9 Characteristics of a Leaderless Church

If you serve in a local church, you’ve unquestionably seen certain characteristics of a leaderless church. They are everywhere. These characteristics (unfortunately) fuel the decline of thousands of churches around North America. They exhaust pastors day after day and reduce their ministry satisfaction.

Pastors have a tough job. They carry the weight of spiritual responsibility, pastoral care and directional clarity. (In addition to the many other roles they inevitably take on!) If we are honest, pastors usually take on more responsibility than they should. And churches fail to clarify expectations in order to allow pastors to focus where they should (Most pastors/church don’t get this level of clarity without outside input)

This situation leads to an enormity of essentially leaderless churches around the country. Pastors and churches mean well. They do many things well. Yet we should be on the lookout for these perilous characteristics of a leaderless church, in order to ensure our churches remain effective in ministry.

Characteristics of a Leaderless Church

9 Characteristics of a Leaderless Church:

1) Gifted Leaders Engulfed In “Doing”

We recently helped yet another church clarify its vision for the future. Early on in the process, they wisely identified that their best leaders were overworked and essentially immersed solely in “getting ministry done.” This was a big red flag to them and to us.

We helped them clarify who those leaders were, what positions and ministries they were overseeing, and how to redeploy their leaders into more coaching-focused roles that would help develop lay leaders. God worked during our time together, and everyone seemed to be concerned with the plateau they were approaching. They found that their leaders needed to shift into more training, equipping, and coaching-focused roles rather than doing everything only through staff and experienced leaders. They got there by asking the question “Why?” to be clear why they were doing what they were doing and why they were making their future plans.

2) Potential Leaders Wondering How To Serve and Lead

Potential leaders want and need opportunities to serve. God wired them that way. Your job is to train and connect them. But if they don’t know how and where to serve, they will only stay with your church so long before they decide to leave.

I’m sure some potential leaders have unhealthy aspirations. But just as many (if not more) have healthy desires to serve and lead, but don’t know how or where. Move your strong leaders into more leader development roles, in order to create space for your potential leaders (both new and old) to serve and grow.

3) No Clear Leadership Pathways

If you don’t clarify your leadership pathway, you’ll experience a log jam at the initial stages. New leaders should not only have mentors and coaching, but also a clear picture of the competencies (such as spiritual leadership in the home and delegation) and steps required to increase their impact as they invest in other leaders.

(Take a look at my recent post “Challenges to Building a Leadership Pipeline in Your Church” at the Malphurs Group’s blog, a boutique church consulting firm. If you aren’t a church leader, the same principles apply to any organization or business as well. Contact us if you would like a crystal-clear leadership pipeline that covers all areas of your business, organization, or church.)

Potential leaders want and need opportunities to serve. God wired them that way. Click To Tweet

4) A Prioritization of Keeping People Happy Over Impacting Lives

Red tape isn’t exclusive to churches, but churches certainly have their fair share. The longer a church has been around and the more layers of complexity involved in the decision-making processes, the more likely you will find yourself battling red tape.

Ask yourself how you can simplify your church and the approvals needed to engage your people in serving. If expectations are clear and accountability is in place, you will create more freedom for leaders to lead rather than spending inordinate amounts of time waiting for others to approve all actions.

5) Love For Tradition That Fuels Insider Comfort

Tradition isn’t bad. Traditions help give us stability and stones of remembrance to recall what God has done.

But when traditions become the priority over missional impact, your church will look more like a comfort-focused club with traditions than a body of believers living on mission. Ask yourself what sacred cows your church has and why they are there. Identify the ministries that need to be phased out and focus your time on helping people live the missional mandates unique to your body of believers.

6) Pastoral Exhaustion From Keeping Up With Expectations

Many pastors feel like they report to hundreds of people. The “pastor as pastoral care giver” model of ministry has crippled hundreds, if not thousands, of churches. It leads to the faulty expectation that the church “hired the pastor to do the ministry” rather than to equip the church’s leaders for meaningful and mission driven ministry. It leads to burnout.

Begin communicating with those around you the Biblical model you hope to deploy at your church. Shift your time so that you model for others where you want the church to go. Watch where your time is allocated.

Prepare yourself for resistance, however. You will undoubtedly need to develop leaders who help provide pastoral care and assistance in various areas where you can’t fulfill all the expectations. Otherwise, you will lead your church to a plateau as you can’t (physically and emotionally) meet the needs and expectations of everyone effectively on your own.

When you prioritize tradition over missional impact, church looks more like a club than the body of Christ. Click To Tweet

7) Guests Lack Ways to Connect to Overworked Members and Staff

When your pastoral staff and/or experienced leaders end up doing all the ministry, your guests will struggle to connect with them. They will perceive a chasm between those who serve and the majority who do not serve and lead.

When this happens, guests become demotivated to get involved, because of the perceived inaccessibility to the staff and mature leaders. Find ways to free up time for yourself and your other leaders to focus more on recruitment, placement, mentoring and coaching, as well as deployment into positions of service and leadership.

8) Vision Clarity Takes a Backseat to Maintenance Mentality

When you experience a lack of leaders, you often simultaneously battle a lack of vision clarity. Vision confusion is one of the characteristics of a leaderless church that catches our attention (usually in the form of people telling us their vision when in fact their vision is their mission.) Why? A maintenance mentality has prevailed. If your ministry experiences the mentality of simply maintaining, you will struggle to innovate, develop other leaders, and create or communicate vision clearly (take a minute to read some quotes on vision that we prepared for you)

Maintenance mode leads to a foggy vision (if any at all). Pastors who don’t intentionally develop leaders find themselves overwhelmed by maintenance to the point that looking ahead seems impossible or even futile.

How could you create some additional bandwidth to begin clarifying your church’s vision? Perhaps you need to remove yourself from a certain ministry or potentially end a ministry to free you up.

9) A Written Mission Instead of Being Mission Driven

Organizations are gifted at writing down mission statements and then forgetting about them. They invest heavy amounts of time clarifying the mission they aim to achieve. Many people give input. The pastor announces the new mission to the congregation.

Then, the mission gets printed onto a piece of paper and stored in a notebook. Days pass by. Then months. Soon you are a year or more away from when the mission was originally created and written down. But no one is doing anything with it. What’s gone wrong?

Many churches are more mission-written than mission-driven. Ask yourself to what extent you evaluate all your ministries based on your mission. When did you last end a ministry because it drifted outside the scope of your mission? How well do you clearly embody the mission in your day-to-day activities?

These 9 characteristics of a leaderless church should motivate you to assess your ministry, make personal changes, and then serve as a catalyst to address these areas in your church. As a pastor, you are a spiritual leader that God has sent to your specific church in your specific community at this specific time. Take bold steps to lead by modeling what you want to see throughout the church in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Which of these areas does your church need work on? How do you plan to apply the content found here in the days ahead? Do you have a personal leadership development plan for yourself that pushes you to keep learning and growing? Have you considered a leadership coach? How committed are you to ensuring your church isn’t described as a leaderless church? Let us know your answer to one or more of these questions in the comments area below.

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