Developing volunteers and teams

By Peter Corney

Image: "Power to the people" by Steffan Hacker_USA01

The church is a voluntary society, a ‘community of volunteers’, if you like.  Without volunteers almost everything we do would grind to a halt.  All those rosters and committees and leadership of groups and ministries would cease.  Most parachurch organisations live or die on the strength of their volunteer base.

But we live in times when the pressure on the time and energy of volunteers has never been greater.  In most families both parents are working outside the home and most people are working longer hours.  The pace of modern life seems to have quickened and many people complain of ‘time compression’. One of the ways this is showing up is in the church attendance patterns of committed people.  Ministers everywhere are reporting less regular attendance and a reluctance to commit to long-term tasks.

So the recruitment, motivation and sustaining of volunteers is of critical importance for Christian leaders. We need to understand better and care more thoughtfully for our volunteers.

Volunteers and volunteerism are important because volunteers don’t just spread the load or act as ‘labourers’ for paid staff – they multiply ministry.  The key to multiplying ministry is to multiply ‘the ministers’ and the most economic way of doing that is to multiply volunteers.  When people use their gifts and abilities, three things happen – the ministry grows, they grow and the Kingdom grows.

Volunteers give their time and energy out of choice.  In a real sense it ‘costs them’ to be involved.  Why do they do it?  What motivates them?  Why do people choose to volunteer? The answer to these questions gives us clues in how to develop and encourage volunteers.

  1. The call or claim of something higher – the vision of a cause or an important task.  A ‘calling’ to minister to others, the desire to make a difference and change things for the better, a desire to give something back, an inspiring leader with an inspiring cause.
  2. Relationships, belonging, community – the rewards of friendship, being part of a team or group.
  3. Personal needs – a meaning for my life, a sense of significance and identity, a way to develop or use my gifts and abilities, to fulfil a sense of duty.  There are, of course, less noble desires in all of us: the need to assuage guilt, to feed self-importance and the desire for power and influence.

Leaders should acknowledge the sacrifices volunteers make and seek to strengthen the best areas of motivation – vision, making a difference, being part of a team, doing something significant.

Volunteers need to be supported and sustained – motivation leaks!  Here are 14 clues for sustaining volunteers:

  1. Create teams and build communities among volunteers, have fun together, eat together.
  2. Keep the vision behind the task bright.
  3. Affirm, encourage, praise, recognise the cost.
  4. Keep them informed.
  5. Show personal interest and support.
  6. Where appropriate, commission them publicly.
  7. See they have the resources they need.
  8. Give them a clear, simple, written job description.
  9. Give them training, equip them.
  10. Empower them, give them real responsibility and participation in decision-making.
  11. Meet with them regularly to encourage and supervise them and to evaluate the task, but don’t overburden them with meetings.
  12. Sign them up for specific time lengths.
  13. Relieve them before burnout.
  14. Resolve conflict when it arises.

Volunteers drop out or burn out because of the opposites of the fourteen clues above!

Volunteers can be the basis for building staff teams.

When churches are constrained by financial resources, they should explore other ways to develop staff teams – here are three:

  1. Ask early retirees to join the staff team on an expenses-only basis
  2. Invite people to join the staff as ‘tentmakers’ or bi-vocational workers.  These are people who choose to work part-time in another job and give their time free to the church.
  3. Young adults between school and work or university, or post-university, who have minimal financial responsibilities can be encouraged to give two or three days a week as unpaid staff persons in return for some training and work experience.  This can also be an excellent way to explore suitability for future full-time ministry.  Care should be taken to first talk through all the implications of this with young people and then to monitor their progress carefully.

During the Sydney Olympics approximately 45,000 people volunteered for a huge range of tasks.  The experience for the overwhelming majority was very rewarding, positive and exciting. These people felt they were doing something really worthwhile, they felt caught up in a cause bigger than themselves, they were also proud to be Australians and to give a warm welcome to the thousands of visitors.  It is now widely acknowledged that their contribution was a key element in the Games’ success.

We are part of a cause that is so much more important and so much bigger than the Olympics (Hebrews 12:1-2).  If Christian leaders can convey a Kingdom vision to their members, people will respond and their lives will be deeply enriched.

