Friday, March 20, 2009

Denominational leadership: equip, encourage, inspire

I'm just tossing around some ideas. I've been thinking about church leadership and denominational leadership and how it all works together. I do happen to think denominations are good, and that there is a vital need for denominational leaders - which, in my case, consists of "general" and "regional" leaders (our general conference offices, which oversea worldwide operations, are in Findlay, Ohio; and I have a regional director who overseas Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana). When I refer to the "denomination" or "denominational offices" I am usually referring to both the general and regional offices/officers as one in the same. And this is not meant specifically as a critique of my denomination, but I'm just thinking in general here.

It seems to me that the reason for denominational leaders should be to equip, encourage, and inspire local church leaders (meaning pastors for the most part). This would be through: teaching, training, resourcing, recommending books and materials, etc. (equipping); listening, counseling, and just generally encouraging; and the inspiration could come about in many of the things already mentioned. These things could happen as a direct result of the denominational leaders efforts, or though recommendations of conferences and places to seek equipping, encouragement, and inspiration. Certainly we need financial people, and administrative and record-keeping type people, but... I really think there needs to be more of a concerted effort at equipping, encouraging, and inspiring our church leaders for the betterment of our churches. Pastoral burnout, depression, and loneliness are well documented as leading problems in ministry, and yet you don't hear much about what denominations do to help in these situations.

I believe there needs to be a distinction that the denominational leaders should be doing this for the local church leaders, and then the local church leaders can work at equipping, encouraging, and inspiring the congregations. Then the congregations can work at equipping, encouraging, and inspiring one another, and those not yet a part of the church.

In essence there does need to be a clear hierarchical chain, but it is perhaps upside down from what most people think of. The denominational leaders are there to serve the local church leaders, the local church leaders are there to serve the congregations, and the congregations are there to serve the world. I think this is the opposite of what many used to think, where we felt the need to demand our church people make commitments to our churches, who would make commitments to our denominations, so the denominations could thrive and grow. It should be the other way around so our churches can help our people thrive and grow and reach the world as we partner in God's mission of reconciling all things through Jesus Christ.

So... there are probably some holes here. But I think way too much time, effort and money goes into keeping "the machine" running for most denominations, and too little goes towards the point of it all in the end. At least in my opinion.


Jim said...

I agree. Being in a denomination now is somewhat like when I worked in the one job that was a closed union shop (this was a LONG time ago). Other than take a part of my money, just like taxes, I couldn't have named you then or now what the union actually did to help me. Plants still closed. People still got laid off. The funds to help members who were laid off were depleted. But we still had to send that money in.

It's the same with my denomination. I cannot name you a single concrete thing they do that is visible to just an average Joe like me. Oh, sure, they run the colleges and publishing house, there are newsletters and devotionals and some mission programs. But it all seems very impersonal and corporate and far away. And I am not maligning the people who work there - I am convinced they are sure they are doing God's work.

I just couldn't tell you what that work was.

dan horwedel said...

Yeah... I don't envy people who work in denominational offices. I know our people work hard and really care about what they do. But it's thankless work. Mostly because of the issues you raise - it goes virtually unnoticed. It's similar to being a full-time pastor: everyone wonders what we do all week when we only seem to "work" on Sundays. My mom still asks me what it is that I do exactly. And some of it is just hard to explain.

But on the other hand, I think there are some things pastors and denominational leaders do that maybe doesn't need to be done either. Not that that means they aren't needed, but maybe we need to check and make sure we're doing the "right" things.

And I hear you about the union analogy. But having worked in a union shop myself, I hope we're a little better than the union people I knew. ;)

Jim said...

Flash to "the two Bobs" in "Office Space",

"So, what is it you'd say you DO here?"


And don't sweat moms not understanding - my mom doesn't understand what I do, either.