I read a lot of blogs by pastors and church planters. Churchianity has intrigued me as long as I can remember. A blog that I really enjoy is CoffeeDrinkinFool by Earl Creps. He used to work for AGTS (the A/G seminary) but recently joined the world of “missions” and he and his wife have embarked on a journey to plant a church in Berkeley, CA. I like the way that he thinks and I particularly enjoyed his latest entry…
Sitting in a coffee house in the northwest I was commiserating with a pastor friend about how neither of us had the sort of “big personality” so often identified with leadership.
He described himself as “leading from the middle,” that is, bringing people together around the congregation’s mission in a way that produced results but not heroes.
Talking about this issue brought up the criticism that both of us have taken over the years for not being more dominant, criticism that has always come from believers and virtually never from those who make no claim to follow Jesus.
We began to speculate about whether church folks and unchurched folks have different followership styles. Do they respond to completely different approaches to leadership, at least in the northwest Anglo context in which the observations were made?
This hypothesis (and that’s all it is) draws a distinction between two primary followership styles. I am deliberately exaggerating the difference for the purposes of clarity and discussion:
1. The churchly followership style: Serving for many years as an audience for platform-driven ministry, lots of church folks seem to equate leadership with a dynamic individual standing at the front of a large room casting vision the way a major league pitcher hurls fastballs. The ability of this lone entrepreneur to sway a large group of people with the quality of his/her strategy and the force of his/her personality is considered the very definition of leadership. This kind of attender is not shy about pressuring less dominant leaders to fit into this mold. And the temptation for leaders is to spin the ministry’s ethos in a direction that will appeal to this follower type because they likely control most of the financial assets in the house.
This is not to say that the less forceful leader loses his/her integrity, but that important nuances of the group’s culture are gradually shaped to please the churchly. If you don’t think this is possible, ask yourself what your ministry would look like if the majority of your financial support came from people under 25, or an ethnic group other than your own? If you don’t feel these pressures, we speculated that the reason may be that this battle was lost so long ago that it’s no longer a fight. Followership for the churchly, then, is a response to greatness—the kind of leadership I deserve.
2. The unchurchly followership style: My friend has noticed that the people coming to faith in Jesus in his congregation have an unswerving distaste for “big personality” leaders. These new Christians are likely to regard the celebrity model as an exercise in narcissism that is more about control and ego than servanthood. Their resistance takes many forms, but mainly is expressed by their relative absence from churches directed by the leaders of a more heroic stature. That way of leading feels to them like working for “the man” in the corporate world. They reason that, if Sunday morning demonstrates essentially authoritarian values, then the rest of this religion is probably not worth checking out. However, this person is more likely to be receptive to the “small personality” leader who, like my friend, brings people together in a faith community that responds in love to the mission of Jesus for the world.
Imagine what would happen if this leader began to spin the ethos of the ministry in this direction so that more and more unchurchly folk began to show up? Perhaps this explains research by Barna and others finding that effective evangelistic churches, in all their diversity, have the common feature of a missional culture. Followership for the unchurchly, then, is a response to humility—the kind of leadership that could change me.
Our embryonic idea concludes with the suggestion that these followership dynamics become cyclical, moving the ministry in either a less or more missional direction over time.
That’s the hypothesis. So test it.
If you haven’t read his book, Off-Road Disciplines, you really need to!