Leadership—Heart, Soul and Structure

Why leaders today need to balance the heart and organization to serve Jesus well.

A strong tension seems to exist among emerging generations regarding leadership in the church. I had dinner recently with a young intern serving on staff at a local church, and he shared with me some of his disillusionment with the church where he serves. His primary issue was that the church has a more hierarchical leadership structure, and the staff is required to develop written goals and organizational charts for ministry. He felt it was not organic, that it felt too businesslike and not like the New Testament church. I could understand the heart of what he was saying, and I have heard this same sentiment multiple times, especially from younger leaders in churches. The goal-setting, mission statements and organizational charts of the contemporary church office seem a far cry from the home meetings and relational style we imagine from the early church.

Younger leaders seem more drawn to leadership styles emphasized in the writings of Eugene Peterson and Henri Nouwen. Reading Nouwen’s book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership convicts you to the inner core about the motives and the heart of leadership. However, Nouwen wrote directly about his experience in shepherding and loving a relatively small group of people, not a larger church context.

Heart and Structure

So as attractive and wonderful as leadership teaching from someone like Nouwen is, leadership skills and ideas for a growing and multiplying church are needed. Once a church has multiple levels of leadership among staff and volunteers, to adequately care for them, you need more structure. So organizational charts are drawn, goals are written, and projections are made. I have benefited tremendously learning leadership, goal-setting and delegation principles from authors like John Maxwell, Bill Hybels, Wayne Cordeiro and Jim Collins. We must have more structure, not to be a “business,” but to be a healthy, caring community.

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The young intern I met with shared a common criticism that the church shouldn’t have to adopt business models of leadership. But as we talked, I was able to share that even being “organic” needs organization. I shared how Jesus used the metaphor of a vineyard to talk about his relationship with his disciples. When you look at a vineyard in Jesus’ day or today, to grow healthy grapes, the organized structure of a trellis is needed. Systematic irrigation, pruning and inspection are needed. The purpose is not to be business, but to ensure the healthy growth of the vine. I shared how even an organic family is organized: A family has a budget, responsibilities and roles within it. The purpose is not to turn the family into a business, but to give necessary structure to become a healthy family, functioning together.

I understand and appreciate the passion for having a pastoral shepherding leadership ethos and focus on community. And I also understand and appreciate the need for organization and structure—even org charts and mission statements. If your church has more than 100 people, roles begin shifting and the structure must be in place for delegating roles and training leaders. The goal simply is to be able to adequately care for more people.

The Need to Know Why

I try to do the Maxwell-Nouwen dance. I need to be learning from both in my life and leadership approach. I love how emerging generations challenge the status quo and desire Jesus-like leadership in our churches. But I also know that in missional churches, growing and reaching more people, you need structure, levels of leadership and clearly understood roles. We need to learn from both Maxwell and Nouwen as we serve Jesus on the adventure of seeing new disciples made.

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But as this young intern reminded me, leaders need to explain what’s behind the church’s organizational structure. Why is the church becoming businesslike and corporate? If we’re not clear, we can communicate incorrectly our passion and values without even knowing it.