Locally Grown Leadership

Rather than importing pastors from elsewhere, these churches are discovering the benefits of cultivating new leaders from within.

Locally Grown Leadership

The Bay Area “farmer” is tapping into a counter trend at work in our culture. Fueled by a growing realization that globalization has its limits, we are witnessing an increasing appreciation for that which is local, intimate, and even what we might call “primitive.” And just as people are buying locally grown food, I’ve noticed churches opting for locally grown leaders.

The Problem with Imports

Homegrown leadership involves a shift away from viewing pastors as professionals with transferable skill sets who can simply plug into any system and produce results. Pastors and congregations sometimes falsely assume that a good leader can lead with equal effectiveness in any context. But unlike light bulbs or car tires, pastors are not plug-and-play. Instead, pastors need organic elements like trust, culture, and a shared sense of community.

I know a mid-sized church in North Carolina that suffered after importing a very capable leader. The congregation called a pastor who was wildly successful in planting and growing a vibrant church in New England. Like many other churches, this one assumed that a great leader in one context will be a great leader in another. In retrospect, they were hiring his reputation.

What they failed to notice were the contextual differences between his church in New England and their North Carolina congregation. The leader had planted the New England church and grown the structure and culture of the church to complement his personality and ministry style. But the church in North Carolina called him as they celebrated their twentieth anniversary, and being located in a university town, they had a unique personality—one very different from the New England church’s.

Seven years after calling the pastor, they continued to wonder when the vibrancy would kick in. Earlier this year, to the relief of the church’s elders, the pastor finally resigned. He and the elders shared a mutual realization that they were not a fit. Sadly it took seven years to come to that realization.

To avoid this, many churches are avoiding leadership imports and opting for homegrown pastors. These congregations forego the typical process of collecting and sorting through resumes, rounds of interviewing, and calling someone they barely know but who they think will be successful. Instead, they call leaders they already know because of a prior connection. These churches are going native: hiring their friends and raising up leadership from within their ranks.

Going Native

For five years Phil Faig was a successful church planter in Minnesota—1,200 miles from his home state of Virginia. As planter and pastor, he ably led Northwood Community Church to become a sustainable community of over 200 worshipers. But even as the young church found its stride, Faig began to see the limits of his leadership in Minnesota.

“There came a point where I realized that not being native to the area was a real detriment to my effectiveness and my own sense of identity,” Faig says. “From the outside Virginia and Minnesota aren’t all that different, but for a whole host of reasons, I felt like a missionary there. I could never quite consider Minnesota home because I wasn’t from the area and just didn’t fit the culture—even in a church I helped plant.”

After five years of ministry in Minnesota, Faig still felt like an outsider. Being an outsider resulted in more than just discomfort. It created a dissonance that made doing ministry a lot like running in sand. He knew his efforts could be more productive in a more indigenous environment.

Faig decided that he and the church both needed to go native. His dedication to the church’s sustainable health and growth led him to conclude that it would be better off with a leader indigenous to the area. Likewise, he could best serve the kingdom in a congregation closer to home.

Faig’s 2005 move from Minnesota to Gayton Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, helped both churches grow. Since his arrival, Gayton has doubled in worship attendance, reorganized for greater effectiveness, and doubled in financial support. And what about the church in Minnesota? After Faig left, Northwood called Brian Doten, an indigenous leader who had been on staff at Northwood’s mother church (Wooddale Church) for 24 years. Under Doten’s leadership Northwood has grown steadily and is well positioned for impact into the future.

Faig has no regrets about making the transition closer to home. He knows ministry close to home isn’t a rule, but regrets how often it’s an exception.

“As much as we pastors think we can lead effectively in any context,” says Faig, “I’m not sure that’s the case. Here in Virginia, I get the cultural cues and don’t have the added work of decoding what people are saying or figuring out the hidden meaning of their actions. Doing native ministry is just so much more fluid, and that fluidity results in greater effectiveness.”

Look to Your Friends

A few hours south of Richmond, Crosspointe Church has made a practice of hiring friends of their lead pastor, Jonathan Bow. Bow joined Crosspointe in 2005. He quickly realized the need to add a very key leader—someone who could take on 50 percent of the teaching and free Bow to lead the growing church. That was a tall order.

“I never wanted the church built around just one personality,” Bow says, “but we needed someone I could trust, who wasn’t looking to make Crosspointe a stepping stone—someone who wanted to partner together over the long haul.”

To fill the need, Bow tapped one of his best friends, Steve Daugherty. The two met seven years earlier in Ohio when Daugherty came to faith in the church where Bow served as a student pastor. They quickly became friends as Bow mentored Daugherty and eventually helped him answer God’s call into ministry.

Bow now laughs at the notion of the “search process” that brought Daugherty to Crosspointe: “Steve was not on the top of my list—he was the list. I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. The level of trust and partnership needed to make the teaching team work necessitated someone I knew and trusted.”

When it came time to lead the church in calling Daugherty, Bow was able to speak with first-hand knowledge of his friend’s character and ability. But it wasn’t all his decision.

“A huge credit goes to our elders,” he says. “They gave me the freedom to hire exactly the team I needed to effectively lead the church. None of this would have happened if they hadn’t seen the value of hiring people you trust completely from the beginning.”

In fact, since hiring Daugherty, Crosspointe has added two more of Bow’s friends to the staff. Pam McKerring and Don Smith each met Bow while serving with him at a church in Indianapolis and when the time was right, they each followed him to North Carolina. Smith joined Crosspointe in 2006 to oversee media and communications while McKerring joined in 2008 to mobilize the congregation for missions and ministry.

