Who Are You Fighting?

Leadership systems often operate reactively. Though few would admit it, leadership cultures often operate to serve the church by “protecting it” from what they fear the most. This is a reactive, fear-based way of approaching church leadership. This way of leading isn’t of God, because it’s rooted in fear. This model bears two children in congregational life: unicorn hunting and ambush.

The Blind Side

We may use terms like “accountability” as a rationale, but the irony of such systems is they inevitably leave those holding others accountable without accountability. While spending time insuring the church against, say, an “autocratic minister,” the church creates an autocratic eldership. By guarding against an autocratic eldership, the church creates inappropriate power for committees. These are the games anxiety plays with us.

The Unicorn Hunt

In Churches of Christ, for instance, the leadership paradigm is built to guard against the autocratic minister. Yet, I’ve never seen one. If one were to be found in Churches of Christ, they would be a unicorn indeed. However, there are many examples of dysfunctional autocracy among those given authority to, ironically, protect the church against the autocratic ministers. Yet, few churches adapt to protect themselves from this problem, which has proven to be far more crippling. In fighting they, potentially, create a new one they don’t recognize.

Churches that prevail over time create leadership paradigms based on the paradigm’s ability to help the church best carry out God’s objectives. They are not built to “guard” against anything. This isn’t to say there is no such thing as healthy accountability. Of course there is. It just isn’t healthy accountability if it’s spawned by anxiety. That’s when “accountability” is really just “control.”

Churches would do better to provide processes to insure non-burdensome “accountability” for all in leadership. This might reduce the power games, the nuclear explosions, and the damaged lives. It would certainly cut down on the blind sides and unicorn hunts–and free up a surge of energy for mission.

What might some of those processes be? If you have some ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Thoughts? Who is your church fighting against?


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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 “Who Are You Fighting?

  1. Tim, nice post! I do think there is a place for healthy church leadership structures, but all too often we focus our attention on outward structures rather than dealing with the root issues that create the problems in the first place. Why don’t we spend more time talking about the very real, but sometimes elusive line between God-ordained leadership vs. self-rooted control?

    • Bob, great question! That’s in essence what I’m trying to get at in the post. The issue behind the issue is definitely control rather than “accountability” or whatever. Anxiety creates the system rather than a asking really tough questions about what God would want. I know that isn’t the case everywhere…but it is in a lot of places.

      • Tim, I’ve done a good bit of study on the control issue and find it to be a specific form of pride. In the Garden Adam & Eve ate from the tree essentially to be like God apart from God. One aspect of that desire for deification is what I call “self-sovereignty” (i.e. control). The reason the fruit is so bad is because it is a form of pride. The world seeks control and admits it. In the church we often slip into controlling tendencies even though we’re seeking to accomplish good things. The line between self-based leadership and kingdom-oriented leadership is sometimes difficult to draw, but it’s a real line just the same.