  Published by Plowpoint Press, 2018. 

Leadership Development