May 22, 2013 / David Fitch

When Team Leading Fails by Ty Grigg

images-5Over at the Missio Alliance Conference last month there was a discussion taking place about missional leadership.It questioned the notion of shared/polycentric leadership. Most people know that I’m an advocate of polycentric team leadership that leads in mutual submission for mission. This is based in theological, sociological, missiological as well as (of course) Scriptural considerations (much of which has been laid out on this blog). But I’m not hard and fast on how this kind of leadership works itself out in particular contexts. And there are reasons why in the business world (and Christendom world) hierarchical leadership will be more efficient and “work” better. Polycentric leadership takes more time, and extends communally. It will be less efficient. In the end, polycentric “leadership” (I contend) will simply demand good leadership and will get ugly quick apart from good leadership. Poor leadership (if I can put it this way) will lead to the demise of polycentric leadership much faster and much more exponentially than in hierarchical leadership. A hierarchy can sustain its own power structures for surprisingly long periods of time even under the most incompetent (and egomaniacal) leadership.
All this to say that our friend Kevin Scott recently posted on his reflections on “moving away from” team leadership.  And Ty Grigg from Life on the Vine posted a response on his blog. I thought I would repost it and see if there are any of you who would like to join this great conversation!


Kevin Scott shared on his blog about how he and his church are moving away from team leadership and he is feeling called (reluctantly) to take the lead role at The Heights Church.  I will not try to talk him out of it here.

But his post made me curious.  Kevin explained his team leadership model to Tim Keel in a hotel lobby about a month ago.  When he was finished Tim said, “Yeah, it doesn’t work, does it?”

Kevin answered back, “No, it doesn’t.”

Who am I to disagree?  But I’m left wondering… what kind of team leadership and what exactly didn’t work?

Leadership is highly contextual.  Even within a single leadership model, how we lead in individual relationships may differ, how we lead with the congregation over time may change, and how we lead with others may shift.  In my own context as a co-pastor, I am learning that certain practices and commitments have to be in place for team leadership to “work”:

  1. Communicate well.  Communication is a form of power and we need to know what others know so we can be on the same page.  This may mean tedious emails or making extra phone calls or taking notes so I do not forget to bring it up in a meeting.  Communication becomes exponentially more difficult with the more people I am leading with.  With two, its easier, because it requires just one phone call, one meeting, one email.  With three, there is a greater potential for me to communicate more with one than the other or to emphasize things differently if we are not all together.  Which leads to…
  2. Spend lots of time together.  If we cannot meet often, then it will be difficult for any of us to move forward if the others have to know and agree with the vision/decision.
  3. Be fully engaged in all matters.  I cannot be overbearing or over-deferential on anything.  I cannot check out on the agenda items that I am not working on.  I may not have anything to add or say, but I have to be present with the others because I may have to answer or explain it to someone else.  If I am prompted to say something, I am learning to trust my voice and unique perspective and offer it to the others.
  4. Set all insecurities aside.  There is no room for territorialism in pastoral ministry.  We do not divvy up the flock and we do not get possessive when someone meets with another pastor – instead we celebrate it and see it as extremely healthy.  I also have to set my agenda and vision aside.  I offer it but it does not mean that others will receive with as much enthusiasm as I feel for it – and that’s okay.  I have to brutally trust that the Spirit is leading us when my idea is refined, improved upon, or set aside.  An important skill is the ability to entertain the ideas of others apart from seeing them in conflict with my ideas.
  5. Take full ownership for the vision and leadership of the church.  It is often helpful for me, as someone who can easily defer or follow others, to pretend that the full weight of leadership is on me.  I pretend I have no co-pastors to pick up the slack.  As all of us are “pretending” to feel the full weight, when we come together, mutually submitting and loving one another – we will lead well together.  In the same vein, if someone has a problem, a question, an idea… I cannot respond with “go talk to pastor x, that’s his responsibility.”  They came to me so I will take ownership and not pass the buck.
  6. Be more than co-workers.  This kind of leadership calls for trusting in those beside you.  It calls for believing the best and being “for” the others.  It calls for love and forgiveness and a commitment to talk through conflict.  It requires committed and healthy friendships.

If these things are not in place, then I agree with Tim, “it doesn’t work.”  And let’s be honest, it’s pretty rare for all these commitments and conditions to be in place, in which case, team leadership may not be the best way to go.

I would like to hear back – what do you think needs to be in place for team leadership to serve the congregation well?