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The plug-and-play problem of church leadership

April 4, 2012

The following is a brief excerpt from my forthcoming book Multiplying Missional Leaders, which comes out at the beginning of May. 

Imagine that it’s a Tuesday morning, and that the staff of your church has gathered for its weekly staff meeting. Staff members discuss the weekend service and whether it delivered the message and experience they hoped it would. They discuss the attendance numbers; small group numbers and effectiveness; budget, buildings, and cash flow. You know, the normal staff- meeting routine.

Then, there’s a soft but decisive knock on the door. Someone says, “Come in!”

Into the room, dressed in normal clothes, step Peter, Paul, James, Priscilla, Timothy, and Lydia. (Obviously, we’re in a hypothetical situation here.) They introduce themselves and say that the Lord sent them to your church to serve in any way they can. They ask, “What can we do? We don’t want to be on the stage or anything. You’re doing the preaching/teaching thing really well. But we’ll do anything else you need. Just tell us what you’d like.”

A stunned silence comes over the staff — after all, this is a strange situation. But soon enough, the staff members snap out of it.

“Uhh, well, OK. Well, how many of you are there? Six? Well, let’s see. Could three of you be small group leaders? We’re looking to start some new small groups, and clearly you’d be great at that. Peter, James, Paul, could you do that?

“Hmmm . . . you know, we lost the person who heads up our First Impressions team a month ago, and it has been a bit lackluster. It has lost the punch it used to have. You know it’s important that people have a strong impression of our church within the first 15 seconds when they come to the service. Priscilla, do you mind heading that up?

“Timothy, we could sure use another usher, you look like you could handle that. Lastly, Lydia, I hear you play a mean bass and can sing too. We’re down a bass player and would love to have you in the band. Maybe you can even fill in and lead worship from time to time. Are you up for that?”

This is called plug-and-play. This is about having various positions we need filled in the machine of our churches and plugging people into those roles. Now don’t get me wrong: there are always going to be logistical needs when the scattered church gathers. That’s reality, and we need to attend to that and do it well.

But does anyone really think this is where a church should be using Peter, James, Paul, Priscilla, Timothy, and Lydia? Would this be the most effective use of their time and energy given the skill sets they have? Of course not.

There’s a leadership myth out there that programs that need leaders create leaders in and of themselves. But this hypothetical example shows us how systems can fall short.

Maybe we can think about it this way: If your church were suddenly given 250 missional leaders, would you have any idea what to do with them? Or would you just plug-and-play them in what you are currently doing?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2012 5:03 am

    I think that you are using too broad of a brush on systems and structures. Replace that phrase with the word programs, and I am with you, but well thought out and designed systems and structures give a leader the flexibility to handle the mythical onslaught of missional leaders.

    The leader that has spent the time to think critically about the why and how of their church, and has designed the systems needed to accomplish those things generally has the cognitive abilities to reassess the situation when the game is significantly altered, while the leader who puts a program in place without those structures and systems typically does not.

  2. Jon McCranie permalink
    April 4, 2012 1:45 pm

    I like your story and you are definitely on the right track.
    Staff members ?? Staff Meeting ??
    Paid Staff is one of the problems with the dying church. We are having to pay people to do what Jesus commanded ?? Ah Ha…but that’s different. That’s the preachers job. ??
    I would love to see a roster for the church at Jerusalem. Hello people, we have made commerce out of the Gospel.
    We talk about planting churches but then we have to “fund” them. The only funding should be space rental and a sound system.
    Look at your church budget…How much goes for reaching the lost versus entertaining the membership.

    • M.J. Teston permalink
      April 4, 2012 2:36 pm

      Amen, Amen, and again I say Amen!

    • Josh permalink
      April 5, 2012 7:26 pm

      I agree that we are way too quick to think we must pay people. But I think to throw out paying anyone is not correct.

  3. April 4, 2012 1:47 pm

    It’s a very good point you make! I have also become discouraged trying to “find something meaningful” for every follower of Christ to do. I don’t believe that that is primarily our job as leaders. In my opinion, our job is to release the gifts of people and send them out to do whatever the Spirit leads them to do. If it just so happens to be something within the church structure, then so be it.

  4. April 4, 2012 2:55 pm

    Well said! Well said indeed! This is a keeper! Thanks.

  5. Jim Hogue permalink
    April 5, 2012 3:54 am

    I was imagining what I would ask them. “How did you live in your time?” “What did it look like?”

  6. April 5, 2012 1:08 pm

    The role of a pastor in the church today is to “manage” the church and not change a thing. To have 6 disciples show up at the churches front door… well….it frankly would blow me out of the water. I would be very… very suspicious! Pastors are all a suspicious lot.

    I was hired/called to “manage” the church in a nice way. When something new like this comes down the pike … I would make a decision based on if it was safe to do.. and if I had the time to embrace it. I liked being paid! But I have this problem.. Jesus showed up and said “make disciples”!

    OUCH! It is not always safe to hang around Jesus! So do I play it safe and get paid? Or do I resigned to make disciples like Mike has invited us?

  7. Dave G-J permalink
    April 9, 2012 9:02 pm

    250 missional leaders came to my church? Well, having just multiplied the congregation by a factor of 6, I guess the first thing we’d do is sell the building…


  1. The plug-and-play problem in church leadership « « Feeds « Theology of Ministry
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