What church isn’t desperate for high capacity leaders? Why is it that leaders are so difficult to identify and recruit in the life of the church? There was some cry for leaders pre-pandemic, but the gap in leadership has only substantially widened in the past three years. What is this leadership deficit about? It boils down to these core shifts churches will need to make if they expect high capacity leaders to step into leadership roles in their churches:

Vision – A church needs a unique and compelling vision of where they are headed. A vision provides energy, excitement, momentum, and clarity. It legitimizes leadership and increases generosity and traction. Vision provides the focus so resources can be aligned towards attainment of that vision. When God’s preferred future for how a particular church has discerned they are called to live out the mission of making disciples in a particular season (aka vision), the leaders no longer spend time debating on direction, priorities, or resources. The direction has been identified and the congregation is working together towards a shared common preferred future. High capacity leaders won’t engage in a church’s leadership without a compelling vision they can commit to.

Culture – Organizational culture consists of underlying beliefs, assumptions, values, norms, customs, systems, and ways of interacting that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization. Each church has its own unique culture that has evolved over time. Organizational culture influences employees’ behaviors, affects the way people within the church interact with one another, leaders, pastors, and the community.

Many church attenders who are leaders in the secular world are not interested in church leadership. Why? They experience the church with ineffective decision-making systems, unhealthy organizational cultures, and an inability to engage in anything that is impactful or worth the investment of their time, energy, or commitment. If the pandemic taught these leaders nothing else, leaders today want what they choose to invest their time in to make a difference. When most churches are just going through the motions of reading reports and rubber stamping “what they’ve always done,” leaders are not inspired to step up. (Click here for how this disconnect has contributed to non-profit organizations’ growth.)

If churches desire leaders (especially under the age of 40) to engage in church leadership, they will have to transform organizational culture. Complexity, hidden agendas, lack of transparency, lack of authenticity, long meetings without purpose or outcomes, lack of vision, etc. will all need to be eliminated. Leaders desire to be empowered with trust, authority, and responsibility through written guiding principles with repercussions if violated. Gone are the days of micromanaging, planning by photocopying, and just going through the motions of “playing church.”

Accountability – Most churches are led with a bureaucratic or autocratic system. The bureaucratic system is committee-driven or consensus-driven. It usually takes a very long time for decisions to be made. Decisions are based on keeping those already attending happy rather than based on aligning with the church’s purpose of making disciples. It’s a fairly safe leadership model, but it is not an effective model.

The autocratic leadership system is usually driven by a pastor, matriarch, or patriarch. All decisions made have to run through one person. Decisions can be made quickly, but sometimes they are hasty and not missionally aligned decisions. The church is limited due to the capacity of one leader. This leadership style is not safe, but can sometimes be effective. However, once the leader is removed, moves, burns out, or passes away, the growth and ministries collapse because everything was centered around this one leader.

The accountable leadership model is the recommended leadership model. Leaders are given authority, responsibility, and are held accountable. The accountable leadership model is both safe and effective. While the practice of accountable leadership is common in other organizations, it is not nearly as common in churches. In fact, some church leaders are resistant to accountable leadership – something I struggle to understand. If our responsibility as a disciple of Christ to lead the church in its disciple-making commission isn’t worth being held accountable for, then what is? As Steven Covey puts it, “Accountability breeds response-ability.” (Read more here.)

Believe it or not, most leaders prefer the accountable leadership model. They are frustrated with the slow-moving, ineffective bureaucratic model. As ones who appreciate collaboration and teaming, high capacity leaders see the harm the autocratic leadership model can have. Accountable leadership when implemented and practiced well, is a healthy and effective leadership model that most leaders appreciate.

In closing, if you are having difficulty recruiting leaders, assess your vision, organizational culture, and leadership model. If any one of these three is unhealthy (let alone two or three), you will likely need to make some adjustments before you will be able to recruit healthy, high capacity leaders.