Calling your friends is not without obstacles. Bow says, “Leading and supervising close friends has its challenges, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges. We emphasize in our staff culture that we’re not just committed to our jobs—we are committed to each other, and to each others’ families. That makes a huge difference in our trust level and, frankly, our enjoyment level. We love being together. I’ve never had a job where I look forward to coming into the office each day as much as I do here.”

The staff culture of Crosspointe is shared with the congregation. The last ten staff persons added all came from within the congregation and Bow doesn’t see that trend changing: “People here know our culture and they know us. And I feel like new team members arrive on day one with a strong commitment not only to our mission, but to us as well.”

Up Through the Ranks

On the other side of the country, Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon, looks to their volunteers when it’s time to add leadership. The church has grown to nearly 2,000 worshipers since being planted in 2001. Their growth and reputation have resulted in an interesting challenge: they regularly get inquiries from people wanting to join their staff. Executive pastor Luke Hendrix says the church’s response to persons wanting to serve on the ministry staff isn’t exactly to roll out the red carpet.

“We’ll get a resume from somebody in Nebraska wanting to be an intern here and we’ll say, ‘Come, move to Portland, get a job and just live here for a year. After a year, let’s evaluate how an internship is or is not a fit.’ We do this because we believe leadership is best lived and demonstrated in community.”

Hendrix understands why some churches look outside for leaders, but he believes looking inside is biblically sound and more fruitful.

“Looking for leadership outside the church throws that person into a category the world is comfortable with: performance,” he says. “But the Bible talks about leadership in terms of character more than performance. To know a person’s character, you must walk in community with that person, not just see the results they got somewhere else.” He says the church’s emphasis on calling those who already fit the community (both the church and the city of Portland) results in fewer surprises and more success.

Hendrix cannot think of a leader Imago Dei called from outside. Rather, they come up through the ranks. He says the typical progression is for someone “to start as a worshiper who is involved because the church expresses certain values that the person shares. Then they start leading a home group where those values are expressed in a community. If they demonstrate leadership in that role and we sense there is a good fit, they’ll become an elder. When it’s time to add a staff member, then perhaps we will tap them to fill a part-time leadership position, and usually those turn into full-time positions.”

Hendrix admits the church has never posted an open position or asked for resumes—and they don’t plan to.

“A biblically-functioning church should produce leaders,” he says. “If we’re not able to pull leaders from within, something’s wrong in our community because it means we are not reproducing.”

the risks

Fostering homegrown leaders is not without risks. For example, in an effort to not over-professionalize ministry, a church could under-professionalize it. This can happen when being homegrown becomes the sole criteria for leadership rather than one among many. This can result in a church calling a minister who lacks the skills, character, or even the calling to lead simply because he or she is well-known. Obviously, this would be a mistake.

Another risk is congregational xenophobia. A congregation too in love with its own homegrown leaders could grow suspect of the unfamiliar. Such a condition would make relationships with other congregations difficult and even disrupt the church’s sense of mission to the world. Hearing from only insiders may also create an echo chamber where familiar and oft repeated messages drown out any outside voices the church needs to hear. Sometimes we need the divergent perspectives of outside voices to jolt us in a new direction.

With these risks in mind, we still need to recognize how our assumptions about the professionalization of ministry and the desire for transferable leadership may be stifling our churches.

implications for us all

While not every church will be able or willing to make the shift to homegrown leadership, there are implications every congregation can consider.

• Homegrown leadership requires shifting the education of church leaders from “go and learn” to “stay and form.” When I attended seminary ten years ago, the typical pattern was to leave home, learn ministry leadership in an academic setting, and then go to some brand new area for service. We may need a new normal—one that not only allows but encourages ministry preparation in congregational settings. Seminaries might play the role of the Bay Area farmer who gardens the backyards of homeowners.

• Homegrown leadership puts increased importance on the notion of “outward call.” Too many would-be ministry leaders believe an inward sense of call plus some degree of training entitles them to a position of leadership in a church. Imago Dei’s Hendrix says, “Unfortunately, self-selection to ministry is the norm, but a greater investment needs to be made in affirming that call.” Ideally, a community not only affirms a call, but perhaps even is the first to recognize God’s call on an individual’s life.

• Valuing homegrown, indigenous, and local leadership is not necessarily a path to homogeneity or segregation. Churches that want to impact a multi-cultural world and that share God’s appreciation for diversity will need to cultivate a congregational environment that nurtures diversity at all levels—including the leadership level. The strategy is not to exclude minority leaders or to import a minority leader, but to nurture diverse disciples who naturally become diverse leaders. This is homegrown diversity.

• Homegrown leadership blurs the dichotomy between clergy and laity. When a congregation grays the line between church members and vocational ministers, the congregation creates a more fertile environment for growing new leaders. Thinking of clergy less as hired hands and more as integral members of the community elevates the necessity for trust, loyalty, community, and friendship throughout the congregation.

• Fostering homegrown leaders means increasing our appreciation for bi-vocational ministry. If we are to nurture the growth and service of local leaders, we cannot make the part-time, tent-making interns of ministry leaders into second-class leaders. I suspect that our unspoken bias for professionalized ministry detours many leaders from sustainable and healthy expressions of ministry leadership.

• A healthy move toward homegrown leadership will force us to recognize how our over-appreciation for outward appearances harms our churches. The best looking tomatoes at the market are not the best tasting or the healthiest—they are the ones picked while green, pumped full of chemicals to make them look ripe and polished to a shine to catch the eye. When looking for leaders, we need to look beneath the shine and become discerning growers of leadership, not just consumers of the best looking leaders.

The growing appreciation for homegrown leaders has the potential to transform how we approach ministry, leadership, and service within the church. Cultivating indigenous leaders may not only foster greater trust and compatibility within a congregation, but it may result in a more fruitful ministry as well.

Chad Hall is an author, church planter, leadership coach, and the Director of Coaching for Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon

Categories: Articole de interes general

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