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The Role of Tribal Leaders in the Church

The Role of Tribal Leaders in the Church

In 2012, Centre Grove UMC’s church council read Winning on Purpose: How To Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission by John Edmund Kaiser. At the time, we were transitioning from a traditional United Methodist multi-committee structure to an alternative single-committee structure.

In the book, Kaiser shares Paul Borden’s somewhat humorous metaphor of the board, or council, as a group of tribal leaders …

Paul Borden, author of Hit the Bullseye, compares the board to a group of tribal leaders in the rain forest. The chief of the tribe climbs the tallest tree in order to direct the establishment of the village in a new location. From this high vantage point, the chief can see the big picture and call out where to build the huts, where to plant the crops, where to post lookouts, etc. At the base of the tree stands a circle of tribal elders with long pointed spears. If the chief tries to climb down and deny the village the benefit of the chief’s guidance, they point their spears upward to send the chief back to the high vantage point. If any tribespeople leave their work and try to pull the chief down, the elders turn their spears outward and send them back to their duties. That’s a picture of no-nonsense accountability and support. (113)

Years later, this description has stuck with us!

This is how healthy councils (or Staff/Pastor Parish Relations Committees) view their role and their working relationship with their pastors. Council (or SPRC) members hold the pastor accountable by encouraging them to focus on their primary leadership role. Kaiser describes the pastor’s leadership role in three key arenas: inspiring council, directing staff (paid and unpaid ministry leaders), and teaching the congregation. Healthy committees also support and protect the pastor when others attempt to pull her or him down.

This metaphor still comes up from time to time at Centre Grove. I’m grateful for all those, past and present, who carry spears (metaphorically speaking!) on behalf of the ministry at Centre Grove!

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