3 Models for Church Leadership

by Tim Wallingford 

I had the opportunity to visit with over 400 ministers in 18 months either in group settings or one-on-one as we began the Center for Church Leadership.  One of the most-common questions that ministers ask is about having effective working relationships with elders and the Eldership. 
In Christian Churches / Churches of Christ, we can conceptualize the roles, responsibilities, accountability and teamwork of congregations’ leadership into 3 basic “models:”  

  • Elder-Led / Staff-Engaged
  • Staff-Led / Elder-Protected
  • Shared Leadership

I remember one of my first ministries; I was still in Bible college.  The church was growing.  As a good minister I believed my role was to present a Ministry Plan to sustain and enable future growth.  But every proposal I made created tension with a few of the Elders.  I was operating out of the Staff-led/Elder-protected model.  I came to realize that, in contrast, the Elders’ philosophy of leadership in that congregation was Elder-led/Staff-Engaged.  When the church was smaller, the Elders created the ministry plan and the part-time Bible college students would engage, or execute, it.  
When I crafted and presented my Ministry Plans, a few of the elders were having difficulty making the mental jump in their oversight of me from “approving” a plan versus their familiarity with “creating” the plan.  The Elders were godly, good men, but misunderstanding between myself and my fellow leaders on how we would operate created tension and killed our effectiveness. 
As a minister or Elder, if there’s any tension or you perceive the leadership is not always on the same page, ask the philosophy of leadership question: “what model are we using to work as a team?”  Much tension will be removed – and effectiveness and joy will return! – when everyone understands how their role, responsibilities, accountability and teamwork all come together to honor God. 

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