Which is more important: the system or the leader?
Since arriving at St. Paul’s, which is a pastoral-sized congregation*, I’ve figured out that much of the structure of the church is based on specific leaders doing specific tasks, rather than systems. I’m not sure how to feel about this.
*[a pastoral-sized congregation is what many would call a “typical” church: 75-125 people on a Sunday morning and most of the ministries of the church are pushed through the Pastor’s office.]
With the passing of one of our dear leaders last year, this conversation became more important. John was our Memorial Day flag guy. He would put flags around our columbarium to mark the resting places of our deceased veterans. He took this on himself and did it himself. He kept the flags in his garage and every year he would bring them out.
I suspect that he did this as a personal ministry. It is now seen as an institutional ministry.
Without John to curate his own personal system, we are left with three options.
- Find a person to take it on by herself.
- Systematize the process.
- Let the ministry end.
Which way do we go?
It would be simple enough to find a committed leader to take on this ministry by herself, making sure that she knows how to do her ministry. This solves the labor problem, but not the continuity one. It represents the incarnational aspect of ministry, but neglects the need for clarity in the congregation–since only one person will know what is going on.
Seth Godin writes that we should “build the system that can scale” which means that we do from the beginning, what we would do at any size. In this way, it is a clear vote for building a simple system for the future. However, this means the congregational leadership has to make a perpetual emotional investment into maintaining this practice.
The third option is to recognize the ministry for what it was: the devout act of one faithful man. Is our attachment to the ministry really about the ministry itself, or the person? If we are committed to the ministry, we will be eager to make it happen, otherwise, our true vote is cast.
In questioning what our attachment is really about, the true question is revealed. It isn’t so much a matter of individuals and systems, but a manifestation of our enthusiasm for ministry and commitment. The truth might reveal that we aren’t actually committed to the beloved practice after all.
I often argue that if we can’t find people to serve on altar guild, then we get rid of the altar guild. “What about the linens?” you may ask. We’ll have to get rid of those, too. Nobody to wash and iron them, let alone set the table. All we really need is a cup and a plate, anyway.
We do have to answer this leadership question at St. Paul’s about this specific situation with the flags. It is a situation that translates, however. How, in your context, do you deal with the question of raising leaders or building systems?