Do churches really need leadership? In principle you will answer yes, of course. But in practice, that principle may be challenged. Every church has positional leadership, those who fill the form of leadership, but not every church has functional leadership. Because of our understanding of the priesthood of all believers, we believe there are general and special offices in the church. Those who fill the special offices, elder and deacon, are chosen from the general offices, members of the church.
That automatically reminds us that leadership involves both formal and informal leaders. As we see in the Scriptures, the church is made up of both. Hence, the challenge is twofold: for both categories to function with a unity of spirit and purpose and for both to do what God intends within those roles.
For the past two years, the Presbyterian Church in America has had a group of people involved in a “strategic planning process.” It was intended to encourage and assist local churches, presbyteries, and denominational agencies towards planning within a generally agreed on framework. The results of that effort have been represented, discussed, and now commended to churches and presbyteries by the last two general assemblies.
Officers’ Threefold Responsibility
Formal church leadership has three particular responsibilities and opportunities. First, ordained leaders have the responsibility of “keeping the purity of the faith.” The Apostle Paul wrote to Titus that the leaders must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Failure to exercise that responsibility creates what the late Martin-Lloyd Jones calls “a church that ceases to make a difference.”
Knowing and contending for the faith is a prime responsibility of church leadership, especially the eldership (see the book of Jude). If this is not done, the church not only flounders in its mission, but the people are not properly discipled and the foundations are shaky. That is why one requirement for church officers is that they be sound in the faith.
A second responsibility and privilege focuses on shepherding God’s flock. In 1 Peter 5 elders are referred to as shepherds. “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly as God would have you“(1 Pet. 5:2, ESV). Shepherding requires personal contact. The PCA Book of Church Order says officers are to know the people, pray with and for them, and visit in their homes, primarily to inquire into their spiritual growth, needs, and development.
Recent TV reporters polled people in the street as to their knowledge of the leaders. They could name the president of the United States but for many, which was as far as they could go. Knowing the pastor of the church is fine and good, but knowing the collective leadership is also important in order to cultivate a willing following. The Bible teaches that sheep know their shepherd and shepherds, their sheep.
A third responsibility and privilege of the ordained leadership is to oversee the planning process. In the same passage, 1 Peter 5, elders are instructed to have “oversight” of the flock. Oversight requires many things, such as leading the flock in the right direction, seeing that the people are trained and equipped for service, and following the right shepherd.
The Planning Process
This article singles out the third responsibility of overseeing the planning process. Some have said that planning is not for the church because it is a management model and the church should not follow that model. Our understanding of leadership, however, is determined by our theology-our understanding of who God is. We learn from the Bible that God himself was a master planner. Before the foundation of the world, God developed a plan, and with creation began implementing that plan. Planning is a very godlike process. Christians could even say that planning is one of the most godlike things that we can do because planning is simply seeking by faith to discern God’s direction for our church. It is asking and answering in faith several strategic questions:
Who are we as a church?
Why do we exist?
What are we supposed to be doing?
Where are we in that process?
Where do we believe God wants us to go?
What do we have to do in order to focus own our part?
How can we know that we are doing the above?
Once you begin to get an overall picture of what you believe God would have you be and do as a church, then you can ask essential questions such as: what should be our key result areas for ministry? How should we organize or structure ourselves to facilitate effectiveness in those areas? How do we train, mobilize, and organize our people to be involved in our church’s ministry? How can a clear plan enable us to make better decisions and choices?
Biblically based leadership, according to Peter, requires that leaders first set the direction for the church. Failure on the part of leadership causes churches to “wing it,” or “fly by the seat of their pants” in their efforts, causing them to be ineffective. Leaders following a biblical model set the course and insure that all things necessary for that course are put into place.
When we encourage churches to do strategic faith planning, we are simply asking the leadership to ask God what kind of ministry, present and future, that he would have this church to have. That is a simple question that requires much prayer, biblical instruction, and common sense.
We have heard testimony after testimony from church leaders saying, “I have done that type of planning in my business for years but have never thought about doing that in the church.” One of the things I realized during my doctoral studies was how many biblical principles were actually used in “managerial psychology.” Principles were borrowed from Scripture, but with a different objective, namely profit. The world always operates on God’s borrowed principles. The Westminster Divines were bold enough to underscore the sufficiency of Scripture in the Westminster Confession of Faith but they also said:
“…There are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government and government of the Church, common to human action and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.”
Those who understand the concepts of “common grace” and “all truth is God’s truth” understand something of what they were saying. Though oriented to a limited or specific circumstance in the WCF, that principle applies to the whole of life.
