Church Leadership

High-trust, low-control

A movement cannot grow in a low-trust, high-control environment. 

But a dictatorship can. (Cuba)

A corporation can. (McDonald’s)

A gang can. (Al Capone)

In a low-trust, high-control environment leadership is supreme. Decisions flow from top to bottom. A high value is placed on replication and copying and perfecting. Efficiency is more important than individualism. And the everyday worker has virtually no voice. In fact, the less voice the worker has the better.


You want to see what church growth looks like? Remove the money. Learn about the Boxer Revolution and how that changed the church in China. All the western missionaries and their hierarchical structures went away. (Or were killed) And the church went underground.

Thus, a low-control and high-trust structure was forced to emerge. When the church went from an Augustinian mindset with paid staff and buildings and budgets and fake-butts-in-seats to an underground movement of unpaid pastors on the run, meeting in house churches, and people risking their life to be a part of it… the church became a movement again. The Gospel spread neighbor to neighbor because it is Good News. People risked their lives to be called a Christian.

And it became an unstoppable force. (I’ve heard estimates in the hundreds of millions of converts during the 20th century in China.)

Jesus designed the church as an insurgency. Looking at church history, the times when the church has been most effective have been in a high-trust, low-control environment. The Roman Empire conquered every people group in its path but was conquered from the inside-out by an insurgency of the heart.

A core problem in America is the rapid embrace of a low-trust, high-control leadership structure. “Church growth experts” (and their books and conferences) encourage church leaders to remove the voice of the people and go to staff-lead models. To generalize, the staff become the local experts on everything from discipleship to sex and the people become relatively voiceless, idea-less, worker bees in support of the vision of the leadership. These high-control, low-trust leaders proudly say things like, “This is the type of church we are. If you don’t like it, you can leave. There are plenty of churches out there.

I’ve heard leaders say that at leadership events. And people in leadership write that down. And underline it. As if asking people to leave who disagree with you is a sign of a powerful leader. (Hint: Surrounding yourself with people who agree with you makes you a wimp of a leader.)

So many people have left the church. Sure, there are examples of big churches you can look to and hope for growth in that model. But I can schedule a tour of a 25,000 square foot church for sale 500 yards from my house that says there is no hope in that model.

You can’t create an insurgency of the heart with a low-trust, high-control model. People will die for Jesus but they won’t die for you. 

La Raza

The church will grow when we give power back to the people. Not just the power to serve leaders vision, but real— actual power over their day-to-day church life. We give lip service to the Priesthood of all Believers but we don’t live it out. In 1520, Martin Luther wrote On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church:

How then if they are forced to admit that we are all equally priests, as many of us as are baptized, and by this way we truly are; while to them is committed only the Ministry (ministerium Predigtamt) and consented to by us (nostro consensu)? If they recognize this they would know that they have no right to exercise power over us (ius imperii, in what has not been committed to them) except insofar as we may have granted it to them, for thus it says in 1 Peter 2, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a priestly kingdom.” In this way we are all priests, as many of us as are Christians. There are indeed priests whom we call ministers. They are chosen from among us, and who do everything in our name. That is a priesthood which is nothing else than the Ministry. Thus 1 Corinthians 4:1: “No one should regard us as anything else than ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God.” Source

Friends, our lips say we believe in the Protestant doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers but we fund a priesthood among us.

Are you saying we have to fire people?

Listen. I’m not saying that we need to eliminate church staff. I’m saying that if we want to see the church grow again, in a post-Christian America, we need leaders to lead towards decentralization of power. We need paid staff to see their job as expert equippers and not expert speakers. We need to measure leaders on their ability to replicate Jesus and not themselves. We need leaders to unleash an insurgency and not continue an occupation.

So indeed, we probably need to fire some people who won’t embrace the present reality we live in. But new leaders will emerge. The Holy Spirit has always provided. Indeed, there are leaders in your pews today who could do this if only you allowed it.

And which people should we pay? Probably the ones who don’t want to be paid. 

Christian Living

Merely Obedient

Today we pause to remember the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King’s life is one we can point to and agree, “Yes, in his lifetime his work moved nations.” One man brought voice to millions and inspiration to billions.

Many people will reflect on Dr. King’s work and build a wall around his legacy, affirming his works and bravery while simultaneously distancing themselves by labeling him as uniquely gifted by God. As if to say, “I could never be like Dr. King. He was special, gifted, talented, extraordinary– I am ordinary.

