Turnaround Fellowship, part 2 – Leadership, part 2

00016937The last post suggested that a need for more healthy leadership was the single biggest need for today's Churches of Christ. I tried to identify and describe some of the traits of unhealthy and healthy leadership. Today's post will attempt to offer some ways in which to foster a more healthy culture of leadership in Churches of Christ. This is difficult, as some of the solutions are attitudinal. Others are theological. Some are practical moves. As always, these are offered with redemptive intent–out of a desire to see Churches of Christ prevail in the 21st Century.


  • We must simply choose to value good leadership more. We need to pray for our leaders more, care for them better, teach on leadership more, and simply work on cultivating new leadership. It's hard to teach "valuing" something. It's simply an attitude, a mentality, a perspective. We need it desperately.
  • Our "priesthood of all believers" convictions must adapted to fit a more holistic understanding. This biblical concept doesn't mean that all are gifted equally, or than anyone is fit to do anything. It also doesn't mean we need to go overboard making sure no one is allowed to step forward and really lead. Imagine if Moses, David, Jesus, and others had been kept from emerging as leaders because of the "priesthood of all believers." We do not want to be a "leadership hostile" fellowship.
  • More struggling churches must be willing to humble themselves and ask for outside help before they are fatally wounded. All churches will have problems and tough times. We must be willing to admit when a nosebleed has become a hemorrhage and seek help more quickly.
  • When selecting leaders, churches must pay utmost attention to the character of the people involved. Elders are sometimes chosen because of success in business, popularity, etc. Some ministers are chosen based on raw ability, "successful" track record, or even their demographics (age, etc.). It's not that any of these don't matter at all. It's just that they are not the most important things. Selecting leaders by such criteria sets the compass off ten degrees. When the crucible of ministry tests character under extreme conditions, those ten degrees matters a lot. In such times, a person's gifts can melt under the heat of conflict. In such times, how involved they are in ministry is irrelevant. How people manage themselves under significant trial shows their true character. This comes across in the list of qualities given in the Pastoral Epistles. Spiritual maturity must be the leading factor in a person's selection as a leader.
  • Leadership teams (elders, ministers, ministry leaders) must resolve to be ruthlessly supportive and encouraging of one another. Both tones—a critical spirit and an atmosphere of encouragement and support—are set by leadership. Without exception, if a church's membership is critical and chronically discontented, it's a reflection of leadership. A supportive and encouraging atmosphere not only helps current leadership thrive—it draws others to aspire to it. If it's a blood-bath atmosphere, you have all the leaders you're gonna have.
  • Let's pay better attention to the atmosphere we cultivate in the church. Walk into churches like Richland Hills in Fort Worth, Texas, or and you will see smiling, laughter, and a palpable sense that God is on the move. The atmosphere is energized and positive in a substantive way. Why? Their leaders are that way. It's the kind of atmosphere we are trying to create here at North County.


  • Resolve that unless spectacular circumstances exist, the minister should attend all portions of all elders meetings. This fosters a team atmosphere, keeps emotional triangles from forming, keeps everyone in the loop and allows him a place at the table when key decisions need to be made. Ministers often have training, experience, and knowledge of the congregation that can add real value to the discussions. The minister should handle this responsibility humbly, seeking to add value to the church's life…not mitigate power.
  • I'll talk about this more in the post on "Practical Ministry Skill," but we need to train leaders in practical ministry before turning them loose on the church. Churches of Christ don't typically focus on raising up new leaders before we appoint them. We tend to look for involved people, appoint them and hope that "on-the-job" training will train them. Sometimes we believe that no skills are really needed. Big mistake. They don't need to earn a DMin or a Ph.D. first, but some basics would really help. Preparing them to manage conflict effectively; to stay anchored to Jesus Christ in the midst of tough eras in the church's life–these are not things to be learned on the job.
  • Accordingly, it would be wise for every church to invest substantial resources in development of leadership (elders, ministers, and ministry leaders). In many places, if the budget needs trimming, the first thing to go are the "frills" for staff, elders and ministry leaders. By "frills" we mean books, periodicals, conferences, learning opportunities, etc. Most of the time, these are not "frills." They are resources that allow leaders to flourish over time–providing spiritual refreshment, intellectual growth, and creative spark. For ministry leaders, it's a wonderful way to thank them for their service while investing in something that will undoubtedly bless the church.
  • More on this in a future post, but if they are capable, ministers need a lot more room to lead than they are typically given in Churches of Christ. How's that for picking a fight and moving on?
  • We need more available sages and church leaders who can ably do interventions in churches. Right now, there are about three or four guys that do almost ALL of the interventions in churches across the country. That's too big of a load for them to carry. Charles Siburt, Lynn Anderson, Joey Cope, and others deserve our deepest thanks for their efforts over the years.
  • Accordingly, it would be great if we could come up with an organized way to build a team of people with variant fields of expertise: some are good at diagnosis, some at "wellness care," some at growth and innovation, some at helping churches through the hiring process. We currently do best at "dispute resolution." We need to continue this and add to it strategic, proactive, help to churches not in immediate crisis. That would take cooperation and an investment in leadership development at a fellowship-wide level. But, it would be wise and bless the Churches of Christ. I'm sure our universities could continue to help in this regard. The key is to have people who have ministerial training and real experience doing what they are advising others to do. What I'm speaking of cannot not be simply a scholarly exercise. It's got to be ground-level, and it's got to largely be practitioners that do it. In the Independent Christian Churches, many local ministers also serve as consultants to other churches fellowship wide. It's not organized, it's an attitude of generosity and sharing of resources and knowledge. More on that in the post on "Cooperation."
  • We could benefit from a new, hard look at the elder selection process. The processes vary from church to church. However, most look something quite like American political processes geared toward popular election rather than a process that is likely to yield courageous leaders. I know of several churches that bar their own elder groups from any knowledge of or say in the process—because they think there is some sort of conflict of interest possibility. Hmmm…. If in fact the existing elders cannot be trusted to be helpful in the process, the church already has big problems. This is not to mention the elders know things about people the church does not that could be helpful in the "vetting" process. Also, group chemistry matters a lot. Churches should seek elders who relate well to the existing elder group and the ministry staff, as well.

