August 21, 2012 Tony Morgan

Who Does What? 5 Observations on Clarifying Leadership Roles

Here’s what is on my whiteboard right now. I’ve been processing this because my sense is that there’s a lack of clarity about roles within the church. When that happens, it can lead to complexity and confusion for all involved. And, as you might guess, it’s one of the key reasons I see churches getting stuck.

Church Leadership Roles

Here are some specific observations I’ve had in working with churches through the years:

  1. Roles will overlap. Every team will at times need to take on the other roles listed. The problems develop, though, when a team spends the majority of their team assuming a role that belongs to another team.
  2. Leadership vacuums develop when a team doesn’t embrace their role. Organizations get out of whack when a team abdicates its responsibility and no one carries out that function. When that happens, people will try to fill the vacuum and it oftentimes pulls the church in an unhealthy direction.
  3. Every team is naturally pulled to execution. The comfortable place to live is in “doing” the work. It’s what we know. God’s design for the church is that those of us in leadership would equip God’s people to do the work of God. (See Ephesians 4:12) When we don’t follow God’s design, we won’t experience God’s fruit.
  4. The role that’s most commonly neglected is the strategy function. Senior leadership teams get bogged down in the urgent details of day-to-day ministry. They don’t invest enough time in strategic conversations to determine “How will we accomplish the vision?” Because of that, there’s a gap that leaves people guessing what needs to happen next.
  5. We tend to invest time and attention in the “task” roles but not the “care” roles. There needs to be a balance of both. We prioritize time and systems to complete the tasks. We also need to prioritize the time and systems to care for people with whom we have influence. This is where discipleship and leadership development happens.

I’m still processing this, so I could use your help. What have you learned on this topic? What would you add to the list? Do you agree that clarifying appropriate roles is a critical issue for church leadership teams? Join the conversation by sharing your comment.


Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

Comments (18)

  1. One question that I wrestle with…where does the vision start…we can operate in systems that reinforce the idea that the pastor is the vision setter…not just the vision caster. Could it appear in this layout that the board is the one who is directing the church, by vision. How is the a shared “role” so the pastor is leading the church in the direction the Lord is placing on the pastors heart. focusing the board to resourcing the pastor to cast and move toward the vision.
    It is essential that the roles are clearly understood, in doing so, you can move beyond some of the “power” struggles and allow for getting after the strategic issues so the church can be effective in reaching our communities with the hope of the gospel and making disciples. by not clarifying roles and systems we chase after the insignificant things.

  2. I presume the source of the vision is Jesus…

    In the chart, I see 4 layers separating the volunteers from the vision source. What are the pros/cons of this separation?

    What do you see churches doing to engage volunteers as vision-casters?

    • Tony M.

      The vision is the glue that keeps everyone together. It’s what drives the strategy, leadership development and execution. Everyone should own it at all levels, but it’s the leadership board that’s responsible for establishing the vision and tweaking it as needed.

      One key way that I see churches using volunteers as vision-casters is letting volunteers share their stories. What’s your experience?

  3. This is just another reason why I love your blog and I’m thankful for all that you do man! God has gifted you with an ability to clarify & simplify and I trust that you know He is using it all over the place. Thanks again!

  4. That’s exactly how our church is structured. One challenge we have is our staff leadership team meeting is a mix of strategy and decisions for execution, and it’s totally driven by needs. Therefore, strategy gets pushed out a lot. We should go back to utiliziing the Death by Meeting structure as we used before, to ensure we have extended and quarterly meetings that are for bigger items.

    Our other teams that are led by those on the lead team (like our family ministry team) also have a mix of strategy & execution, since that doesn’t have to be discussed in the staff leadership team meeting. That has worked pretty well so far.

  5. reGeNeRaTe X

    I normally sketch out a “big idea” with an objective and a strategy for implementation BEFORE I even put the idea before my pastor or other leaders. I really try to make sure that the “vision” for whatever ministry we’re focusing on is rooted in Jesus’s vision and kingdom. If we separate that, then leaders can get vision envy and that opens up a major can of hot mess foolishness that does not honor God and stifles the Spirit’s work in the church.

  6. reGeNeRaTe X

    Clarifying roles is crucial to helping people serve from the seat of their God-given passion and gifting. This keeps the body functioning because the equipping ministries are free to fulfill their mandate in Ephesians 4. I would like to know what role prayer and fasting plays in the strategeering for the ministries you have both been a part of and consulted?

  7. I like it but can’t help but think that your list of “Teams” is missing some key components. The scripture the whiteboard is based on is Ephesians 4:11-12, about equipping the saints. The “teams” listed in that passage are pastor, prophet, evangelist, apostle and teacher. Seems like they would all be needed to accomplish the work. Thoughts?

  8. John Carr

    Typical top down approach. Looks good on paper. Makes everyone feel good. But miss a significant point. The “people” – the congregation and all believers greatly out number the “insiders” – staff, pastors, board – and will generally have a broader experiential connection to the “real” world. The church is in many instances insular to the world outside the walls of the church. Certainly not all churches. But probably the majority? Many of the “people” will, in my experience, have vibrant connections to God which go far beyond “the insiders.” Early Christianity was a fellowship in the truest form with a vigorous sanctification process. Three years on mentoring and self cleaning!! So where on the white board are the “people?”

    • Tony M.

      The “people” are doing the the most important thing on the board–they’re doing the ministry of God. They’re making disciples.

  9. John Carr

    The issue is how do “we” discern the voice of God as a community of believers and give direction to each local church. The “leaders” of the church are not the sole participants or sole recipients of God’s direction. Just by numbers alone there are 50-100 in the congregation for each pastor/staff. Many of these are gifted, living powerfully in the Spirit, have good ideas and much to contribute. In creating the “vision” there will be many more outsiders with input than insiders. How does this get put on the white board? How does the local church become “we” rather than “us” and “them?”

    Making disciples is only a part of the great commission and is not only for the “people.” I believe the people should contain the pastors and staff.

  10. Brian Archer

    I think that in a perfect world that your white board would make an impact. I think the problem is in the shift required that doesn’t make the Senior Pastor the end all be all in a church. In my experience the Sr. Pastor “picks” the Board. The Board becomes the conduit for carrying out the vision. We expect a pastor to lead in finance, leadership, strategy, facility management, HR, etc. and their training equips them to understand how to interpret Greek. I think a clarity in roles is in dire need but I wonder if it starts with a change in understanding the role of Pastor.

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