Would Jesus have worn a mitre? A plea for simplicity, humility and relevance.

By Peter Corney

When I was ordained in 1963/4 at St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral Melbourne there wasn’t a mitre in sight. Archbishop Frank Woods was the presiding Bishop. In fact mitre’s and copes did not appear reguarly in St Paul’s untill Bob Dann became Archbishop (1977 – 83), although Frank Woods, inspite of opposition in the Cathedral  Chapter, had worn them on occasions. This was a novelty for Melbourne because of its evangelical origins in Bishop Perry.

Melbourne followed the traditions of the reformation settlement in the Church of England as it had come to be expressed in England for over 400 years, the tradition of simplicity of vesture for the clergy and bishops.

The courtly trappings of the mediaeval church were left behind. The episcopal mitres (crowns), the richly embroidered robes of satin, the regal purple, the bejewelled accoutrements of the mediaeval royal court were seen to be inconsistent with the Gospel.

They did not sit well with Jesus of Nazareth, suffering servant and friend of the poor. They seemed incongruous with his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Nor did they fit with the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone and not by works. There was no place here for human pride, pomp and ceremony.

Even the architecture of the Gothic church, modelled as it was on the mediaeval court with its ascending steps to the elevated throne – from knave to chancel to sanctuary and altar – and the separation of clergy from the laity which it reinforced – was modified, reflecting the reformed theology. Altars were removed and Holy Tables introduced and moved down to the chancel area where the people gathered around them to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. New churches were built with a more rectangular shape as auditory buildings for the hearing of the Word, Wren was the great designer of these (1632-1723). Central aisles, long chancels and raised sanctuaries’ were eliminated and rood screens that secluded the sanctuary abandoned. Many of the London churches built after the reformation like St. Martin in the Fields, St. James Piccadilly and All Souls Langham Place clearly reflect this change. It was only after the Gothic revival and the influence of the Oxford/Tractarian movement in the second half of the nineteenth century that many churches built from then on moved back to the pre reformed semi Gothic pattern. Centre aisles returned to give focus to the sanctuary and priestly activity. (1)

Sadly the mitres and richly embroidered robes have drifted back in to many Australian Anglican dioceses. Because they often appear in Cathedrals at significant events they usually get the photo shot in the press! This is unfortunate, the symbolism is confusing and bemusing for those both outside and inside the church. Confusing for it sits so badly with Jesus and the Gospel and bemusing because it is so arcane and irrelevant and not understood. It is seen as the trappings, the pomp and ceremony of “religion” something that has frequently been the enemy of real and vital Christian faith.

One of my favorite stories from church history concerns John Huss the Czech reformer (1372 – 1415). Huss was a gifted preacher and drew large crowds, including many students, to his church, Bethlehem Chapel, near the University of Prague. Huss, influenced by the writings of Wycliffe, called for reform in the church and set forth the Scriptures as the primary authority. He was also very critical of the corruption and extravagance of the Papal court at Rome at the time. He drove home his point in dramatic fashion with a wonderful visual aid. He had two contrasting pictures painted on the walls of the chapel; one of Jesus dressed as a simple peasant, the humble servant washing his disciples feet; the other of a haughty Pope with his triple tiered crown, dressed in all his regal splendor riding on a horse. This became the backdrop to Huss’s challenging preaching. The message was clear to the crowds and the irony was made all the more pointed by being in a chapel named after the humble birth place of the Saviour. This was not popular in Rome! Eventually Huss was arrested and burnt at the stake. But he lit a fire that continued to burn in Bohemia, influencing Luther and other reformers and also the development of the German Moravian Church and missionary movement.

The origins of the mitre

The origins of the mitre are not entirely clear but it seems that in the Western church it may have developed from a cap worn in imperial times by Roman secular officials on certain occasions. The papal tiara or triple crowned hat seems to have developed from this. In the East the mitre derives from a cap used in the imperial Byzantine court. In the later empire it developed into a closed type of crown used by the emperors. It was taken over by Eastern Orthodox bishops after the fall of Constantinople. In Armenian Orthodoxy it is said to symbolize the sovereignty of Christ. In the Western church the first mention of a bishop wearing a mitre is not found till the eleventh century, although reference to the papal tiara is found as early as the eighth century.