My challenge to you would be to examine Dr. King’s work closely for yourself. Read his sermons, watch speeches given at rallies, and wander through the nearly 1 million items in his online archives.

Then ask yourself this question: Was Dr. King gifted or merely obedient? 

As I’ve examined Dr. King’s life, his works, his writings, and his early ministry I’ve discovered a man wholly ordinary but extraordinarily obedient to the calling God placed on his life.

Remember Moses? A man with a speech impediment who murdered a guy in his early adult life? When God called him he was overcome by his ordinary-ness. He complained back to God, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Exodus 4:10) and “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13)

Imagine the lunacy of Moses trying to educate God on his personal history and faults? Moses gave God a few good reasons why he was too ordinary to lead a million people out of slavery and God replied back over and over again… I’m not asking you to be extraordinary, just merely obedient.

Ultimately, Moses is recorded as a hero to the Jewish people, not for his bravery in standing up to Pharaoh, but for his obedience to God. He didn’t lead a million people out of slavery. But he did show up and was obedient.

Don’t make the mistake today of honoring Dr. King’s life work without asking yourself, “Am I being obedient to the calling God has laid on my life?”

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10

Church Leadership

Rejecting the priesthood of the staff

And Reaffirming the priesthood of all believers.

That the pope or bishop anoints, makes tonsures, ordains, consecrates, or dresses differently from the laity, may make a hypocrite or an idolatrous oil-painted icon, but it in no way makes a Christian or spiritual human being. In fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism, as St. Peter in 1 Peter 2[:9] says, “You are a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom,” and Revelation [5:10], “Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings.”

Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nobility, 1520

Most people on church staff have no idea how to turn the reigns of their ministry over to the church. It seems counter-productive to lead without holding the reigns. The attitude is generally that church staff are the experts, seminary trained, denominationally ordained and battle-experienced to do the work. And the people in the pews won’t do anything even if you asked them to. On most church staff’s the concept of the priesthood of all believers is taken figuratively, dismissed as impossible in the literal sense.


There is an inverse relationship in the church today between the increase in church staffing/overall spending and the decrease in the number of people we reach per capita.

The Vortex We Created

Somewhere along the line we, as church staff, started to think that we could do ministry better than people who don’t work at the church. We bought the lie that because people are busy that they can’t be functional body parts described in 1 Corinthians 12. Instead of leaning on Scripture to correct, rebuke, and train in righteousness to call believers to their responsibilities– we assigned them books on Christian leadership which affirmed that we were the ones called to do the work and they were called to write checks.

Worse yet, we started to believe that being a pastor was a vocation of leadership and not a holy calling.

We turned saints into spectators. Then we handed them literature that told them to pursue excellence in leadership and got mad when they left our hard-working church of 500 for a megachurch of 10,000.

Many Luthers Wanted!

We need brave men and women to publicly state the obvious– the current strategy isn’t working. It’s not a liberal thing. It’s not a conservative thing. It’s not an emergent thing. It’s not an old-fashioned thing. It’s no modern. It’s not post-modern.

It is the church, universally failing to reach more than 10% of the population on any given Sunday.

There is no hope that a staff-led church can reach your community much less the world. (My pastor has only been to my house once, he doesn’t know the names of any of my neighbors.) It is not mathematically possible because it is outside of the design. The hope of the world is not that we flock to bigger and bigger megachurches with more refined experts. It is the opposite.

The hope of the world lies in individuals and families embracing a simple strategy of neighbors loving neighbors. As we, the body of Christ– messy, broken, and dependent– embrace our role as the God-ordained priests on our block, the church can get back to the designed multiplication strategy.

Thought questions

  1. How is the identity of your pastoral calling tied to the responsibilities of being church staff? If you weren’t on staff would you still feel like a pastor?
  2. I make the argument that there is an inverse relationship between increased spending/staffing/programs and reaching people. Looking back at the last 30 years of history in your congregation, do you find that to be the case? Why or why not?
  3. Read 1 Corinthians 12. What are spiritual gifts lacking on your staff team? What are ways your current staff structure may be handicapping your church?
  4. What are ways that your staff’s ecclesiology or even church polity are getting in the way of the priesthood of all believers?
  5. What are practical ways you and your staff team can reaffirm the priesthood of all believers in 2011?
  6. Do you know the names of all the neighbors whose property touches or is adjacent to your own residence? What are ways you can love your neighbors better in the next 14 days?