I got off the phone this morning with John, a youth pastor, who will leave his church in 20 days because of the church’s financial situation. He’s built a big youth ministry with lots of kids and very few volunteers. “The church isn’t interested in working with teens,” he tells me. John is truly heart-broken for the kids and is reaching out to me to see if I can help the church in some way after he leaves. He doesn’t want to see it all fall apart and he knows it will after he leaves.
I didn’t tell him this. It’s probably for the best.
You see, somewhere along the way we youth pastors bought into a lie. We believe our job is to make things happen, to build programs, to attract youth all in the name of ministry, or building the kingdom. We bought into the idea that our job, our ministry is to make things go. We believe that somehow, our success or failure as a pastor is dependent upon our ability to motivate people to follow through and implement our plans and our dreams in the name of vision. In fact, we in the church are infatuated with visionaries who make it happen. The lie is pervasive these days.
Chances are this is a small reason why you love being a youth pastor. You have ideas, and you get to inspire and envision people to produce your programs. Chances are you are evaluated by how efficiently you bring others on board with your vision and how well you produce the goals and objectives you declared.
But this is a deeply flawed understanding of leadership and is destructive for church staff, and those within the church as well. This is a flawed perspective because it has unintended consequences. This kind of thinking is highly colonial and creates a level of isolation, entitlement and passivity that enables congregations to abdicate their responsibility to the leaders, who often gladly take it.
The leaders become strangers and distant from the people they are called to lead in this environment. In extreme cases people can become cogs in the details of a leaders mechanistic plans. Service is reduced to volunteer positions that must be filled.
It’s important for you to understand something.
You aren’t called to make things happen in your church.
Oh, you may be paid to make things happen, but it’s not God calling you to plan, lead and pull off all that unsustainable stuff. It’s not God calling you build it all, or convince others to build your vision either.
You will always have more ideas, more dreams, more hopes, more plans than your church should pull off in your ministry. You will always see more than can be done right now. You must learn to live with this tension.
* Your job as a leader isn’t to make plans and then have others buy into them.
* The role of a leader is to declare the mission, and create an environment in which people can dream and live into it.
* By making things happen you are robbing people from the God given responsibility they have to children in your church.
The difference is in the level of commitment of the people you lead. Take John for instance. John created a lot of great experiences, but the people within his church weren’t committed to it outside of a paycheck to a staff member. When John leaves in 20 days, his ministry will crumble and it will be a beautiful thing for his church. Because it will force them to make a decision about how engaged they will be for teens.
I know what you are thinking. His church won’t step up. They will lose kids.
Could be. It’s pretty common.
This is the commentary on how well we lead in the church though, not so much on the church itself. The people of the church are being faithful to how they were led. They are living out their ministry teens the way it’s been expected of them.
How many of our churches are this way and how many churches would lose people if the staff stopped making things happen? There is an entire culture of leadership within the church rising up based on this faulty understanding of leadership.
You see, not only is top-down leadership often manipulative, colonial and patriarchal, but it’s also reactive. It only creates more of the same problems that it’s trying to solve.
Whereas leadership that declares the mission and then cultivates an environment within which it can happen is restorative. It produces energy, not hype. It confronts people, and forces accountability. The kind of leadership creates accountability, without directly calling for it.
So is this the end of visionary leadership? Absolutely not. It is simply a change in the way churches approach the role of staff and the way the mission blooms within your church. There’s a difference between helping your community imagine a world beyond their currently reality (vision) and convincing them to live it your way.
What kind of leader are you? Do you feel the need to make things happen? Have you always been this way? If not, what taught you that this was the right way?
Or do you cultivate an environment in which people can engage deeply, or superficially? An environment where you let go of the implementation to the people of your church?