The fact is that up to the eighth century in the West there was no distinctive clerical dress worn in or outside the church by the clergy. They wore the ordinary street dress of the day. (2) It was very important to distinguish themselves from the pagan priests and rituals of the times. Dom Gregory Dix in his authoritative work The Shape of the Liturgy quotes Celestine 1, bishop of Rome in 425 rebuking the churches in Gaul for introducing for clergy the scarf or pallium at the Lord’s Supper. This was commonly worn in Roman society by consuls, magistrates and others as a sign of office. He chides them for their hubris in these words: “We bishops must be distinguished from the people and others by our learning not by our dress, by our life not by our robes, by purity of heart not by elegance.”(3) Here, here!

The present shield shaped cap with the two fringed lappets became widely used in the medieval church. It was reintroduced after the reformation into Anglicanism by the Oxford/Tractarian movement in the nineteenth centuary along with the recovery of other pre reformed practices. The movement fitted artistically with the romantic Gothic revival in England at the time. The Cambden society was formed to furnish and dress the mediaeval revival. In their attempt to recover a greater sense of holy worship the Tractarians also attempted to make connections between the OT temple cultus and Christian worship. Great attention was paid to the sacred garments described in Exodus 39. It was noted in verses 30-31 that the High Priest wore a kind of turban with a gold plate attached and engraved with the words “Holiness to YHWH”. Was this not a forerunner of the mitre! Later enthusiasts developed the notion that the mitre was a symbol of the flame of the Holy Spirit descending on the heads of the disciples’ at Pentecost, although there seems to be no evidence that this idea was an early one in the history of the mitre. Like many religious accoutrements the alleged meaning of the symbolism is often flexible and frequently a later invention for justification. It’s like all the different meanings given to candles in church other than the need for light before the introduction of electricity!

Interestingly in 1963 the reforming Pope Paul VI, who was elected during the now famous Vatican II after the death of John XX111, abandoned the use of the papal tiara (crown) in a dramatic ceremony during the second session of Vatican II as a sign of Christian humility. Previously Popes had been crowned with the tiara in a ceremony of regal coronation.

The arguments for the use of the mitre.

Those who have reintroduced the mitre into Anglican services usually appeal on the following grounds.

First, is the appeal to continuity with the churches traditions. The problem with this argument is – which tradition? Shall we follow those of the mediaeval church or the reformed church; the post or pre Constantinian church; the apostolic church and the church of the first eight centuries or the Gothic revival of the late nineteenth century?

Second, is the argument from symbolism. It is argued that it is a helpful visual symbol in public worship. Various meanings have been attributed over the years, the current one that is popular with the wearers is that it symbolizes the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, the bishop being a kind of representative figure for the church. Another is that it represents the sovereignty of Christ and the authority of the bishop as Christ’s representative. Of course this one emphasizes its origins as a crown, a connection not always readily or comfortably acknowledged by its wearers. The other is that it is simply a distinguishing symbol of the episcopal office.

A third argument is that these things provide theater, color and movement all things that communicate at alternative or additional levels to words. This is a valid point but it does not alter my main concern that the symbols should be appropriate to the subject and my contention is that in present practice they are generally not. Perhaps a simple wooden shepherds crook would be, although most young people today would never have seen one and in fact they were never used on Australian farms. What about an Akubra, a Driza-Bone and a stock whip?

The problem with symbolism is that it is powerful but complicated and culturally affected. Often a symbol will convey different things to different people. To many on the outside the mitre, the embroidered robes, the bejewelled silver crooks and gold crosses will convey power, prestige, wealth, royalty and assumed authority, even arrogance. While these things may be viewed as works of art the ironic and incongruous symbolism of a shepherd’s crook and a cross made from these materials seems lost on the insider aesthetes! They are certainly powerful symbols but they give the wrong message. They convey a sense of irrelevant pomp and ceremony. Whose side are we seen to be on when we wear and carry these things? To a younger generation today they are associated with a mythical past with bishops looking like Wizards from Lord of the Rings or a Harry Potter story. To others they are just faintly ridiculous and silly. They clearly create a distance between the ordinary every day person and the Christian faith that should represent Jesus the servant saviour. It should also be said that the Armani suits, silk ties and Rolex watches worn by the pastors of some prosperity gospel churches are just as inappropriate and incongruous.

