From Spider to Starfish Churches [4of4]

This series is focused on The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Brafman and Beckstrom. Come check it out every Wednesday in June!

For our last section on this series, let’s apply this directly to the problem of leadership in churches. Jeremy Pryor, at From Eden to Zion, offers this scenario:

Perhaps pastors should imagine that they are going to have three more years in their parish as pastor—and that there will be no replacement for them when they leave.

*blink* whoa.  Powerful scenario.  In essence, it is asking what if you had to turn a spider church (a hierarchical church) into a starfish church or else it would dieHmm…what would this mean?

If they acted as if this were going to happen, they would put the highest priority on selecting, motivating, and training lay leaders that could carry on as much as possible of the mission of the parish after they left. The results of three sustained years of such an approach would be quite significant. Even revolutionary.”

Absolutely.  This form of ministry focus gels nicely with our Starfish churches discussion on leadership.  By empowering the laity and removing hierarchical leadership, a revolution will certainly occur in the church.

Greg Ogden also has the above scenario in his 2003 book Transforming Discipleship. However, he embraces a leadership system that simply refines the spider church.

Better to give one year or so to one or two men [sic] who learn what it means to conquer for Christ than to spend a lifetime with a congregation just keeping the program going.

I’m definitely not with this approach to concentrate knowledge and leadership on a few disciples.  I know that’s the way JC went, but a mass appeal is stronger for decentralized churches (which is what you’d end up with) rather than replacing the pastor with a few pastors, who would be stuck in the same power-over system.

That said, you do need catalytic leadership, and perhaps that’s what Ogden is getting at.  You do need a few people who can turn the tables upside down in a structured way, and then let them step aside.  Finding that sweet spot of leadership is tricky, but necessary in the Brave New World we are in.

Initiatives like bootstrap networks map out here the steps for catalytic leaders to amass renewal within their organizations.

Your turn: if you had only three years left in your parish, either as pastor or knowing your pastor will be gone, what would you do?

Thanks for considering the question, and welcome to our visitors!

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Comments

  1. pastorbecca says

    As soon as I found out I was reappointed, my priorities shifted. Forget the sermons (they’ll come), forget the Bible study. Forget the fundraiser. First priority: training in PowerPoint, which they love, but I currently do and needs to be handed over. Next, making sure the Christian Ed team is set for the fall. Then, the lay leadership team and the meeting structure they have just tentatively put in place. In short, what do they love and want to have survive, and how do we get the people in place to do that? In a month and a half. We were planning on using all of next year to get these things in place. Now, not so much. Shoot.

    The other important thing about church leadership, though, is that there are a finite number of leaders available in a given church and so it’s important to empower leaders but not make them take on everything or they will burn out. I think one of the biggest gifts I gave the leaders in St. Paul’s was the ability and permission to say no to leadership, to take on *only* those positions that they felt called to, not obligated to do. We have sizeable gaps in our leadership; no one seems to feel called to be on finance team. But our mission team overfloweth with people who are excited and are (gasp!) doing local mission projects. The key is to encourage those little tentacles to grow in leadership without themselves becoming heads of spiders, and that’s not easy, because there are a lot of people in the pews who would be content to have ten leaders do the work of seventy people. And that part, I haven’t figured out.

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