There remains a vast difference between what is written today about leadership and the type of leadership accepted by people within the small church. In recent history, the church has adopted much of the leadership model formulated within the secular business community.
While it is true that there is much that can (and should) be learned from the business paradigm of leadership, often that paradigm conflicts with the concept of leadership adapted within the small church. This results in the accusation that the small church remains hardheaded, unchangeable, un-leadable, old fashioned, or worse, downright sinful.
However, the problem is often not found in the people within in the church but in the failure of the leaders to understand the different paradigm by which the small church understands the role and nature of leadership.
Whereas much of what is written about church leadership follows a business model, the small church operates under a family model of leadership where relationships form the fabric for the community and organization. Just as a family owned and operated business views leadership vastly different from the large, Wall Street corporation, so also the congregation within the small church understands the roles and responsibilities of those placed in key positions differently from the larger church.
This is not to say that one is better than the other. Both paradigms can learn much from each other. However, if the pastor and board desire to be effective as leaders they need to understand the criterion by which the congregation judges and views leadership. Failing to do so results in the leadership grossly misunderstanding the people, bringing frustration and hurt to both the pastor and congregation.
1. The business model manages by objectives; the family model manages by relationships.
Management by objectives means that the leaders of the church and/or group formulate goals and objectives which become the basis for decisions. Plans are made based upon the desired outcome. Any decision that does not result in the achievement of the objectives is to be rejected. Only those that move the group closer to the accomplishment of the goals are validated.
Within the small church, decisions are not based upon objectives, but upon the effect the decision will have upon the unity and fellowship within the congregation. A decision, no matter how significant or beneficial, will be rejected if it is perceived to undermine or threaten the unity within the community. The decision to replace the organ with a keyboard is not based upon the objective of reaching baby boomers, but how it will affect the family who donated the organ and the person who has been playing the organ for the past twenty years.
2. Within the business model the leader is the visionary and direction setter; in the family model the congregation sets the vision and the leader serves as a facilitator and guide in assisting the congregation in determining and implementing its vision.
Most of the literature today dealing with the vision and direction of the church reflects a model adapted by the business community. Within this model, the pastor is responsible to set the direction and vision for the congregation. The congregation then follows the pastor and assists the pastor in implementing the vision.
George Barna, in his book, The Power of Vision, quotes Bill Moore who states, “The leader’s got to have a vision of where he plans to take the company. He has to be able to dramatize that vision for his organization.” (p. 168). In George Barna’s model, the pastor function like the leader of a company in determining the direction for the church. As the pastor communicates the vision to the board and congregation, then they will rally around the pastor in moving the church forward.
In contrast, the small church often balks at any pastor who attempts to dictate the direction of the congregation. In the family model of leadership, any direction for the family is based upon input from the whole group, with each family member having a say in the matter. The role of the pastor is not to set the direction, but to help the congregation establish the direction they want to go. The people, not the pastor sets the vision for the congregation. The pastor is responsible to work with the various groups to implement that vision. In the small church they want a pastor who listens to their visions and dreams and works with them in achieving them.
3. Within the business model the pastor serves as the CEO, in the family model the pastor serves as a shepherd.
The small church wants a pastor who relates to them as individuals. They look for someone who will minister to them as a person rather than through programs. They want a leader who is approachable, who provides guidance and comfort through the struggles and daily pressures of life. While the pastor may oversee the various programs and ministries, the people are more concerned about relational skills than managerial skills.
Within the business model, the pastor’s performance is evaluated based on the effectiveness by which he supervises the programs and sets the direction for the church’s ministries. In the business model, it is more important that the pastor ministers to the whole congregation than to each individual within the congregation.
In the small church, how he ministers to each individual within the congregation is more important than how he ministers to the whole congregation. People evaluate the pastor by how well he relates to them. People examine the amount of time spent with them. They want to know the pastor personally and individually. They are not content to leave messages with his secretary or be referred to another staff member. The pastor needs to be accessible and available to each one.
4. Within the business model of leadership organizational plans dictate policies and procedures, in the family model of leadership relationships dictate policies and procedures.
The business model operates under the assumption that the health and well being of the organization is more important than the individual. Procedures are determined based upon the effect they will have upon the whole organization. Consequently, policies and procedures are designed to protect the organization and keep the congregation running smoothly.
