We had both spent 10+ years serving in churches with a wide variety of leadership structures; lead pastors, senior pastors, elder boards, etc. At our core we knew above everything’s else, church health. “What’s going to be best for the people at Redemption?” is a question we asked day one and still ask today when making any major decisions.

Instead of going a more traditional route with a lead or senior pastor we decided to go into some unchartered territory and landed on an interdependent leadership model. Now, before I go any further, this isn’t an attempt to diminish a more traditional model or say that this way is better than that way. I’ve seen all of these structures go very well in some contexts and go horribly wrong in others where character was low and egos high.  I believe the Bible leaves a lot of room for how the structure within the church can look, but clearly pushes for, above all else healthy churches with healthy mission/vision that produce healthy disciples.

WHY INTERDEPENDENT?

I’ve seen more pastors than I care to count take on way more than God would ever want or ask them to carry at the detriment of their own spiritual/mental (sometimes even physical) health, marital and family health, and church health. The reasoning varies; for some it’s all they’ve known/seen practiced, for others, ego tells them unless they hold a senior title and call the shots, they’re coming up short, and for others the idle of control rears it’s ugly head and they’ve bought into the lie that they’re the only one who is fit/able to do the task in front of them.

Prior to Redemption, I saw a few of these things creep up in my own life...okay, all of them to some degree or another. And I often found myself worn out, disconnected, discontent, and way more prideful than I’d care to admit. This wasn’t just unhealthy for me but for the people I was called to shepherd. I became convinced and convicted that the greatest need was better care, not pastors with bigger, better titles.

What this means for us is we don’t have a “lead pastor.” When it comes to bigger decisions, these aren’t made independent of our other pastors. We don’t have one main preacher, as we believe the church benefits from multiple voices in the pulpit being lead by the same Spirit. As pastors, we are committed to fight everyday for a healthier church, not a higher position.

Is this the easiest structure to put in place and live out, absolutely not. But, could it be a healthy move for you and your church, maybe so.

HOW IT WORKS

Shared and separate. For our staff pastors there are some areas we share decision making responsibilities, always giving our other lay pastors a view and voice into what we’re processing. This usually looks like decisions on preaching series, new ministry opportunities, overall vision, serving emphasis, and anything else directionally related.

At the same time if every decision ever made happened as a team, nothing would get done. That’s where the separate comes in. Each pastor has areas of day to day ministry where they make decisions independently while giving other pastors a view and sometimes a voice depending on scope. The best example for this is thinking about two pedals on a bike; they work in tandem; each necessary for the bike to function properly. The key is something I refer to as voluntary mutual submission. The idea that everyone on the team must trust each other and willingly submit to giving up control as long as the goal is and remains whatever is best for the church and in alignment with our mission. For someone who struggles with control this can be challenging but also incredibly freeing as I get to witness the Holy Spirit at work in other leaders around me.

This leads to the other necessities that have be at play for this structure to have a chance of working out. Here they are; not incredibly complicated but crucial.

Honesty, Openness, Humility, and Friendship.

The biggest deterrent from this model is a lack of trust and ego. These two in combination destroy openness and friendship. It can’t be about you. The church only revolves around one person and that’s Jesus. It’s not a place to feed your ego, develop a platform and unless this sinks deeply into your soul and you’re willing to fight off the ego monster daily, interdependent won’t work for you or your church. Trust is the other big piece and as you’ll notice, a lot of this is circular; meaning if you aren’t willing to be honest with each other as staff and pastors you aren’t going to trust each other because you really aren’t going to know each other at a deeper level, the level where it’s safe to share pain, struggles, doubts, etc without the fear of being hit over the head with a hammer and tossed in the gutter. When disagreements pop up (which they will), you can’t push it aside, you talk it out. When another pastor seems disconnected or just a little off, you go to them and care for them, you don’t leave them despondent out in the cold. I can almost promise you that if leaders fight for these values friendship with develop and remain; even for polar opposites. It’s very hard to be in the bunker together without becoming close. This has been invaluable over my years of ministry and especially the past three. Friendship has been an anchor and at times a life raft in the roughest storms of church planting and leading. Without Ryan, Alex, Ben, Mike, or Greg, I have no idea where I’d be; possibly out of ministry completely or at the very least frustrated and unproductive.

THE RESULT

Over the past three years of watching this model play out, I’ve witnessed much better care for the church. When I’m preaching, Alex has more time to focus on meeting with people, connecting with teams, training pastors, etc. and on weeks when he’s preaching I’m freed up to give a lot more time to Life Group Leaders, connecting with others, etc. Because we’re interdependent with leadership, we’re also interdependent with care. Between the five of our pastors every person in our church connects personally with one of us at least every 2-3 weeks outside of Sunday...yes, every person. We don’t believe it’s too much for the church to expect to hear from and know their pastors. Along with better care, the relationship and trust between pastors and the church is healthier than anything else I’ve ever been a part of. Since there’s a built in checks and balance with the interdependent model it means the church can trust that pastors aren’t going to go off the rails and even if they did, knowing other pastors would be able to intercede.

Knowing that I don’t carry the load alone and that there are other people with equal stakes in the church and it’s well being might be the healthiest aspect and reason enough to go with the interdependent model. It makes more sense than ever to me why the Apostle Paul almost always had a ministry partner at his side.

So if you’re anything like me and have come to the place in leadership where above all you want to see healthy well cared for churches lead by healthy pastors at a realistic pace, maybe the interdependent model is worth considering.

Read more from Drew Hensley here