So…what’s the culture of leadership like at your place of worship? How do authority, position, and church office fit together? Many leaders these day hang their hats on Servant Leadership, a concept where “the servant-leader is servant first…” (Greenleaf, 2007, p. 27). Success, according to that way of thinking, is measured by how much a person grows as a person. It’s a fine philosophy and certainly fits well with the mission of the church. But there are some real problems in its application to various churches.
It is susceptible to a creeping arrogance and paternalism that frankly characterizes too much of the church these days. “I know what’s best for you. After all, I’m making these decisions on your behalf. I have your best interests at heart.” Those who are already in control can rationalize their position by simply appealing to their “altruistic” intentions while retaining power and decision-making authority. That doesn’t mean Servant-leadership isn’t a fine philosophy. It’s just a little weak on the application part.
In contrast, relational leaders emphasize the importance of everyone taking responsibility for church direction. Yes, there are and should be leaders who have positional authority, but ideally such authority is based on gifting and partnership rather political election or appointment. These leaders are driven to mobilize people to craft solutions to hurdles and obstacles, rather than selling “buy-in” into the leader’s idea of what a solution (or vision) is all about.
Although this approach works in the corporate world, (Block, 1996) it really shines in the church. Christianity teaches that each of us is empowered for a unique ministry that God has designed. In fact, in addition to gifting a person, God calls that person to life tasks. Therefore, relational leadership can be evaluated, in part, by how well the people are mobilized to find solutions to the challenges facing them. This pays due respect to individual responsibility, accountability, and calling. Relational leaders equip people for the work of ministry.