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Leading in the Family Model of Leadership

Leading in the Family Model of Leadership

By Glenn Daman

The small church functions as a family rather than a business. For the pastor or church leader desiring to work within this model, there is exhilarating rewards as well as exasperating frustrations. The depth of enjoyment coming from the close bonds existing between members within the church is priceless. However, for the pastor and leaders striving to move the church forward in the accomplishment of the great commission, the family model, at times, smacks of dogged exclusiveness and unbending traditionalism. Can the small church function under the family model of leadership and still be effective in ministry? Surprisingly some have answered no. For them, the only proper course of action is to change the model and transition the church into a more progressive and task focused orientation. More often than not this only results in the congregation and the pastor becoming frustrated and hurt, as both perceive the other as being hardheaded and demanding. Crucial to working within the family model of church organization is to accept the form of leadership and to learn to understand and serve within the philosophy adapted by the church. The task of leadership is not to force people to follow, but to create an atmosphere where they desire and are willing to be lead, where they trust the leadership and are willing to support the leadership. That can only come through understanding what the people expect of their leaders and serving within the context of those expectations.

Qualities of a Family Model Leader

1. The family leader leads by example.

The small church leader has personal contact with everyone within the congregation. Because of this interaction, the daily life of the pastor and the leadership is open for constant inspection and evaluation. Leaders earn the right to lead when they establish a model to follow. The apostle Paul understood the importance of leadership by example when he writes on numerous occasions for people to follow his example as he follows Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thes. 3:7). Likewise, when writing to young pastors in the ministry he challenges them to be a model for their congregations to follow (1 Ti. 4:12; Tit. 2:7). Being an example encompasses two critical areas. First, the leadership must be a mature disciple of Christ, one who submits all aspects of life to the authority and guidance of scripture. Second, the leadership must exemplify the type of committed and dedication (both in time and energy) needed if the church is to accomplish its mission.

2. The family leader leads through servanthood.

While Paul gives the responsibility of leadership within the home to the husband, he makes it clear that genuine leadership is not dictatorial but sacrificial (Ephesians 5:22-33). Servant leaders are not concerned about their own success, instead they sacrifice themselves completely for the success of others (as Christ did for the church, Eph. 5:25). A servant leader is one who is not concerned about the accomplishment of his or her agenda, but is dedicated to assist people in the achievement of their dreams and plans. Servant leaders strive to assist people. They do not fit people into their schedule rather they fit themselves into the schedule of others. Servant leaders do not write people off when they fail to measure up to expectations, rather they come alongside them and help them grow into the job. They do not take offense when people express frustrations; instead they carefully listen, finding ways to help.

3. Family leaders learn to be relational.

The writer of Proverbs wisely points out that the security and stability of the king is found in his willingness to love people, "Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure" (20:28). To be effective, the leader must learn to be a relational leader, one who grounds his or her leadership upon the development of strong personal relationships with the people they serve. Being a lover encompasses five critical characteristics. First, a relational leader loves deeply. Being motivated by love involves having a deep love for Christ, a love that springs forth from his love for us (2 Cor. 5:14). When we love Christ, we learn to love his bride, the church. What motivated Paul to write an undoubtedly difficult letter, one that taxed him emotionally and threatened his relationship with the church, was the deep love he had for them (2 Cor. 2:4). Love is built upon our love for each individual. It is not enough merely to love the church; we must love the people who make up the church, including those who are difficult and problematic to love. Some people are abrasive, some are unloving, some are obnoxious, but the call to leadership is a call to love each of them. Second, a relational leader accepts people. Acceptance does not mean we give blanket approval to everything people might do. That would be unloving and selfish. However, before we can guide them through the process of change we need to accept them for who they are. This involves learning to understand and value their particular sub-culture. A leader who moves into a farm community without learning the pressures farmers face and the way they view life will have a short tenure as a leader. Acceptance is central to trust and without trust the leader will never be able to effectively guide the congregation. Douglas Walrath, in his excellent book, "Making It Work: Effective Administration in the Small Church," writes, "Their (the small church) past experience with 'outsiders' makes members of many small church suspicious of administrators who function 'professionally' and organizationally. Their first concern is not whether an administrator is efficient or effective, but whether he or she is devoted to them. They trust the leader who belongs, or who clearly wants to be in a committed relationship with them. An administrator with minimal skills who belongs in a small congregation will fare far better than one who is highly skilled but detached. Members of small churches will respond with both energy and faith to the devoted ministry of a relational administrator" (p. 20) Third, relational leaders must be good listeners. While biblical leaders are called to be communicators of truth, listening comes before speaking. A person who presumes to speak before he has listened is regarded as a fool in the book of Proverbs. Thus the sage writes, "He who answers before listening, that is his folly and his shame" (Prov. 18:13). Effective leaders learn the story of the church before they attempt to radically change the church. Fourth, relational leaders are personal. They are not afraid to allow people to get close to them. They do not hide behind the office door. Relational leaders are willing to spend time with people, willing to visit them and willing to invite them into their home. They are approachable and not bothered by interruptions. They are not afraid to be vulnerable by sharing their struggles. Last, relational leaders value each individual as much as they do the whole congregation. Within scripture there is the constant interplay between the community of God's people and the individual's personal relationship with God. While God is the shepherd of Israel (Psalm 28:9) he is also "my" shepherd (Psalm 23:1). Both the community and the person are equally important to God and are given equal attention. A relational leader learns to value the contribution and worth of each person, and not place the community over against the individual. Nor does he emphasize the individual at the cost of the community. There are times when the leader must focus primarily upon the community and other times when he must spend time with an specific individual. But throughout he never neglects one or the other.

