Deep Imprints

Your Workplace is your Ministry

When leadership is good

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.


  1. I am commenting to help you see if the comments are working, but also to address something you said about structure being necessary to instill confidence in people. I would assert that “structure” as you described it, is necessary for those who are not confident or those who are immature. I liked the playground reference but wonder what was left out. Were the students observed always accustomed to a fence and it was shocking to suddenly not have it? How long did these students live without the fence? Is it possible that they would have grown more accustomed to their world without a fence if more time had passed?

    Paul said, “When I was a child I thought like a child and did childish things, but now that I am a man I put aside childish things.” Every parent knows that our job is to protect and teach. However, we also know that the more the child grows in stature and understanding the less need there is for our protection. I would say that leadership which focuses more on equipping (teaching) has less need for “structure.” Do our teams, or congregations, need more structure because we aren’t instilling enough confidence in them for their own place in the organization or the Kingdom of God? I really think that we may be failing those we lead in this area.

    I would propose that structure is more about the comfort of the leader, but teaching, guiding, mentoring, equipping does more for the comfort of the follower. It is in understanding that our confidence builds and we are able to explore without the fences.

    • Kim

      03/03 at

      “I would propose that structure is more about the comfort of the leader, but teaching, guiding, mentoring, equipping does more for the comfort of the follower.” Deserves some thought. However, as I was contemplating the whole thing this morning, I was reminded that I really like big church, which usually needs more structure to function. I do think that without structure, we have a tendency to stay with the familiar.

      • I totally agree that the large church model needs more firm structure, and I have to admit that is a model I am moving away from. Large church is great if you can come into it with an existing connection, either through relationship or through a well defined small group or through an assigned leadership position. However, over the years I have been removed from that kind of automatic “in” I have realized how easy it is to not connect and how hard it is to connect. Despite this fact, I believe that its not lack of structure that keeps us stuck but lack of inspiration. Whether leading 10 or a 1000, if we inspire people they will change – they will expand. But when you are leading 10 you get to see it, feel it, and support people through the process.

        • Kim

          04/03 at

          Interesting thought – kind of an aside, regarding inspiration…what do you think of the liturgical model, using a book of common prayer, etc.? I have used this format for my private time since my time at Vanguard, but I’m wondering about it’s value as a church body – whether it allows lack of inspiration, or whether it provides a delightful platform for inspiration.

          • Sorry for my slow response – school robbed me of my time and all other thoughts – but I did not want to leave you hanging. Your question deserves an answer. I love the book of common prayer, and I love the missalettes that the Catholic church uses. Just as your blog inspires deep thoughts in me these two traditional tools also does. I think they have their place in corporate worship, both large and small, but I believe they are utilized at their best in a small group which allows for discussion. However, the liturgical style works best for large corporate worship when it incorporates elements for the modern mind. I think this is served best through music (style, type) and through allowing moments of quiet which allows for reflection or individual response. To see a high-bred of High Church (traditional/liturgical) and Low Church (evangelical/pentecostal/charismatic) I think Vineyard churches have done a pretty good job but they took too much out – like the book of common prayer.

        • Kim

          04/03 at

          One of the places I find great value in having large church is in the area of mixing people from different backgrounds. I think a multicultural environment is incredibly rich, and I prefer to be in this sort of situation. It seems the smaller we get, the more we tend to find people who are like us to hang out with. When we mix races and socio-economic backgrounds (IMO, harder than mixing races a lot of the time), we find new depth of self understanding and we learn more about God because we are hearing about his working in each other’s lives.

          • Trust me, no one is better supporter of ethnically diverse worship than I am!!!! I won’t attend a church unless it is ethnically diverse – but that is difficult to find here on the edge of the Bible Belt. Which may be something for you to consider – in Seattle large churches are diverse and small churches aren’t. I think this more a comment on financial or educational equality than it is about race.

            Here in Jacksonville integrated fellowship, whether secular or sacred, is more likely to occur in a small group. I think this is because segregation is alive and well still here in the south. It’s not done legally but it is done socially, economically, and educationally. And, it is perpetuated on both sides of the color barrier.

            What creates integration is money and education. Those without these things, either black or white, tend to stick with their own kind and see the other side as the enemy. Additionally, Seattle has more diversity than Jacksonville. We are 98% one race, 64% white, 29% black, 4% hispanic, and 2% Asian. The rest is broken up into Native American, Pacific Islander, and mixed race.

            If you really look at your integrated churches in Seattle I think you will find common ground either in education or financial stability. People tend to attend church where they live and these two factors tend to dictate where we live.

            Finally, Seattle has a strong urban core that is very livable. This creates an environment where the races bump into each other and interact more. Jacksonville’s urban core is week and the neighborhoods surrounding it are not well-integrated.

            So my point is, integration is more a product of location and history than about the size of the church. I agree that large churches produce great programs that draw people in and these kinds of programs tend to attract people from all races. But seriously, does cross cultural communication really take place anywhere but one-on-one?

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