In his book Make or Break Your Church in 365 Days: A Daily Guide to Leading Effective Change Paul Borden writes, "Often a major reason that congregations are in decline or on a plateau is that the wrong people, for whatever reason, are in positions of leadership." This sounds much like Jim Collins in his excellent book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't where he writes of the importance of having the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. He explains why this is important.
If you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away. The right people don't need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great...If you have the wrong people, it doesn't matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won't have a great company. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.
In a business environment it is somewhat easier to get people where they need to be. In a church it can be more difficult especially if you are dealing with long established traditions and people who have served in their positions for many years. A frequent issue I hear from pastors attending my seminars is the poor quality of their lay leadership who consistently blocks every effort to introduce change to the congregation. What can a pastor do in such situations?
In my opinion, the most important thing a pastor can do to turn around a church is to cast vision. The second most important thing is to develop leaders. You begin with those you currently have in leadership positions. Some of them may have excellent leadership abilities but have never been trained by those pastors who preceded you. Such persons would respond very well to your leadership development efforts. Others have no interest in growing as leaders. They are positional leaders only and quite often extremely unwilling to step aside and allow others to have those positions. These are people you love, pastor, and work around.
As I say in my seminars, you have the ride the horse that wants to run. Identify the persons in your congregation who have leadership potential and invest in their growth. Eventually, positional leaders will no longer be in those positions, and you will have trained leaders prepared to replace them. When that happens you will often find your church becomes healthier and growing.
In my denominational tradition many churches have nominating committees that recommend persons to fill positions for the upcoming year. I would prefer these committees be eliminated, but that is a post for another day. When such a committee is utilized in the church the pastor must be involved in that selection process. Some pastors ignore the work of that committee entirely, and in some churches they don't want the pastor to be involved. Either is a big mistake. Pastors will have to work with the people selected for these positions for at least the next year if not longer, and they need to try to get the best people selected. Pastors also often know things about people that make them not good candidates for leadership positions. Because of confidentiality issues they may not be able to reveal that to the committee, but the committee needs to trust the pastor who suggests a certain person may not be the best candidate for a particular position.
Leadership identification and development are key components of a healthy church. Both needs to be high on the priority list of every pastor who needs to invest a significant portion of time of his or her time in these areas. The wrong people in leadership positions will cripple your church and hinder its growth more than almost anything else.
Do you have the right people in leadership positions in your church? Are they in the right places to best utilize their gifts and passions for ministry? Who do you have in the leadership pipeline that are being prepared for future leadership needs your church will have? What are you doing to intentionally help your current and future leaders develop as leaders?