While greatly influenced by its Jewish background the early church clearly separated itself from the cultus of both the Jewish and the Pagan temple and, as we have seen, for at least 700 years there was little or no distinction in dress with those conducting public worship between lay and clergy, they wore the ordinary street dress of the day. (4)

What we wear in church should reflect the one we claim to follow; it should also reflect our missiology and ecclesiology.

Would Jesus wear a Mitre today? I don’t think so. He might wear a hoody or a Collingwood beanie or even a baseball cap but a piece of mediaeval headgear that made him look like a lost cast member from a Harry Potter movie is most unlikely. As a carpenter Jesus may have cut a few mitres but he would never have worn one! Let’s get back to simplicity, humility and relevance.

(1) K. White “Shrines for Saints – how parish churches evolved” 1975 Grove Liturgical No 3 (Grove Books) pages 16 – 17, 23 – 28.
(2) Dom Gregory Dix “The Shape of the Liturgy” 1960 (A&C Black) pages 399-404

(3) Dix page 401.

(In the 16th C. professors of divinity wore elaborate head gear as  a symbol of their status. Erasmus the great reformer in ‘The Praise of Folly’ mocked their pride along with their obscure theological speculations in these words: ” Don’t be supprised when you see them at public disputations with their heads so carefully wrapped in swaths of cloth, for otherwise thay would clearly explode”. Pomposity and hats often seem to go together!)
(4) Dix page 404

Further information on the development of the mitre can be found in Dix on pages 405 -407 and “The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church” Ed. by L F Cross 1961. (Oxford Press)

Being a transformational leader (Practical principles for growing a congregation)

By Peter Corney

There is sometimes a real tension between Biblical theology and some of the pragmatics promoted by proponents of Church growth. But there can also be a false dichotomy created between them, particularly by those who do not understand the difference between ministry and leadership.(1) It is now well established that to plant a new church successfully requires not only ministry by a Godly and Biblically grounded person but also ministry by a leader with a certain set of gifts and abilities. It is also true that to renew and grow a small church in serious decline requires not only ministry by a Godly and Biblically grounded person but also ministry by a transformational leader; someone who has acquired or will learn particular skills and is able to initiate a particular process.

What follows is not a list of the skills of a transformational leader that would be another paper! Below is a list of some of the key principles a minister who wants to be a transformational leader will follow.

If a leader wants their church to grow what do they do? Where do they start? Well there are no simple pre packaged solutions but here is a set of principles to follow:

  1. The leader has to accept responsibility and be accountable for growth or decline.
  2. The ministry must be grounded in the Word of God and prayer. Preaching and teaching needs to be based in systematic teaching from the Bible that is life related.
  3. The leader needs to set a plan of preaching that covers the key theological and ministry ideas that will underpin the new values and directions in which they want the congregation to head. Prior teaching should underpin all significant changes.
  4. The leader must have a passion for and conviction about mission and evangelism and it must be a top priority.
  5. If the leader has inherited a culture of decline, complacency, inwardness and lack of spiritual depth then they will need to initiate change. To grow requires change and change requires intervention. The leader will have to take initiative to change the culture, the shape and the practice of ministry in the congregation.
  6. The leader needs to develop a vision and a practical and realistic plan of how to achieve the goals.
  7. The leader must follow a constructive change process and carry the majority of people with them. This will take time. (2)
  8. As well as understanding the culture and dynamics of the congregation the leader must recognize that every context is unique and so they will need to study and understand the culture of the region in which the congregation is set.
  9. Work out who your target group/s will be. Unless you shape your style and approach to the target group’s culture you will not connect with new people.
  10. If the congregation is small and inward looking the leader will be the one who at first links and adds most new people to the congregation.
  11. The leader must be focused on assimilating and incorporating visitors and new people. This will be among their highest priorities in the first few years of congregational renewal; they will expend a lot of relational energy on this task.
  12. If the committed core of the congregation is very small, elderly, spiritually immature or Biblically illiterate an early goal for the leader will be intentionally building a new core of lay leaders.
  13. Build small groups or home groups. If there are no small groups the leader will have to start and run the first group. They will then train an apprentice leader to take over the first group while they start up another group. The leader will repeat this pattern for some time till a significant number of groups have been established.
  14. If the congregation wants to attract and hold young families the leader will need to quickly develop children’s and junior high youth ministry. This may be the area for the first part time paid or unpaid staff person they appoint.
  15. In declining congregations the quality of the Sunday service will usually need to improve. The music, the teaching / preaching and the general preparation will need to go up several levels. The leader needs to ask themselves “what are the cringe factors here for new people and how can I eliminate them?” Post service welcoming will also need to become well organized.
  16. The leader will need to create new bridge or interface groups between the church and non churched people like Play Groups, 12 Step programs, Alpha or Introducing God courses, etc.
  17. Work on gradually building a ministry team. At first this may be mostly if not all volunteers.
  18. Create events and programs that build a sense of community.