Within the small church, because it focuses upon a family model, the assumption is that the individual is more important than the whole organization. It is not that they fail to see the importance of the organization, but that the health and well-being of one individual is seen to significantly impact the health and well-being of the whole group.
If one person is dissatisfied or upset, then the whole congregation experiences tension and the group dynamics are drastically altered. Consequently, policies and procedures are made to assure health of the individual and protect the individual from harm, even at the expense of organizational effectiveness.
5. The business model measures success by programs and growth, the family model focuses upon stability and unity.
The church operating under a business model measures success by results. They are product oriented rather than process oriented. The church is considered evangelistic if baptisms are occurring. The number of programs that are being developed and the amount of people participating within these ministries measures the growth and success of the church.
Thus, people evaluate the health of the congregation by the location and visibility of the church, the percentage of people involved in small groups, the stability of the financial resources, the adequacy of the facilities and the development of multifaceted programs. If numbers are increasing, people are satisfied because the church is growing. When numbers are decreasing, the leadership becomes dissatisfied because the church is declining.
Within the family model, relations and inward experiences measure success. The congregation is process oriented rather than product oriented. The congregation is considered to be evangelistic if people are sharing Christ with their neighbors and being involved in the community even if that does not translate into baptisms and the addition of new members.
The church is successful when there is unity within the congregation, when people are caring for one another. Health is measured by the absence of conflicts, the stability of the rolls, the willingness of people to be involved and the amount of personal growth experienced. People are satisfied regardless of the numbers as long as each individual is growing.
6. In the business model few make most of the decisions, in the family model the congregation makes most of the decisions.
The larger the church the more decisions are made by delegation. The various boards are responsible for most of the decisions. The congregation is responsible for the election of people to serve on the boards. The people decide only the most significant decisions that affect the whole congregation and future of the church.
Within the smaller church, everyone is considered to have an equal voice and the congregation makes most of the decisions. The various boards make only minor decisions and then only after the congregation has carefully delineated what those decisions would be. The boards are responsible for researching the issues and bringing recommendations to the congregation, but it is the congregation who has the final say in the matter.
Within the business model, decisions are made by the whole only when they affect the whole. In the family model, decisions are made by the whole even when they affect only a part.
One must also recognize that though some small churches may affirm the “equal vote” principle in theory, in practice it may not often be the case. While no one would admit it, there are cases where the patriarch’s or matriarch’s vote carries far more weight than another’s vote.
On the other hand, small churches in exurban or suburban areas may operate under the principle in practice as well. In these churches there may not be a dominate tribal chief and people are given more of an equal status in the voting process. Such depends on each individual church. The most important thing for the pastor to realize is that he must first understand the congregation’s perspective of leadership before the pastor attempts to force one upon them.
7. In the business model the budget guides decisions, in the family model decisions guide the budget.
When a business contemplates a proposal being considered, one of the first considerations is how the idea will fit within the budget. While the financial statues is not the sole determining factor, it does play heavily into the process. The formation of the new budget for the coming year is an important process and is given careful consideration.
Within the family model, the budget plays a far less significant role. Within the small church, budgets are made but rarely followed. People give based upon the need presented rather than the budget. The budget serves only to give general guidelines. When needs arise and proposals given, decisions are based upon the present financial status rather than any future budget. If there is a need, the congregation readily alters the budget rather than restricts it based upon the future budgeted needs.
8. In the business model groups function independently, in the family model groups function interdependently.
In the business model, there are a number of different groups that compose the whole function independent of each other. Only when their function and purpose affects the whole congregation, or another group is there mutual discussion and inter-relatedness.
Within the family model, the focus shifts to the whole where each group is an interrelated part. As a result, every decision of one group is of interest with the other groups, even when that decision does not have any direct bearing upon them. People in the Christian Education department desire to know what the Worship Group is doing because they see their work as part of worship and want to coordinate efforts.
* This article was originally published under the title, “Business Versus Family Model of Leadership: Understanding the leadership paradigm in the small church.” in Mikros, Volume 5 (July-August, 1999), Number 4. Mikros’ URL is http://www.westernseminary.edu. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.