Vision and Theology in Church Leadership (Part Four)

When it comes to vision, theology and church leadership, many leaders adopt a non-theological consensus approach to leading, equating “consensus” with “relational.”

Yet relational leadership is not consensus leadership.

Typically consensus leaders call a small group of people together and facilitate a meeting to hammer out a vision for the congregation. The result is then handed down to the rest of the church. So what’s wrong with this?

  1. Pastors and leaders spend much time “vision-casting” and trying to get “buy-in” from the people by “marketing” the vision, thus delaying implementation (and possibly losing time, momentum and opportunity) until some arbitrary “critical mass” is achieved.
  2. As a corollary to point one, valuable (and limited) time, energy and resources are spent on marketing rather than on vision implementation.
  3. The consensus approach to “getting vision” produces a compromise vision constructed to get the vote of the majority of people in the original meeting.
  4. The process is quite vulnerable to being overly influenced by very vocal members of the original team. 
  5. Often the unstated goal of consensus leadership is conflict avoidance and thus the desire for peace and harmony can cut short tough vision discussions.
  6. Since the purpose of vision is to set the direction of the organization, this means saying “no” to certain other directions. Consensus leadership does not lend itself to saying no.

Relational leaders differ in several ways.

  1. Relational leaders help people focus on their values. These leaders have a sense of the nonnegotiables of the congregation which are concretized in the theology of the church.
  2. Their goal is behavior-congruence to values, not agreement or compromise between members.
  3. Through their relationships with people, they have a “balcony view” of the whole organization (see Heifetz, R., & Laurie, D.) making a distinction between what individuals want to do and what God is doing with the congregation.
  4. Like consensus leaders they facilitate meetings to hammer out vision. However, they remind people repeatedly of those things to which the church must say “no.”
  5. Relational leaders resist the temptation to offer quick solutions, believing it is the responsibility of the people to grasp vision.
  6. They construct a “safe holding environment” where people are held accountable for what and how things are said.

Part Five will outline specific steps pastors and church leaders should take to “get vision and lead the church.”


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4 thoughts on “Vision and Theology in Church Leadership (Part Four)

  1. I’m liking this more and more. The word “concretize” is new to me. Then again, most of your words are new to me. This is great stuff.I’m sure this wisdom will be used by me sometime in the future,wherever and whatever the circumstance. Thankyou for your insights.

  2. Wow, Rupert, this is jam-packed with great advice. I work in a company that is culturally and historically very consensus-oriented, and can appreciate the dilution that occurs for the sake of peace. We have worked on changing that quite a bit over the last few years and have come a long way, to encourage disagreement, discussion, and really hasing out our views of the organization’s vision.

    I love the “balcony view” idea.

    1. Whenever the discussion turns to values (which is what change and vision are really all about) the heat rises because people feel deeply on these topics. It’s nice to hear of a company that is unafraid to tackle the important issues.

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