(1) See “The Empowered Church” by Ian Jagelman (Open Book)

(2) See “Change and the Church” by Peter Corney (Aquila press)

Read on for Part 2 of this article …

Being a transformational leader & growing your Church (Part 2)

By Peter Corney

In part one of these two articles I made the point that while we are in a difficult environment for growing Churches there are healthy growing congregations out there. It is only common sense that Christian leaders should be studying them to identify what makes them effective.

The following are the principles and practices adopted by healthy growing churches and their leaders. I have observed these across a range of denominations. This is not an exhaustive list and of course leadership, congregational health and growth are more complex than a list of principles and practices can fully explain. Nevertheless this is a very useful guide for action and reflection and for further research.


The leader is committed to the following fundamentals:

(a) A commitment to and a confidence in the Gospel; that if it is communicated truthfully, clearly and relevantly people will respond.

(b) A dependence on God expressed in prayer that under girds the work.

(c) A commitment to the authority of the Bible and teaching it in a relevant and applied way.

(d) A commitment to mission and outreach – evangelism and service.

(e) A commitment to the congregation by the leader that is expressed in a willingness to hang in for the long hall. Turning around congregations that have been in decline for some years is a long process, there is no quick fix.

(f) The leader is able to gather a core of voluntary leaders around them who are also committed to these fundamentals.


Leadership is required – the minister has to be a leader as well as a pastor and a preacher. The kind of leadership exercised must be “transformational leadership.”

Transformational leaders come in all sizes and shapes but they are all intentional and have a clearly worked out philosophy of ministry. They also possess or are prepared to acquire the following skills: how to cast a vision and inspire people and how to put legs on a vision by creating practical plans, achievable staged goals and the basic organizational structures to make it happen. They are able to empower and involve others through these means. Transformational leaders want to see people and organizations transformed. They have a strong desire to bring renewal and growth.

They understand the change process and know how to initiate change constructively. Putting legs on a vision inevitably means change. How much? How fast and in what areas first? These are critical questions. They know how to bring people with them, to consult and to involve others in negotiating the change rather than imposing it.

They know how to motivate, recruit and enthuse volunteers, how to involve others on committees and teams and projects, how to release their gifts and abilities. The local congregation is a voluntary organization, when it has been in decline and its resources of people and structures are depleted or have become irrelevant a key task is recruiting and envisioning a new generation of volunteers and leaders.

This is a people task and so people skills are paramount! Effective leaders have EQ or “emotional intelligence” as well as IQ. They know how their emotional responses to people affect their willingness to help, their involvement and their reaction to ideas and tasks. They have learnt how to positively manage their emotional responses to people and people’s responses to them. This is one of the keys to being able to form and lead teams effectively.

They have practical experience in starting new projects in a voluntary organization, creating committees or working groups and leading and chairing meetings towards effective decisions. These skills may have been learnt in previous voluntary work; youth or children’s ministry, in local community work or even in business. Such prior experience is invaluable but these skills can be learnt.

They have a good ability to communicate verbally.

The leader who is short on any of these skills needs to put themselves on a steep training and learning curve if they want to become a transformational leader.

