Jun 28, 2011

Captain, commander, caregiver or recluse – what kind of leader are you and what is it doing to your church?

More from Thom Rainer and his book High Expectations.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes but Rainer argues that four leadership styles can be identified that impact a church in different ways. I’ve turned his comments into the following diagram;

Rainer argues that in growing churches the dominant leadership style is high task/ high relationship. In other words what churches need are leaders who are ‘very goal-orientated‘ and also ‘good people-person(s)‘.

Without a goal it is easy for the church to drift but ‘high relationship‘ is crucial in terms of bringing the congregation with you. In his research into growing churches it was these leaders who

cared deeply about people as they attempted to lead the church to change. Though the pastors had an ambitious desire to reach a goal or accomplish a task, they were unwilling to disregard the concerns of others in the process.

A few personal reflections;

1. Look for captains to lead your church. Commanders are likely, in attempting to force change, to cause damage and caregivers will never bring about the change a church needs.

2. Recognize yourself in the table and where possible compensate for your weaknesses.

3. Keep recluses out of leadership! The last thing a church needs is someone who has no vision and no interest in people.

4. Recluses tend to end up working for the denomination! They are maintenance people.

5. Team leadership helps compensate for the fact that it is hard to find high task/ high relationship people. Captains, commanders and caregivers each have something distinctive to bring to the leadership of a church. Caregivers stop commanders racing ahead, commanders ensure that necessary change happens.

6. Build in structures in your churches that facilitate both vision and good communication of that vision. Create a culture in which both change and consultation are expected and embraced.

7. Consult early and expect things to take longer to action.

One minister commented;

I am tempted just to move ahead without a broad consensus, but I realize that would be a big mistake. So I consult with church leaders and take the time to seek input from the members. The process takes a lot longer, but the end result is healthier.


  • Thanks for this Neil. The whole area of metaphors and leadership is a fascinating one. One of the key issues for me is the way in which the images we use to conceptualise ourselves as leaders not only describes and reflects how we lead (and who we think we are) but also shapes and directs how we lead. You might be interested in this post which relates to a session I did on Redcliffe’s Leadership MA.
    Hope you are well; would be great to catch up some time.

  • Interesting and helpful outline. And yet we must be careful (in my view) not to work the other way around – assume that if the church isn’t growing numerically, it’s because we haven’t an adequate pastor and need to change. I know you didn’t imply it, but we’re quick to biconditionalise an implication – a growing church is likely to have a captain; having a captain doesn’t necessarily make for a growing church. These kind of analyses can be used really helpfully, taken in the framework of the Lord’s providence.

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