You know that top-down model we have been using for years? The model of leadership that looks like an upside down pyramid? We’ve discussed some of the negatives of that leadership style – particularly the exclusivity.
However, there are strengths that need to be considered.
Strong structure makes people feel safe. People who feel safe are more willing to risk deeper relationship. They are more willing to be friendly to people who are different than themselves.
Jane and Jack have been going to a church for about six months. One day, a homeless man (let’s call him John) comes and sits down right next to them in church. Not only is John older, he is from a different socio-economic place in life, and, just for fun, let’s give John a different color skin that Jane and Jack.
In a world where Jane and Jack do not know what to expect, they will not tend to reach out to John. In fact, they will avoid him, because he feels different and dangerous.
However, in a world of strong structure, Jane and Jack will know that their pastor and ushers are watching out for them. You see, last week, someone forgot to take their meds and went a bit whacko, but the well trained staff handled the incident with alacrity and grace, neither demeaning the person acting out, or overwhelming those who wanted to hear the sermon. In this world, Jane and Jack will be much more likely to reach out and be friendly.
It goes beyond Sunday morning. A pyramid structured group with a good leader, has a strong identity. When people feel confident in a group identity, they are much more likely to take that group’s values outside the four walls and live their lives out loud, so to speak.
There was once a study that worked with kids on a playground. For the first experiment, scientists took away the fence around this school. Then they watched the children at play. The kids would come out to the playground, and not explore. They stayed very close to the school and played it safe. Then, the scientists put the fence back. As soon as the barriers were well defined, the children felt free to explore and play all the way to the edge of the playground.
We are just that way – when there is structure, we are safe to explore and live a full life. When we don’t have structure, we feel unsafe and will act accordingly, even discouraging our social network from participating.
This is why the arrow model of church leadership needs to be better defined. Without good definition, it feels loosy goosy. It feels like a playground without its fence, or a church without structure. I would propose that this model can provide structure and safety while avoiding power. The primary reason is that the pastor does his or her job while being among, not above or below, the people.
I received a lot of responses when I first suggested this model a few days ago. The one that concerned me the most was a dear friend who wondered if leadership is equated with power, should we even try to lead?
Leadership is necessary. The bible even says “without a vision, the people parish.” However, one of the temptations for leaders is to substitute the good job of leading (which is very needed so that people feel free to learn, grow, experiment and become) with power. To lead because it is our job, instead of leading because it is the best way to help people become what God created them to be. It is putting the result over the process.
I don’t think that most pastors actually face the temptation to become power hungry. Instead, they face a gentler temptation that draws them down this road. It is the temptation to find out what God’s vision is and plug people into it. This is a shortcut that does not respect the growth of the individual. When we have a group working together, they will grow to do what God called them to be, but it will take longer and be messier. However, real discipleship will happen in the process, and as a result, when we invite people to join us, we are inviting them to join us for the journey, not to join our organization. We invite them to get to know the Grower, and discover how they fit in His picture.