The practices of healthy growing churches:

(a) They are committed to mission, outreach and evangelism. They have a holistic approach to mission. They contextualize their methods, which means they will vary from place to place, but all are outwardly focused. They develop groups and programs to interface with and serve their surrounding community. They have a commitment to mission beyond the parish and this is significantly reflected in their budget.

(b) They develop small groups and build community. They get smaller as they get bigger. In the early stages the minister may have to be the “group starter”. Using their skills and experience they begin a new group every six months and then as they are established move on and start another. Other forms of community building include parish camps or weekend residential conferences, family festivals, family working Bee’s, parish dinners, etc.

(c) They are intentional and plan well ahead for all activities.

(d) They have an “every member” approach to ministry and actively discover, encourage and release people’s gifts and abilities. They also regularly train and equip people through special courses and events. They actively develop new leaders. They have a “discipleship pathway” for new Christians and develop a strong view of membership.

(e) Their worship services are relevant and contextualized for the people they are trying to reach. They create regular special services that are aimed at and culturally accessible to their unchurched target group. (Where a group of existing members want to continue a traditional service without major change then provision can be made for that at another time. This avoids alienating people and the evidence indicates that adding services usually increases attendance.)

(f) Early additional staff appointments are usually made for potential growth areas, e.g.: Children’s or Youth ministry or an evangelist to run and follow up programs like Alpha.

(g) Their music is contemporary and the standard as high as possible, given the resources available, with the constant aim of developing the standard. Music is a key factor for contemporary people.

(h) The preaching is given a high priority, prepared well, is biblical and practically applied to every day life. The preaching program and teaching topics are planned at least six months ahead.

(i) There is a well developed and organized welcoming and incorporating system for newcomers and visitors. People are carefully followed up. Growth will not be sustained without this.

(j) There is effective children’s and youth ministry. If you want to attract young families you have to provide these. If there is no youth ministry then it is probably best to start at the junior high level first and establish a committed core group of young people before you tackle the harder senior high level.

(k) Pastoral care is organized using lay people in a pastoral care team. The leader meets weekly with the minister where contacts are allotted. This is for the basic care with the minister following up the more difficult or sensitive cases.

(l) An administration center is developed with basic office facilities, copiers, phones etc. A computer and data base with names and addresses needs to be developed early. Begin with volunteer staff at first then later part time people, gradually developing a more sophisticated operation as growth takes place.

(m) A team is developed to work with the minister. Initially this will be some key volunteers, e.g.: the leader of the pastoral care team, the volunteer office person, maybe a key lay leader who is a retired person, and later additional staff. This is a great support to the minister and sends a message to the congregation that ministry is a team thing.

(n) They constantly evaluate what they are doing to see if it continues to be relevant, is achieving their goals and that the standard of ministry and worship is rising.

(o) They regularly teach about the stewardship of time, abilities and money and have a variety of ways people can serve and a variety of giving mechanisms, e.g., Envelopes, cheques, cash, periodic payment, credit card.

(p) They ask the question: “Is there a new immigrant group in our area for whom we could start a new congregation?”

For growing congregations the mission is more primary than the denominational traditions and so they are willing to expand their thinking and push the boundaries of traditional denominational models and styles of church. This does not mean abandoning all denominational distinctives and traditions but it will mean adaptation and change and challenging traditions that are irrelevant, don’t work or are culturally inappropriate. Most people under 50 yrs today, and certainly all newcomers to church, are post denominational. The denominational tag is not the most important thing to them rather it is the quality, substance and relevance of the ministry.

These are the most common principles and practices of healthy growing Protestant churches in Australia today.

Servant leadership – the abuse of key idea

By Peter Corney

A worrying trend is at large in the Australian church today. The servant leadership model of Jesus is being misused and distorted to justify an inadequate style of leadership that is exercised by some pastors and ministers of local congregations. A leadership style that avoids creative initiative, is reactive and passive rather than proactive, that emphasises pastoral maintenance over growth, that downplays organisation, structure, leadership development and strategic planning and criticises those who exercise these skills as adopting a corporate model.

