According to the Council of Bishops’ Call to Action Report, one of the most significant drivers of a congregation’s missional vitality is that their laity provide effective leadership. And the greatest predictor of effective lay leadership is that laity are living into the historic forms for nurturing our faith. The surprising thing about this finding is that some may assume that the best leaders in the secular world naturally make the best leaders in the church, which may not be the case.
Strong and effective lay leaders working in partnership with strong and effective pastors are crucial to missionally vital congregations. The Towers Watson study identified several factors that predicted effective laity leadership:
· The lay leadership team demonstrates vital personal faith, evidenced by “regular disciplines of prayer and Bible Study, regular attendance at weekly worship, proportional giving, participation in mission opportunities, and personal faith-sharing.” (p. 80 of Call to Action Report)
· The congregation rotates their lay leadership.
· The number of laity in leadership positions over the last five years reaches 25% – 50% of the average worship attendance.
Laity who practice the traditional disciplines of faith are 5 time more likely to be effective leaders in their church, according to Towers Watson study. Early in my ministry, I assumed that someone who is a good leader in the business or secular world would be a good leader in the church. What I did not recognize at the time is that the church is a counter cultural community. Those who follow Jesus are not “normal.” We have a different set of values and priorities. We are citizens of an alternate Kingdom. And we don’t grow up spiritual to be like Jesus overnight. So those, who are new to the faith or who have only nominally participated in the practices of spiritual formation, may not bring the values and priorities of Christ to congregational decisions.
When choosing a replacement for Judas, the early church was careful to select someone who had been with them and the Lord the whole time, so that they would understand what this called-out community of witnesses to the resurrection stood for (Acts 1). Paul counsels Titus to select elders who love what is good and evidence mature faith in Titus 1. Likewise, Peter counsels elders to be Christ-like shepherds of God’s flock (I Peter 5).
Remember, laity who practice a vital personal faith are five times more likely to be recognized as effective leaders. This means that having a healthy discipling process is foundational to a congregation developing effective leaders. Let’s turn this around the other way: the chances are that laity who do not evidence regular disciplines of prayer and Bible study, regular attendance at weekly worship, proportional giving, participation in mission opportunities and personal faith sharing . . . will seldom be the leaders that a congregation needs to foster and sustain missional vitality.
The rotation of lay leadership is also identified as a predictor of effective lay leadership. While the report does not expand on this, it seems to me that this is a practical matter of not having the same small group of leaders control the congregation for years on end. Unless there is openness to new leadership in a congregation, the chances are great that the congregation will also not be open to new strategies and practices effective in reaching the next generations. In short, a closed set of leadership usually means a closed set of ministry practices. And, in our world today, that means an increasingly less fruitful ministry in terms of reaching and developing “more, younger and more diverse disciples” who are able to have a Kingdom impact on their community.
Develop a broad base of leadership equaling between 25% and 50% of the average weekly worship attendance. Again, the Towers Watson report does not expand upon this statistical observation. Two factors seem possibly significant.
First, The Towers Watson Report identifies the number of small groups, particularly small groups for youth and children, as predictive of missional vitality. The number of small groups is greatly dependent upon the number of leaders. When the pastor and a few laity are the only leaders facilitating groups, there is a limit to the number of groups the congregation can have. It is not just a matter of time and math. It is also a matter of chemistry and wiring. No person relates well with everyone and every age. And no one is wired up to be good at leading all types of groups. The more leaders a congregation has, the more possibilities there are for people to be involved in a small group.
Secondly, laity who are involved in leadership are more likely to be committed to their congregation being missionally effective – especially when they are spiritually mature enough to know and be committed to Christ’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
The Towers Watson Report confirms what many persons suspected: missionally vital congregations are constantly developing their base of spiritually mature leaders, leaders open to facilitating small groups and committed to ensuring that their congregation stays focus on Jesus’ agenda for his church.
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence