Congregational Leadership and Co-Laboring

I don’t know much about cars.

I do know that ALL wheeled vehicles have axles.  After browsing the internet, I learned that axles are used for steering, driving, and braking.  They are, therefore, crucial for basically every aspect of vehicular transportation.

Further (to sound more knowledgeable than I am), they transfer power and torque from your engine to your wheels.  This means that axles withstand the accelerated forces of driving and braking.

Axles, it seems, always endure stress as they perform the job that makes it possible for me to drive from point A to point B.

Cars, Congregations, and the Rhythm of Co-laboring

As I’ve been reflecting and writing on what I am calling Transforming Pastoral Ministry and Leadership, I am coming to believe that the ‘axle’ of the entire “Pillar and Rhythms” paradigm is Congregational Leadership as a wearisome but wonderful practice of Co-laboring.

The Pillar of congregational leadership denotes areas of vision and strategy development, team building, organizational and staff leadership, eldering, etc.

More than Simply Building a Team

Most of us have been raised to believe that the person who sits at the top, so to speak, is the one who is in charge and makes all the decisions.  This top-down model of leadership, though not as prevalent today as it once was, continues to dominate congregational cultures all across the land.

While I’ve always been one to try to bring others along with me and build a team around me, the center of my leadership has often been – to one degree or another – me and my agenda.

These days I am making a concerted effort to practice meaningful co-laboring with others.  As such I now try to live out the following principles I say I believe.

A few of these are:

  • My voice (as the Senior Pastor) is but one voice, one among equals.
  • God can speak through anyone at any time.
  • We are all called, in one way or another, to do the work of the ministry.
  • Though the calling to be a pastor is unique in the church, this uniqueness is in my relationship to His people as much as the role I play as their leader.

Some may wonder, “What are the implications for such a model of leadership?”

Don’t “Hear” What I’m Not Saying

That’s a great question! I have a few stories I will share when I attempt an answer.

Before I share them, let me comment about what this is not!

First of all, this is not a call for us to abdicate the vital leadership role we play, as a pastor, in our local congregation.  It’s, instead, an invitation to pursue our leadership role in a life-giving, Gospel-saturated way.

Secondly, it’s not an attempt to establish a congregational form of leadership within a church.  I am not a Congregationalist (you know, churches where everyone votes on everything for any reason), per say, and never will be.  I don’t fault those who are, but I do suggest there is a more life-giving, Gospel-saturated way of congregational leadership.

It’s important for me to communicate precisely how this way of leading is more life-giving, as well as why that matters, or should matter, to pastors, ministers, elders, and church leadership.

A Life-Giving, Gospel-Saturated Way of Leading

This Rhythm of Co-laboring is life-giving and Gospel-saturated because it is the one rhythm that most protects the church from the Pastoral Popes and Congregational Control-Freak/Bully.  Both of whom love saying things like, “I heard from the Lord, and this is what we must do.”

The church is littered with individuals who believe they have a special, unique, even elite connection to the Lord.  These folks are always ready to stand in front of others and tell us what we should do and why we should do it.  People like this cannot, of course, be given a platform to share what they want to share just because they think they’ve, in some particular way, heard from the Lord.  Yet, they should also be listened to, received, and warmly welcomed as another valuable member of the local body of Christ.

In fact, the rhythm I am proposing is one that gives space for people who live and lead from places of fear, control, anxiety, mistrust, and doubt to heal in the midst of their sickness.  This space then provides an environment where their internal-control mechanisms can be lovingly exposed by His Spirit.

Once these mechanisms are exposed, they can then be graciously explored by compassionate and courageous brothers and sisters.  As loving brothers and sisters (fellow members of the busted-up, broken down brigade) compassionately counter the fear, anxiety, mistrust, etc., we begin to be healed in His presence.

Pain-filled People Need Patience-filled Pastors

The most important reason why we lead this way is that Congregational Leadership is the soil in which discipleship and spiritual formation take root.  As such, the soil must be curated and cultivated over time.

Practicing congregational leadership in this way is going to make you stronger as well as exhaust you.  To be honest with you, there are times when doing ministry in this way feels like it’s leaving me thread-bare.  It’s a slow, grueling, and often exhausting process.


Because spiritual formation, soul-care, and discipleship take time.  The pathway of soul-care is a winding road filled with roadblocks and setbacks.  The journey of formation is one that’s often accompanied by crisis and conflict.

All of this makes it a Rhythm that leaves you vulnerable to forces that oppose this style of leadership.  Those forces are both internal and external.

They are internal because the Rhythm of Co-laboring takes longer. This rhythm requires more patience.  It brings one to the point of Spirit-reliance in nearly every situation.

Ministry as a Great, Big, Beautiful Mess

They are external because we serve congregations whose pews are littered with broken-down and busted-up people, leadership included!  Many of whom, quite candidly, are unwilling or unable to acknowledge the depth of their brokenness.   Others have lived so long with their brokenness that it has become their identity.  In other words, their brokenness is the default-mode from which they operate and by which they navigate life.

This rhythm is messy and often takes more from us than it gives back to us.

So, I am constantly reminding myself: “slow down and be patient because spiritual formation, soul-care, and discipleship are at stake and, at the end of the day, that’s what we are called to be: disciple-makers.”