Tangible and Intangible Considerations

Most of the discussion of pastoral leadership models so far has centered around what could be termed cost vs benefit analysis. This is admittedly a very narrow and unbiblical framework, yet it is definitely the one which I have heard the most spontaneous opinions on, and which seems to divide those opinions. In itself, this could be viewed as revealing in terms of what seems to be a significant focus in at least part of the present congregational mindset. Further, and most significant, though people are often divided (and occasionally vocal) about this, they are seemingly unconcerned about the foundational theology and related direction of pastoral staff. Incredibly, this can extend to the point where it is of only minor importance or interest what the leadership actually believes, beyond a basic node to a global organizational statement of beliefs or organizational mission document. Many in pastoral service are not plumed beyond that superficial level. Sounds unbelievable, but it is fact. Of far more importance it would seem, are issues of personality, relationship ease, entrepreneurial program skills and the like. In other words, postmodern organizational concerns rule, and a true biblical, theological or doctrinal profile is barely even on the horizon. In the extreme, believing ‘something’ in the basic ballpark is considered enough. This is in no way a comment on the staff or what they might believe, but it potentially speaks volumes about the congregational mindset and condition.

Are there other value added advantages offered by either model? Specifically, does the professional, salaried model offer any substantial advantage in significantly higher (measurable) availability or in benefits directly derived from additional background academics? For me the jury is still at least partially out, but some think it does. How do these factors contribute to an increase in congregational motivation and the development sound theological beliefs? Congregational involvement is certainly on the front burner in many churches and is often addressed, but does the general development of sound theology matter (in reality, not just talk) today?

With the professional leadership model, a strong case can likely be made that there is better provision of pastoral services and guidance due to simple availability. The salaried leader has a clearly defined responsibility to be active and available on a consistent basis. That should result in a great deal of activity and a high level of involvement. Further, that involvement should be at the implementation level and not merely as management. Since this likely includes exhortation and motivation of the congregation, it is expected that the church life which evolves under this leadership model would be more dynamic.

Is this in fact the reality? The results would indicate sometimes. As any position varies with the individual involved, the results also do. Nay possible problems appear to be centered in clear definitions of role, expectations and accountability. If the role is very clearly defined, with an incumbent that fits, then the probability of success is good. However, since the lines of accountability are often quite weak, the predictability of success can be limited.

On the issue of availability, salaried staff presents a two edged sword. The full time position should bring a expectation of defined minimum availability. This of course depends partially on accountability, but normally yields predictable involvement. On the other hand, with the definition of employment comes a very definite and secular expectation of time for money. This can lead to different expectations from the two sides. This is not to say that time expectations accompanying the pastoral position shouldn’t have limits, but the expectations of the congregation and the staff must be very clearly defined up front to avoid problems. This is seldom a reality, again because historical expectations have not kept up with the church environment.

Unlike secular roles, part of the pastoral position involves definition by our Lord. In that, the pastor and his Elder brethren must prayerfully seek and come to consensus. This is further complicated by the expectations of the congregation, who are often by definition excluded from this equation, other than after the fact. This is correct in a Biblical sense, since the function of the Elders is assembly leadership and the discernment of appropriate direction from the Lord in churches adopting an Elder based leadership paradigm. At the same time, it can lead to partial or complete disconnection from the general membership, with subtle alienation and division as the result. If the leadership level is not closely in tune with the general membership, nasty surprises will almost always await in the long run. Part of this must center on communications. The general church populace must be in the ongoing information loop as the leadership seeks direction. After the fact is not only not good enough, but is likely to be too little too late, no matter how well intentioned.

The pivotal issue here is, as always, the overall leadership direction. Primary direction centered on foundational biblical truth, the Lord and His Word, is the only legitimate one. That will appropriately draw the congregation and leadership together, or not, in whatever way the Lord intends. Any other focus, however well meaning and superficial beneficial it might seem, is inappropriate, man centered, and will eventually be divisive since it is by definition based in the world first (even if in the church in apparent intent).

Does the alternate leadership model operate at a disadvantage in this regard? It would appear not from appearances. In the case of available congregational care there could be lapses in availability since the leadership have more outside commitments. That said, it would appear that those within these assemblies take the biblical leadership model to heart and there is pastoral type support available as needed. Additionally, as discussed above, full time staff with employment time expectations can just as easily lead to a lapse in care. Moreover, the congregation may feel that they are more easily ‘off the hook’ as far as providing pastoral care since someone is paid to provide it. In the alternate model this combination of factors does not occur. Overall, the likelihood of lapses in care in the alternate model could be judged to be only slightly higher.

The professional leadership model can definitely offer advantages in ongoing focus, if and only if that leadership can maintain a very strong sensitivity to the general congregation and retain their confidence through transparency. Although this sounds like a secular popularity contest, it is not. There are areas of no flexibility that should be the hallmark of even responsive leadership. Those areas are foundational biblical knowledge and preaching. If that area in well addressed, with the Word as the focus of preaching and church mission, then other issues can often be more flexible. If, however, basic foundational theology and doctrine are not consistently preached and taught, the other issues will move the church more and more into a secular framework. The result is postmodern theology. Make no mistake. This is the work of enemy! Also, to harken back to an earlier paragraph, if pastoral beliefs are not known or not in tune with the congregation, then the result will likely be a shying away from theology and doctrinal discussion, to the long term detriment of all concerned.

Is there a conclusion on which model is best? No. The only conclusion would appear to be that both can function well under certain circumstances. The traditional model may, in today’s society and if the church is strongly focused on growth, be more fraught with the dangers of postmodern theology. The alternate model, without consistent leadership focused in an individual or individuals, may be in some danger of offering less congregational support and guidance.

In either case we must return to foundational theology and doctrine as the key. Irrespective of the model, if the Sovereignty of God, consistent reading and proclamation of inerrant scripture, and education in sound doctrinal theology are not the over-riding, consistent focus of the leadership, then the assembly is on the road away from the Lord toward some sort of postmodern club.

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