In every church I’ve interviewed, a key factor in making good transition decisions was the presence of healthy lay leaders who knew how to use their authority. Claiming authority for lay leaders can be a tricky business. What is your source of your authority? And how should you use that authority without over-functioning?
Churches have many kinds of leaders. There are the formal leaders, like the
governing board and the pastor. These are the people who are recognized as leaders, but they are not always the ones pulling the strings. You might assume
that real power lies in the hands of the formal leadership, but in many churches, formal leaders are heavily influenced by some of the other kinds of leaders I mention below.
There are spiritual leaders. These are people who other members have quietly acknowledged as faithful Christians and mentors. In one of my churches, Lorraine was the spiritual leader who everyone turned to for wisdom and guidance. When it came time to make big decisions, even the church’s “movers and shakers” deferred to Lorraine’s wise judgment. Some churches are not fortunate enough to have a spiritual leader like Lorraine, but every church has members who are spiritually grounded and wise, if others take time to notice.
Church patriarchs and matriarchs are another type of leader. These are people who have been part of the church since before anyone else can remember. These people carry the church’s memories within them, and may act as a sort of “anchor” for recalling the church’s original purpose and significant
turning points. Anchors can be a great gift in times when a church needs stability. They can also be an impediment when the church needs to move forward in a new direction.
Most churches have members with leadership ability based on a given area about which they are experts. Leaders can be tapped for their expertise as lawyers, real estate agents, social workers, financial managers or entrepreneurs.
Finally, a leader who may be overlooked is the outsider. This person may be an inactive or very new member or even a visitor. This kind of person can lead by asking novel questions: “Why do you do it that way?” “What do your members believe in?” “Do you have a hands-on mission project I can get involved in?” or “How come nobody is doing ____ .” The outsider leads by asking questions an insider would never think to ask. And by asking them, the insiders have to reflect on who they are and why they behave as they do.
What is your unique leadership position? Is it a formal or informal role? How can you faithfully use that position to start a conversation about what you sense is happening in your congregation?
What other types of leaders exist in your fellowship? A transition point is a good time to access the wisdom of voices that may not have been heard in the past.