4. Effective family leaders are patient.

The apostle Paul instructs Timothy to "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction" (2 Tim. 4:2). Family leaders do not force people to change; they carefully assist people in changing. They patiently wait until the person is ready. They work with the individual's capacity to process information and accept change rather than imposing their own rate and expectations upon them.

5. Effective family leaders are teachers.

They do not assume people will accept their ideas and changes merely because they suggested it. Rather they recognize that before growth can occur, there has to be careful instruction (2 Tim. 4:2). Often the failure of people to accept change is not a result of their unwillingness to change. Rather, it results from the failure of the leadership to adequately teach the people why the change is necessary, how to implement those changes and how to maintain the new plans and strategies developed.

Leading and decision making in the family model.

1. Leading the family model involves participative leadership.

Although a family has a designated leader, decisions that affect the whole family require everyone's participation in the decision making process. A husband does not decide to move across the country without the input from his wife and children. Participation means that everyone interested in the decision or affected by the decision are given the opportunity to share their ideas and concerns before plans are formulated.

2. Gain acceptance for decisions rather than just majority vote.

Making decisions strictly by a majority vote can easily alienate family members. When moving across country the husband, wife, and two small children may be in favor of the move, but the teen-age daughter may find the idea of changing schools unacceptable and threatening. To move without her acceptance will only invite rebellion and further conflict within the home. It would be far better to gain her acceptance before the move is made. While she may not be in favor of the move, she may accept the transition, thus supporting the decision in the long run. The family leader recognize that a majority vote may get the issue passed, but it requires acceptance by the whole congregation before it will be fully embraced and implemented.

3. Family leaders work with the tribal chiefs.

Within the small congregation there is often an individual or individuals who, by their position, exert great influence over the rest of the community. These individuals may or may not hold an "official" office, but will nevertheless be the ones everyone else looks to guidance. In most cases this will not be the pastor, but someone who has a long history within the church. The effective leader learns to accept the position of these individuals. They are not threatened by them, but learn to work with them and through them.

4. Family leaders recognize the value of informal and personal communication.

The most important time the family communicates is when they are all sitting around the dinner table sharing the effects of the day. The best time for a parent to interact with a teen is not by sitting down and stating, "lets talk." Usually, that is the best method to quiet the teen. Rather, the most significant interaction comes when the father and son are working on a car together, or the mother and daughter are working on a project with one another. The same is true in the family church. Notes in the bulletin, announcements from the pulpit, and letters sent to the congregation are all helpful means of communication, but the most important and effective communication within the family is done over a cup of coffee and personal interaction. Thus, the leader recognizes that he needs to spend time with the people and share his plans and goals with them long before he attempts to implement them.

5. Keep the organization subservient to relationships.

A father's decision to take a new job is not determined by the economics gains the advancement will bring, but by the positive and negative affects the new job will have upon the family. The same is true in the family church. The ultimate question is not "what is best for the organizational church" but "what is best for the individual relationships within the church." Replacing the organist with a worship team may be the organizationally right thing to do, but it might damage relationships that would undercut the very vitality and strength of the small church.

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