What Does It Mean to Evolve from Pastor-Centered to Community-Centered?

Published on: September 1, 2011

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OMG! They will no longer need me! I’ll lose my power and authority! I’m the boss and I like it (thank you very much)! I went to school for this and am trained—they’re not! Who do they think they are?!

At various times in the past three years as senior minister of Unity Church of North Idaho, I have had all of these thoughts. Basically these thoughts have one thing in common—fear. Fear of change, of the unknown, of letting go—plain ol’ fear.

Our ministry of 135-150 people is one of the twelve pilot churches participating in the Transformation Experience. My background is one of team and collaborative leadership. Prior to ministry, I was the co-director of a senior center in a successful job-share. After ministerial school, I was an associate minister for nine years. Both experiences taught me the value of distributing tasks and skills and the strength of shared leadership.

In many ways, community-centered leadership is something to aspire to. Several of my colleagues in smaller churches are over-burdened with the responsibility of doing everything, and are just shy of burnout. The joy of ministry can disappear as we are faced with having to be the janitor, counselor, newsletter and bulletin maker, and prayer ministry coordinator; plus sing in the choir, play the organ, walk on water, and oh, by the way, give a great Sunday talk! Many of us went into pulpit ministry with different expectations from what we have actually ended up doing.

I also want to acknowledge those of us who love being the be-all, end-all minister. There is certainly nothing wrong with being minister-centered. Perhaps it is helpful to describe the developmental shifts between pastor-centered to community-centered. We move from:

• Managing to Modeling
• Leading to Developing Other Leaders
• Belonging to Ownership
• Parenting to Partnering
• Utilitarian (being useful) to Integral (all   necessary)
• Hierarchal to Holarchal

Think in terms of concentric circles rather than a triangle. The idea is to help the structure of spiritual community shift from personality-based leadership to principle-based leadership.

WIFM—What’s In It For Me?

With the intentional creation of a community-centered ministry, more people are involved and have ownership in the ongoing success of “their” church. I am not responsible for holding it all together and making everything happen. My time is freed up to pursue the areas of ministry that feed me and utilize my strengths. I still hold the consciousness, but I’m not holding it alone.

Our ministry is discovering the power of being clear. We have clear job descriptions for each of our service ministries along with clear policies and procedures which provide greater accountability. People know what is being asked of them when approached to serve on teams. Being accountable helps people know how others count on them. A clearly defined minister’s role allows the congregation to know what they can/cannot count on the minister for. This results in more realistic expectations and fewer disappointments, which in turn diminishes the blaming and shaming behaviors.

What Community-Centered Leadership Is Not

Community-centered leadership is not everyone having a say in the Sunday morning worship service, nor having different people within the community give the Sunday lesson each week. It is not everyone expressing their wishes and having them granted. Being heard is not the same as getting things our way. It is not eliminating the need for a minister(s).


Thoughts on the Culture Shift to Community-Centric

Jennifer James

Jennifer James

When everyone is aware of and living who they came here to be/what they came here to do, there is no voice that is more wise, “powerful,” capable than another. All are wise and all are contributing their perspectives and gifts to an amazing whole that could not exist without every voice and without every person expressing fully and authentically as God. The minister is not expected to be entirely responsible for peoples’ spiritual growth and for the growth of the church.

—Jennifer James, Board President of Unity of North Idaho


Evolving the Way We “Do” Church

Rich Henry

Rich Henry

In the domain of education, this is often called moving from “the sage on the stage” to “the guide on the side.” This shift elevates the importance of the role of the spiritual leader. And, by distributing some of the traditional roles, ministers move even more into those areas that are personally fulfilling. Members get more opportunity to participate in their own spiritual development, moving from “receivership” to “ownership.”

Are there still challenges? Of course! However, our newfound clarity of purpose resolves issues sooner with compassion and understanding and I, for one, am having more fun. This process is not so much about attracting more people; rather it is about growing and deepening our consciousness. The growth will be a result of our demonstration of what a loving community looks and feels like. Community-centered leadership is an evolution in the way we “do” church. It is inspiring for me to be in a community where we encourage each other to show up as our authentic selves. I’m happy to share any resources with you.

—Rich Henry, Transformation Experience Consultant

Deidre Ashmore
Rev Deidre is minister of Unity Spiritual Center of North Idaho.

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