Note: I do not like the phrase “lay people.” The phrase implies there are some “ordinary” people in the church and some “clergy.” That mentality was prevalent prior to the protestant reformation. The clergy were placed on a pedestal. This attitude hindered the translation of the Bible into the language of the people.
I will share several thoughts from each side of this discussion. First, what happens when a pastor assumes a leadership role? A pastor is not leading unless he gets out front. When he gets out front his leadership will be perceived differently by different people. It is impossible to avoid some criticism.
Some people think the congregation should have a voice in every decision. They feel there should be consensus in all decisions. Consensus is a fallacy. You will never get an entire congregation to agree on everything. If you discuss a decision with ten people you may get ten opinions.
Consensus slows the wheels of progress. You never get anything done because you spend all of your time talking about the decision. Some churches grind to a halt trying to build consensus. Decisions get delayed for years because churches cannot get everyone to agree.
There are other people who perceive the pastor’s leadership as infallible. This perspective sets the pastor up for abuse of power. He will be tempted to make decisions and take actions with no accountability. This is not good!
The other side of the leadership spectrum involves working with people. The Bible says “Without counsel, purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established” (Prov. 15:22). Some people take this to mean consensus. This verse is merely establishing a principle. The principle is that God’s people should work together.
Another perspective about working with people involves seeing the church as a body (I Cor. 12:12). The body is made up of many members and all members have a part in the body. This certainly calls for cooperation.
What is a pastor to do? I offer these suggestions.
First, respect, listen to, and acknowledge people’s opinions. You can listen to and respect people’s opinions without caving in to them. Our political leaders conduct town hall meetings on a regular basis in order to receive feedback from their constituents. They recognize the wisdom in listening to the people.
When a pastor overlooks people’s opinions and does not listen one of two outcomes will occur. One, people will build resentment toward the pastor. Two, people will become passive, thus, killing the “body” concept in their church. Some pastors are authoritarian leaders who get little support because they violate this truth.
Second, establish a leadership team of spiritually mature members to balance your decision-making. These people should not be “yes” men/women but truly spiritual people who speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:13-15). This group can discuss ideas, share suggestions, and refine the pastor’s ideas. In working with this team the pastor does not surrender his leadership but follows the wisdom of Prov. 15:22.
Serving as pastor is often a balancing act between leadership and teamwork. It is not easy. However, it deserves our best effort.