There is no question that Jesus modelled and taught servant leadership for the church. He identified himself with the suffering servant of Isaiah in Luke 4:17-21. In Luke 22:26 He clearly taught the principle and in John 13 :1-17 he modelled the servant/slave by washing the disciples feet. The NT church followed his example. Paul describes himself as a servant/slave of Christ (Rom1:1). Peter exhorts Christian leaders to be eager to serve (1Peter 5:2-3).

The basin and the towel is a powerful metaphor for Christian ministry but what exactly does it mean or describe? First century household servant/slaves did not preach, teach, evangelise, exhort, discipline, counsel, chair meetings, organise events, recruit and train leaders, develop peoples gifts, inspire and motivate volunteers, develop vision, encourage generous giving, resolve conflict and manage constructive change in a community!

The model and metaphor are given to reinforce in the Christian leaders mind and heart the right attitude to their task and the right relationship with those the lead and to whom they minister. It describes the motive, the spirit, the attitude in which ministry is to be exercised. The Christian leader ministers to serve those they lead, they do not minister be served. They are not to exercise the role for power, recognition, status, control or self aggrandisement. The welfare of those they lead is their primary purpose. The motivation is to be love and the spirit humility. The leaders behaviour to others must reflect these things. They are also to understand that they serve under orders from the head of the household of God – Jesus Christ, and that they will be held accountable by him for every action and attitude that is contrary to this motivation and spirit.

The model and the metaphor are crystal clear about attitude and spirit but they do not tell us much at all about the skills and competencies of Christian leadership and ministry.

(The only use of the metaphor that is of any application in this regard is the manager/steward/servant in the parables e.g.: Luke 12:42-46 and 16:1-12. Such a person would have been required to take significant initiative and have a range of management skills in running the large extended household of the first century and its complex affairs including finances.)

If we look at the leadership of Jesus and Paul it can hardly be described as passive, reactive and lacking in creative initiative or strategic action! Paul would not have used these words but his practice of establishing churches in the great urban centers of influence was a brilliant strategy for evangelising the regions those centers serviced. Jesus’ concentration on selecting and developing and mentoring the twelve as the future leadership was also strategic. The leadership of Jesus and Paul is not weak indecisive or bland.It does not shrink from conflict either interpersonal or at the level of ideas. It is frequently deeply challenging, particularly in relation to personal and institutional change.

At the same time both lay down their lives for the people of God, both are entirely indifferent to any personal ambition. They are not ego driven people. Their ambition is singular and selfless – the establishment and extension of the Kingdom of God. Their focus is beyond themselves on the evangelisation of those outside the Kingdom of God and the care of the church.

Inspite of all this there is this really unhelpful and incorrect idea floating around the Australian church that misuses and distorts the servant leader model .The reality is that the pastoral leader who fails to exercise positive leadership and effective leadership skills will fail to serve their people at a most important and fundamental level of responsibility. If , for example, they fail to take the initiative to create the structures and organisation that releases and mobilises peoples ministry gifts then they fail to empower people and so to multiply ministry. They have failed to serve them with a key responsibility of leadership. Indeed they can inadvertently hold back the growth of the congregation both in maturity and numerically.

In growing congregations it is imperative that pastoral leaders gradually shift the weight of their time to working ON ministry rather than IN ministry. Working ON ministry is focussing on strategy, vision, staff and leadership development, multiplying ministry through releasing others into ministry, infrastructure, organisation, resources, constructive change and adaptation to the changing culture and creative new ways to reach out and connect with the community.

There are a number of reasons why this misuse and distortion of the servant leader model has arisen:

  1. The abuse of the proactive leader model by a few authoritarian, controlling or ego driven pastors who have hurt people and churches.
  2. The overuse of some corporate business models in churches, particularly in the vision and planning area. (Although it should be said that in my experience the biggest problem in most of our churches is the absence of planning!)
  3. An overly egalitarian model of leadership that infects some traditions.
  4. A way for some pastoral leaders to cope with the decline and stagnation of small churches.
  5. In some cases a rationalisation of the pastoral leaders own lack of skills or ability or unwillingness to embrace a different model of ministry and leadership, or simply a failure in leadership.

Many churches are hurt more by a failure of pastoral leadership than by pastoral domination.