Sunday, May 13, 2007

Control versus Consensus

Lead, follow or get out of the way is a motto about getting things done. Leaders that follow this creed usually start with good intentions and generally want good things to happen. By good things, they of course mean their definition of good. If the word “control” was used to describe this leadership style, those who fit into the lead/follow camp will simply dismiss the accusation as coming from those in the “get out of the way” camp.

If you’re trapped in a house on fire you definitely want someone who knows how to lead this way, to be the one trying to rescue you. Nevertheless, control will always be at the heart of the decision making process. The nice thing about this leadership style is that it is not dependent on the size of the group and with a gifted leader many things get accomplished.

Working through consensus is a whole different style of “doing” things. This style is criticized for being slow and catering to the weakest link. The strength of this style is that its main goal is to strengthen relationships. The downside is that it can only be used in small groups, maxing out at 12-15 people. It is possible for a manipulative, control person to deceive a small group into thinking that they are making decisions through consensus.

It is a rare thing to find churches being led by consensus. Usually, only a few leaders make the significant decisions. This is widely accepted as everyone knows consensus is not possible because the numbers don’t allow it.

Some leaders like the idea of consensus so they gather a representative core (up to 8) of the whole. They only make decisions based on consensus of this group. This mini group usually becomes very close and really builds strong relationships with each other. They feel that when they announce that they have made a decision affecting the large group that it will be wholeheartedly accepted. After all, the decision was done through consensus.

What this core leadership group fails to realize is that the very thing that made them feel united and strong is being denied to the large group. The large is still not part of the consensus building mechanism. The outcome is still follow or get out of the way.

When Paul used the metaphor of the body to describe the operation of the “church”, he was truly advocating consensus. His vision was to help people understand that Jesus is the head and each member is vital in the outworking of His will on earth.

It’s like this. When I decide that I want my fingers to type this blog, a whole number of body parts must work together to accomplish this task. My fingers don’t tell my wrist what to do, nor does my wrist talk to my elbow and then my elbow speaks to my shoulder. My brain speaks to each member and as they move in consensus to my head, my blogging skills show up.

Whether or not my writing has any meaning, no one thinks of my blogs as having come from my fingers or my wrist or my elbow. My head is what people will consider as having been the culprit.

This is what we are to look like when the church works together through consensus. At the end of the day, people should only be considering the head and His name is Jesus.


Jamie A. Grant said...

Leading by's so much more difficult to do, but everyone appreciates it a lot more as well.

And I like your observation about different kinds of church leadership. Yeah, it's a fact of life that everyone in a large group will not have the chance to participate in leadership decisions. And yet sometimes, we like to think elder leadership is the next best thing, or that a business meeting is good if there are plenty of questions. It's just a pale imitation of real involvement.

And based on my personal experience, I've often advocated that people will only have limited growth until they step into leadership in some way. The longer we deny that to people, the more their growth in stunted.

David Grant said...

It's difficult for people to take their part seriously when building through consensus.

Even when a group is desiring this style it takes time, vulnerability and a lot of unlearning for people to fully appreciate that their voice matters or that their voice doesn't matter as much as they think.

For those who have no problem with decision making and leading, their challenge is to wait for the group. For those who are timid or passive their challenge is to step out and risk letting their voice be heard.

I think it's why people will normally choose settings where consensus is not the way of doing things.

Paul's words ring in my ears when he reprimands the Corinthians for allowing divisions amongst themselves. 1 Cor. 11:18 His remedy for this problem is detailed in 1 Cor. 12.

Mike said...

Any group is still going to end up centering on the most powerful/charismatic individual. Somebody has to hold everything together and make the final decisions. You can't have a goal-directed group in which no one person has the final say. Google accounts of anarchist groups; they all have a leader, it's just against the rules to explicitly point out who the leader is.

A leader acts as an organizing principle; both a symbolic fixture and a source of power.

If what you want to avoid is a cult of personality situation, all you can do is develop a group of people that are all willing to take responsibility for their actions, including the actions they've been ordered to do by the leader. If you can find a group of people that won't say "I did this because of the pastor/common good/God" but rather "I choose this," then you'll have a fine little revolutionary collective on your hands.

David Grant said...

I like the idea of a revolutionary group as long as that is not the goal.

A group that exists because of their love for each other and being responsible for their own personal choices at the same time.

Is that even possible? It would be way too cool.