Although Canon Law dictates that each parish is placed under the leadership of a pastor, appointed and installed by the bishop, there are dozens of different types of church leadership structures. There are pastors who are “one man shows” and hold the reigns tight when it comes to decision making. There are “absentee landlords” who more or less leave it to someone else. And there are “delegators” who divide up the pastoral pie and pass out the pieces to others who, oftentimes with lack of accountability, create silo ministries.
In small parishes, the leadership structure or style matters less: there’s less staff to lead, less money to manage, less people and programs to guide. But for midsize churches (500+ weekend attendance) and large churches (1,000+) there is a better model that needs to be employed if the pastor and the parish are going to be healthy: a team approach.
At Nativity we consider our entire staff leaders, and together they are our leadership team. But we also have a “senior” leadership team, we call it our “Strategic Leadership Team.” This is a council of advisors to me, selected by me. We meet once a week for as long as we need to meet, typically about 2 ½ hours over lunch (this, by the way, is the only meeting I chair). Our agenda is whatever we decide at the outset and our purview is everything in the life of the parish.
By definition, an SLT is a gathering of 3 to 7 or 8 (any less isn’t a group and any more too big a group for everyone to fully participate) who meet with the Pastor to help set direction, plot strategy and, when necessary, dip into the details. But, this is not a nuts and bolts group—they don’t spend much time working on details of how—but rather stay up at the why level, determining the purpose and parameters of new initiatives.
This past week our Team undertook our annual multi day off site to plan for the coming year (2018-2019). Next we’ll take the priorities we established there and bring them to our entire leadership team at our May off site.
If your church staff doesn’t currently have a Senior Leadership Team, here are 8 reasons why Church-staffing expert William Vanderbloemen argues you should:
- It forces the pastor to raise upand invest in high-capacity leaders who can work alongside him and thereby increase his capacity.
- Rather than bottlenecking decisions through one leader, it brings in additional leaders to help shoulder the load.
- It keeps your church from making spontaneous or stupid decisions. If a team member can’t sell the others of their proposal or position it’s probably not anything you should invest time or money in.
- Decisions will be better and stronger because they will be made in a broader context with more information and different perspectives and concerns.
- It will give your congregation and the rest of your church staff more confidence in the leaders of the church—not everything is wrapped up in one individual or divided up in an incomprehensibly piecemeal way.
- It increases good communication among the staff and volunteers. Every key leader will have the most important information and can help disseminate that to his or her teams.
- It provides an already-established counsel of advisors when tragedy or scandal hits the church or opportunity knocks.
- Churches that have a healthy and cohesive SLT will have or eventually shape a healthy parish.