Ep. 201 Comparing Authoritarian and Delegating Church Models

Shows Main Idea – What leadership style is your local church? Two options are the authoritarian church model where everything runs through the pastor, and another is the delegating philosophy where the church members receive envisioning and equipping to lead in prominent areas. Neither model has to be wrong, only different.

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Show Notes

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You could think of these two styles as preferences, like Coke and Pepsi. Some folks prefer one over the other, and neither one of them are wrong. Of course, if you push either to its extreme, it could be horrible.

  • The worst version of the authoritarian pastor is a bully who abuses people.
  • A disappointing iteration of the delegating pastor is the guy who is lazy, passive, and not intentional about leading his flock.

I’m not talking about the “worst versions” of these two styles but the pros and “acceptable” cons of them. Instructively, the authoritarian and delegating pastors operate according to their preferences in their families, too. The pastor given to ruling with an authoritative hand will tend to micro-manage his wife and children. The same is true for the authoritarian para-Church ministry leader. The delegating individual will provide his wife and children the leadership, opportunities, and freedom to grow in their unique gifting.

The Authoritarian Model

The upside to this model is that it’s built to be small. If you don’t want to grow beyond the leader’s ability to manage everything, you would like this model and the close-knit community that it provides. Many Christians talk about how they want “small churches” because they feel closer to everyone.

Authoritarian pastors provide the “small church feel” because they cannot manage beyond their ability to control things. You can only control so much. And if the church is small enough, the people can receive marvelous care, enjoy deep friendships, and have that “place” where they can get away from the world. These churches can be good fits for young families. For example,

  1. The young parents are busy building their lives and don’t have discretionary time to commit in significant ways to the local church. They make great greeters and childcare workers because greeting requires no mental energy and childcare is where they are as a family.
  2. They run in similar circles as their friends, so they invite them to their wonderful church. They begin building a close (and closed and isolated) community, which they enjoy because they can insulate their children from the world. (This closed environment does not have to be wrong, but long-term, it could have adverse consequences on the children they desire to protect.)

A non-exhaustive list of the limitations:

  1. It can create a culture of fear because the members are not sure if they are breaking protocol, as outlined and controlled by the pastor. Folks can be afraid of having an alternate opinion.
  2. It can be hard to speak into the pastor’s life because he is the professional, controlling authority. You cannot critique him because the “unspoken message” is loyalty, which contrary opinions are called gossip.
  3. You won’t get to know the pastor casually because he creates more of a “professional bubble” that hinders true fellowship with him.
  4. The “backdoor” of the church will be as “wide” as the front door. Meaning, you will not have many tenured folks at the church because they grow weary of the lack of personal care and leave. New folks like it but after a while, they leave.
  5. You won’t be able to grow in your unique gifting due to a lack of folks available to equip you or the opportunities to do more than the pragmatic roles of the church, e.g., greeting, working in children’s ministry, and general maintenance.
  6. You won’t have many requirements placed on you, which can be a bonus if you’re in the young children years and you’re building your career.
  7. Often, the church is of “one kind,” i.e., young families, all homeschool families, stay-at-home moms, etc., which makes it hard for folks in different seasons of life or with other preferences to fit in.
  8. The smallness of the church makes it hard for the children as they grow older. They live in a “pseudo-connected” world of social media already, and it will have significant drawing power over them, which will only exacerbate if they don’t have real-life connections in their small church.

The Delegating Church Model

These churches can grow large because the pastor is not a micro-manager. The downside is apparent: you can feel like you walked into a large mall at Christmas time. You feel lost in the “perceived chaos” of it all. If you’re not intentional about “building small” inside the large church, your soul will suffer. Here are two more negatives.

  1. It’s easy to hide in large churches. You can check the “church attendance” box but always stay the same because you’re isolated from transformative soul care.
  2. Many times the reason folks like these churches is because of the (celebrity?) preacher. You can “fact check” this by asking a small sampling of church attendees why they attend their large church. Most of them will say, “I love the preaching.”

A few examples of the upside:

  1. You may not know the lead pastor, but you can connect with a competent spiritual mentor who will shepherd you.
  2. You can grow in your unique gifting. There are many areas to serve, and you’re not just filling a spot, but doing something you love doing.
  3. Your children can connect with other God-loving kids. (They can connect with a lot of pagan kids, too.)
  4. There is more diversity in the body, which provides a place for the homeschooler, public school child, and private school kid, for example.
  5. Folks you invite will find commonality with others in this body, and you can be the connection with them until they do find their small community.
  6. The church can provide more flavor on Sunday morning, whether it’s multiple music teams, different teachers, or various Sunday school classes.

Call to Action

Neither of these models has to be wrong; it’s a matter of preference. Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi? I like Coke. As you think about the best fit for you, perhaps these questions will help.

  1. Can you have more than a pastoral relationship with your pastor? (I’m not saying you should be best buddies with him. I would not place that burden or expectation on any pastor because he can only have so many close friends.) If you could be his friend, would you be comfortable hanging with him as one of the guys? The disciples of Jesus had that kind of relationship with their celebrity leader.
  2. If you were to die, are you okay with your pastor being the spiritual leader of your spouse or children? Is your church the right church for your family if you were no longer part of their lives, and needed someone to care for them for the indefinite future?
  3. Is your church able to export themselves into the next generation? Specifically, is your church so compelling to your children that they want to be there when they become adults?
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