These are some suggestions being put forth in an effort to help and bless Churches of Christ. We have many great churches with great leaders. But, imagine if God raised up strong, healthy leadership in every congregation—can you imagine what a difference that would make?

QUESTIONS OF THE DAY: Why do you think some churches are so reluctant to ask for outside help when they find themselves in a tough spot? Do you think Churches of Christ spend too little, too much, or the right amount of value on leadership in the church? What are some other ways to help cultivate a culture of healthy leadership across Churches of Christ?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Share Your Thoughts

8 thoughts on “Turnaround Fellowship, part 2 – Leadership, part 2

  1. Tim–sometimes good leadership is teaching leaders to not always try to plan everything to death. Sometimes we don’t need charts and graphs and studies done on how to grow the Lord’s Church. Jesus and the apostles just went around blessing people and loving on them and teaching God’s word. We can do the same–we just need to pray for boldness–for our leaders to step out and lead and “GO” as Jesus tells us in the Great Commission!!! Great stuff you are putting out here dear brother!

  2. Refusing to tolerate the pain of change is part of the resistance to making it. Edwin Friedman did a marvelous job of addressing that in his book, Failure of Nerve. We can talk about change until the cows come home, but making changes, and then sticking with them (Friedman’s point) is extremely difficult, especially for leaders that are accustomed to accommodation rather than true leadership. I have come to believe, through my personal experience, that only crisis (in individuals and in churches) will prompt us to change. I think that’s precisely what is happening in churches right now. It certainly happened in my life and, looking back, I can finally appreciate it.

  3. Dean, great comments. I agree with everything you said, though I might adjust the 95% to 75%. Either way, it’s the deciding factor. The other 25% would be the ability of leadership to tolerate the pain in themselves and the congregation it’s going to take to exact change…and coming to clarity on what change is in fact needed. However, there is no question that most of the problem is spiritual.

  4. While I really appreciate all of the practical, and helpful, suggestions, I still believe the root of the problem in church leadership is spiritual. Gene Appel once said that the common belief among church leaders is that the easiest part of change is convincing churches in decline that they need to change. Appel replied that the 95% of the change process (the really hard part) is convincing church leaders that a radical change is needed. Once that occurs, change is relatively easy (by comparison). I have found, through three decades of experience, that’s precisely the case. It is extremely difficult for leaders, and ministers, to believe that the problem in the church begins, and ends, with them.

  5. Tim, once again a great post. Thanks for provoking thoughts concerning the future of our fellowship. I’ll need more time to digest it all.
    As to your questions, I’ll draw on my brief stint in sales for the first one. In training, I was taught there were only two reasons someone can’t sell–fear or lack of knowledge. I think these are two reasons churches don’t ask for help. The leadership is either afraid to ask (and afraid of what they might find out/need to change) or they simply don’t know where to turn to (Another question is, “Where should they turn?”).
    As to your second question, I believe c of c’s in general invest way too little in leadership development. And most congregations who invest anything in LD do so without any intentional or comprehensive plan. Money may be thrown at it, but little strategy is used.
    For your last question I really resonate with the need to develop more practitioner/coaches within our fellowship. Congregations (heatlhy or not) need a pair of outside eyes to help them see what they are unable to see themselves. EVERY professional athlete has a coach. Why? To constantly monitor and improve their game. To build on their strengths, point out their weaknesses, encourage, and bring accountability. How might things be different if church leaderships practiced a little humility and invested in trained practitioners (or a team of them!) who would walk beside them through all seasons of health and growth?