During the 2014 NBA Playoffs, two things were abundantly clear. Lebron James was the best player on the planet. The San Antonio Spurs were the best team. The Spurs won the series. In fact, they dominated. In basketball, the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. In the church, the same idiom rings true.
One of the first questions I have been asked when sharing the vision for two churches merging to become one is, "Who is going to be the pastor?" The initial assumption about a merger, innocent as it may be, is that either one or both churches were struggling, or that leadership from one church was not as gifted as the other. In Immanuel's case, this could not be further from the truth. Both Ardent and Renovate (our former congregations) were healthy, growing churches that had a clear vision to make disciples in Birmingham. Both churches had strong leaders who were equipped to guide their respective churches. The primary reason that we merged to become Immanuel was that we firmly believed the Lord could do more through us if we worked together.
3 Reasons Why We Believe in Shared Leadership
Shared Leadership is Biblical
When asked the aforementioned question, most are surprised when I respond , "Well, there's not one 'pastor'. There are six!" Many assume that a church must have one head honcho who serves as THE pastor. Yet, Scripture gives us a different picture. The churches portrayed in the New Testament letters appear to be led by multiple, qualified elders (or overseers), instead of one main guy who is calling all of the shots.
The book of Acts chronicles the paradigmatic nature of early church leadership as a group of men who shepherd the local church as a team. Deacons were put in place in order to free the elders to teach and pray (Acts 6). The elders handled the Judean relief fund (Acts 11). Paul and Barnabas would not move on from a church until multiple elders had been put in place (Acts 14). A collection of elders from multiple churches across the known world met for the first known council of the church to make decisions on the nature of the Law and the Gospel (Acts 15).
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained in order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you... (Titus 1:5, ESV)
Though Paul sent and appointed Timothy to oversee the church in Ephesus and Titus in Crete, it was clear that he wanted them to implement an ecclesiological model where multiple men led the local church.
Shared Leadership is Healthy
I have had a few folks express concern over how this would effect me personally, moving away from a "lead pastor" role to one of the guys. In "giving away" authority and responsibility the fear was that I would lose something. Not only have I not lost anything, the church and I have gained way more than I could have imagined! Shared leadership is healthy for both the church and her leaders. It drives a stake in the heart of any "celebrity pastor" culture, and it removes the pressure of being everything to everyone. Instead of putting the hopes of the church on the shoulders of one fallible man, it spreads the responsibility and weight of leadership to several men who form a brotherhood around the Gospel.
I am less stressed, more focused, and happier than I have been in along time. I'm not saying that leading Ardent was some laborious, thankless task. It was wonderful. However, it was easy for me to adopt a "do-it-all" attitude. Being a part of a pastoral team, where I don't have to have my hands in everything has been a far better experience. In the short time that I have been working as a part of the leadership team with Immanuel, I have found an incredible sense of joy and peace from being side by side with five other men who love Jesus and His church.
Shared Leadership is an Example
By working together with other leaders, we are able to be an example to the body. It relays the idea that everyone has a role to play and necessitates that we defer to one another. It's much like a basketball team. If you have a team of five centers, you will be great at rebounding but terrible at shooting (have you ever seen DeAndre Jordan shoot a free throw?). Likewise, if the center wants to shoot 3's, instead of rebound and block shots, then the whole team suffers.
Shared leadership allows each elder to take ownership over particular areas of ministry. For example, Brad St. George leads our Serve Teams. While the other elders may speak into those processes, Brad is gifted to lead in this area and we defer to him. Myself and other leaders are then able to give greater attention to areas that fit our gifting by deferring in areas that are not our purview of leadership. This frees us to be more effective as leaders.
Shared leadership lets Jesus be the hero because Jesus gets to be the Senior Pastor.
Now, lest you think we've instantaneously become experts at this, we haven't. It is a work in progress. Shared leadership takes an incredible amount of humility because in my pride I want to have a say in everything! Yet, it is good for me. It reminds us that ministry is not about us anyway. Shared leadership lets Jesus be the hero because Jesus gets to be the Senior Pastor. We want Immanuel to be a church that anthems the Pslamist's refrain, "Not to us, O Lord, but to YOUR name be the glory!"