Baptists in New Zealand pride themselves on being known as a congregationally led denomination. It is unique, in a sense, compared to other protestant/evangelical denominations. The problem with such a model is that it doesn't lend itself to good leadership development. It also has a sinister side effect, because of the lack of leadership development, the leadership void is almost always filled by a dominant congregant, which only then stifles any future, potential, leadership development.
All leadership positions in a Baptist church are duly elected. When the congregation elects a leader, that person becomes the leadership representative of the church, and by default, the congregation lets the leader lead. But here's the catch. The congregation needs to hold the leadership accountable. In most cases, it doesn't just feel the need, it takes full responsibility. The congregation becomes the divine police force monitoring the ebb and flow of the church leadership. It's a wonder why Baptist churches are stifled in both growth and development.
With leadership often questioned, coupled with the Kiwi inherent distrust of authority (of which good leadership is sometimes seen as, rightly or wrongly), you get a very toxic environment.
Unfortunately this is also modelled by the regional Baptist leadership. Just a couple of weeks ago we received an important communication that went directly to the congregation, by-passing the leadership entirely. The problems caused by this was that the congregation went to their leadership asking questions about the communication, with the leadership unable to respond. When the regional leadership was asked why the church leadership was not consulted, the response was that the leadership may taint the communication. In other words, they don't trust the leadership. It's a wonder why Baptist churches continue to struggle.
If a church is truly a congregational model, it needs to take responsibility in helping the leadership develop, by providing support, opportunity for development, and prayer. If a church is truly a congregational model then it needs to respect and trust the decisions made by the church as a whole, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, for the leaders elected. This trust and respect has to happen both inside and outside the church. Trust and respect, unlike the typical mantra by some members, does not need to be earned, it is already earned through the election process of the leader.
An interesting note is that Baptist churches that are growing in this country are ones with a strong leadership and a trusting congregation. So, is that the modus operandi needed? Absolutely! I would say that first and foremost, above all those lovely missiological ideologies, you need to have a strong, servant leadership, and a trusting congregation.
You need to have a strong, servant leadership, and a trusting congregation.
When one of the two are not working, then nothing will work!