this is the final post in this series on co-pastoring, some thoughts from some friends who are doing the work in their own contexts. to me, co-pastoring reflects different parts working together the way it’s supposed to be–one’s weakness is another’s strength. it can come in all different shapes & forms, but the most important distinctive is leaders alongside each other as equals without one person at the top.
here are final thoughts from some of my co-pastor friends. read part one if you haven’t already.
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what are you learning about yourself through co-pastoring?
To over communicate, to withhold judgment, the “whole’s” best interest is the priority. – Angie
I have learned that I still have many rough edges and I am not as smart as I thought I was. I have learned that anything worth doing is costly on a very personal level and that telling the truth of my life as well as that of the other is a life long exploration that requires vulnerability and humble commitment. I really would not want to pastor any other way. – Deborah
I’m learning that I can be trusted with responsibility. I’m realizing that my way isn’t always the best way, and even if it is, it’s okay to do something else. - Donna
I’ve only done it this way, so whatever I am learning is the way you do it. Personally I think what I have learned is regular meetings are vital so that everyone can keep abreast of everything. Also we are learning to rely on each other so that we can naturally take days off. – Geoff
I am learning that I am a person who has always sought after roles where I am in authority. When I was a child I wanted to be a policemen because I thought they were respected. As I grew older and became a Christian I wanted to be a Pastor. By giving up that authority role, I realize how much I craved it and how addicted I was to power. I am learning that in my weakness there is more strength than I could ever muster on my own. – John
Community is good for me – and I can let go of my business-wisdom and stop trying to apply it to my church role. – Martin
what are you learning about christian community through co-pastoring?
Community can be and is much more than people ever give it credit for. There are no models out there like our model, so there is no one to get help from. We are mostly alone in this, in the ideas and the practice of it, and sometimes that is hard. – Angie
Inside of the smaller community, the co-pastor model gives us a visible symbol of cooperation, inclusion and love. It also tells others that involvement is welcomed. They rise to the occasion and are eager to participate. In the greater Christian community, well that’s a different story. Most are uncomfortable with the co-equal co-pastoring model. One local mega church called us the three-headed monster. They trust the traditional model. – Deborah
I’m learning that truly being a “Christian community” is a beautiful thing. We have an opportunity as co-pastors to bring our unique styles to the table and help others discover and lean into their own unique style in an effort to make our greater community a better place. I’m finding that to be a pretty cool. – Donna
With my own studies, I am learning the value that this method has on communicating a revolutionary power structure – Geoff
I am learning that people in Christian community seem to want that authoritative leader to tell them what to do and how to do it. When people are subjected to the kind of grace found within shared leadership, they are taken aback by it. They sometimes cannot grasp it. They ask questions like “Who is in charge here?” After a while though they get it and they grow to appreciate the submission of their leaders to each other and the community at large. – John
Full responsibility without full power is a very counter-cultural thing. When someone tries to make me take responsibility for something I don’t have control over at my day-job, I fight hard to avoid letting that happen. But in the church it seems right. In the same way that community means taking responsibility for one another’s welfare, being a co-pastor makes the running of the church something that I am responsible for without giving me the ability to make the church in my image. I like that. It reminds me of a conversation my wife and I had in the run-up to our wedding. We were advised by someone, “Don’t have a joint bank account, you’ll feel like the money doesn’t belong to either of you!” We didn’t say anything at the time, but we both thought, “That sounds exactly as it should be!” We are currently thinking about ways to break down the barriers even further - this time between co-pastor and ‘member’ – to drive things to an even more communal structure. We just have to work out how to express what we mean in words. It’s easy to think, but harder to express. – Martin
what do you say to critics who claim “you have to have one person who makes the final decision” or ” you have to have one head”?
First I give them the middle finger, ha ha! Once, I said to one of my professors we had a flat leadership style and was told it didn’t work. Well, then I’m not sure what we have been doing successfully for 13 years. I usually put my head down and do what I was ordained to do…serve my community. - Angie
What is their theology around the Trinity? If they believe that there is submission within the Trinity, I probably will not get much of a hearing. However, if they believe in co-equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we might have something to discuss. I would cite Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane–“I wish that you would allow this cup to pass from me, but nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” Right here Jesus, the sole leader of the movement, was agreeing with God that the leadership reigns of the church should pass into the hands of a band of social renegades even though they were not ready. They really didn’t get it until Pentecost. Jesus agreed with God that the time for his voice was done and the time for their voices was at hand. In the Acts 15 we see the counsel of Jerusalem as the ruling body of the church… no single leader! (I wrote about this in my dissertation). The idea is that the Holy Spirit was now the leader of the church… as pastors we are merely facilitators of the work of God. Co-pastoring keeps leadership cognizant of this fact. - Deborah
The Bridge has thrived for over 13 years now without that one person, so it is doable. In some ways it’s the easy way out of having one person as the “head.” By having co-pastors, we get to walk through all sides of an issue and usually one of us will spot something that the others missed. We then have to come up with that “final decision” and we don’t act unless we are in agreement, which I think makes it much harder than if one person were doing it. So go ahead, take the easy way, and let someone control your community. I just want to know who keeps that person accountable for keeping the communities best interest as their top priority? - Donna
I smile and tell them okay. If they aren’t interested then oh well. – Geoff
Why? What are you afraid of? Is it that without some person in control we cannot trust that God will lead? Is it that for some reason in a community of talented and inspired people only one has the right or responsibility to make decisions? Is it that throughout history God has only spoken through one person? - John
In practice, we find that whoever has the most time, or the biggest stake, or the strongest opinion will make a final decision (although that is not always the same person for different circumstances). But I think the quieter voice, the minority opinion, the outside perspective will always be heard and considered. There needs to be real community and mutual respect and love between the co-pastors, though, otherwise it would be all too easy for power struggles to upset the balance. - Martin
if someone was considering co-pastoring their faith community–whatever shape or form that might take–what is one word of advice you’d give them?
Put your money where your mouth is! Be willing to make mistakes and even fail. Say sorry for the mistakes you make. If you don’t, then you will fail. Or worse, do what has always been done, like create more church causalities because you are to afraid to experiment and try new ways of doing things. - Angie
Run! Said with a smile on my face, but run towards it, not away. If you have the opportunity to practice what I’ve been learning the old Scottish clans called being a “leader of leaders,” take it on, try it out, and trust that your community will be stronger for it. Expect a learning curve, as our culture is ingrained with the concept of a “head” pastor to do all things, be comfortable in your own skin, know who you are and how you are wired, and learn the same of your co-pastors. - Donna
Find someone you are committed to and will continue to respect. And when you don’t want to either be committed or continue to respect the other, do it anyway until God tells you to go to Africa. - Geoff
Get your Co-Pastors to buy into it 100%, then have them figure out how you are to do it (roll it out), and then submit yourself to the process 100%. Let go, and seriously, let God. - John
If you don’t have a relationship where the current decision-maker can be challenged, a change will probably be difficult. If that relationship is there it may be a structure that works to better represent what is happening and the way everyone wants it to work. - Martin
Be sure that you are serving with people that you really love and believe in. That love and commitment will be tested to the nth degree. Dream big! – Deborah
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thanks, my friends. great thoughts, and i hope that any of you reading who are either co-pastoring now or considering it in some way, shape or form, find some strength & encouragement from these thoughts.
what questions or thoughts do you have about shared leadership?