Good Planning Facilitates
Good planning actually enables the leaders understanding of how the church is to be God’s salt and light in the world around them. God’s truth is not circumstantial in that it changes from situation to situation. But the context in which we communicate God’s truth does change. We see through the scriptures how God’s people adapted their method of communicating God’s message to their particular circumstance. Had that not been true, there would have been only one of the four Gospel books. Only one of Paul’s epistles would have been necessary.
Good leadership is able to ask and answer numerous strategic questions about their church’s role and mission to the world around them. Two main questions that should constantly challenge leaders are: who are we and what should we or shouldn’t we be doing in serving God’s purpose? How leaders respond to those questions will often determine a church’s effectiveness of ministry and how they communicate that ministry clearly to the people. Effective leaders will always be careful to plan and to communicate to their people their church’s purpose or mission. They will curtail the temptation of the “tyranny of the urgent.” Without a clear plan it is easy to do urgent things at the expense of doing the important things.
Why “strategic faith planning?” Strategy refers to direction. Faith reminds us that we walk by faith and not by sight. Even though in the planning process we are attempting to ask God what he wants us to be and do, we need to follow God’s lead which requires us at times to flex with God’s working. Walking by faith, requires learning that God would sometimes have us alter or correct our present course of action.
We have seen a number of PCA churches and other related organizations make great strides as a result of the planning process. Frank Brock, past president of Covenant College, has said that the process of planning may be as valuable, or more so, than the plan itself. It can encourage a spirit of unity and purpose that Paul speaks of in Ephesians. It can facilitate each part doing its work in the local church’s ministry. It can keep a people humble before the Lord, as they seek to know the role of their church and their place in the church.
What is the difference between a plan and a framework? The framework is the setting in which planning is done. In this case the PCA provides that unifying framework. Being Revived, Bringing Reformation is a booklet written by the General Assembly Steering Committee. Subtitled A Framework for Planning for the Presbyteries and Churches of the Presbyterian Church in America, it lists four strategic priorities. These are: empowering health and growth for new and existing churches, developing leadership for the future, increasing denominational understanding and effectiveness, and engaging the culture.
The framework further states the identity for which the PCA is known. The first characteristic of the PCA is its commitment to biblical inerrancy and authority. That commitment is expressed with our reformed theology. Because of the church’s interdependence, mutual accountability and cooperative ministry are two other distinguishing marks of the PCA. The mission statement of the PCA is expressed in the following manner:
“The mission of the Presbyterian Church in America is to glorify and enjoy God by equipping and enabling the churches of the PCA to work together to fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples of all nations, so that people will mature as servants of the triune God, will worship God in spirit and in truth, and will have a reforming impact on culture.”
Being Revived, Bringing Reformation will be a helpful tool with both its framework and listing of PCA agencies and individuals who can offer assistance in the planning process.
It is available from our CEP bookstore 1-800-283-1357 or www.pcanet.org/cep.
While leaders in the church must be concerned about the purity of the faith and shepherding God’s people, they need to be people of vision who know how to set direction for the church’s ministry, communicate that clearly to the church, and through training and guidance, help each member know where he or she fits in that overall ministry. That requires not only knowing how to develop plans, but also how to coordinate the interpersonal relationships among the people necessary to implement the plan.
We ask leaders up front, what do you think God wants your church to be and do and where are you in that process? Our suggestion is local church leaders can develop a planning leadership team made up of both formal and informal leaders, male and female. They can explain to the planning team exactly what they want them to do and give them resources to accomplish that task. The elders can then monitor their progress and keep the congregation informed to encourage prayer for the planning team. CE&P has numerous suggested resources to use along with the PCA’s strategic planning framework to assist in the planning process. Contact our office at 678-825-1100 for assistance.
Godly leaders are a key to a church’s effectiveness and godly leadership requires a delicate balance between people and task and when given the choice, they always come down on the people side of the ledger. Jesus demonstrated that principle so clearly when he washed his disciples’ feet and then when he finally died on the cross as the atonement for our sins. Godly leaders are always in need of the renewing power of the Holy Spirit, hence constantly in need of the prayers of the people. When we find a church in an unhealthy mode, it generally reflects the type of leadership in that church.
Good planning is a means of seeking to understand God’s will for the church, as well as a means of enabling the leadership to mobilize the membership for ministry/service. It will also enable the church to make better decisions on how to use their resources to accomplish God’s purpose.
Questions for discussion:
Does my church have an overall plan of ministry?
Does our congregation understand our church’s plan for ministry?
Are our leaders helping us know where we participate in our church’s ministry?
Am I being trained and equipped to use my gifts in a manner that contributes to helping our church’s ministry?
Is our church attempting to be strategic (directional or intentional) in what it does?
How is our church’s ministry determined and driven by our theology?