Surprisingly, creating a potential Lead Pastor model was much easier than revising our Flat, or “Shared” Leadership model. We did need to address how some closely held tenets of UBC’s identity—authenticity, community, etc.– could be maintained with a Lead Pastor, but since there are myriad examples of senior pastor-led churches, it wasn’t hard to get a general idea of how it could work. For the revised shared-leadership option, the Leadership Team asked us to address a singular question: In the absence of consensus on a given issue or direction of the church, who breaks the tie?
We created a Lead Pastor model that I could get on board with, and another for shared-leadership that I was excited about. For the first, each pastor would drive the vision, in consultation with Josh, for his or her particular area of ministry. And for those areas of ministry that overlapped or belonged to everyone, Josh would provide primary leadership. For the second, we created a system that looked much like what we had been operating under, with one exception: There would be a “tie breaking” pastoral role that would periodically, every 2-3 years, be passed along to another pastor. In short, we would take turns being “The” Leader.
Each of the models we proposed had strengths and weaknesses, and also came with numerous possible variations. I was excited, and ready to push for our new Shared-Leadership model.
Before our meeting with the Leadership Team, they asked each of us on staff to visit with them as a group, without the other pastors present, to share where our heart was. I talked to them about my frustration that all this seemed to be happening so quickly and that it seemed that those who were pushing for a Lead Pastor model hadn’t thought everything through. I asked each of those who were leaning in that direction to share with me their position, what they really wanted. Each of them had understandable reasons for wanting a more hierarchical structure. But, as I pointed out to them, there was no consensus among those pushing for a Lead Pastor model for what exactly they were asking for. Some just wanted a person who could break a tie. Others wanted someone to cast vision. Others simply didn’t understand why the person preaching every Sunday couldn’t be called “The” Pastor.
After all the staff shared their peace, we gathered to vote. We quickly realized that we had inadvertently created a problem. At the first Leadership Team meeting, what we were voting on was clear—a Lead Pastor model of church governance. A “yes” vote would mean we would have a Senior Pastor, a “no” vote would mean that we didn’t. But at this second meeting, we had two proposals on the table, and we weren’t clear on which was actually being decided on. (Those of us who had attended seminary realized in that moment why we spent an entire class day devoted to learning Robert’s Rules of order.) After much heated discussion, it was concluded that we needed to vote on what the original proposition at the first meeting was—That we move to a senior pastor model of Leadership.
And there was another dilemma: The new bylaws, which I had spearheaded, required a 2/3 majority of Leadership Team for a proposal to pass. It was possible that neither proposal would receive the necessary votes to pass, putting us in a precarious situation. The possibility became a reality.
We went around the room and voted on a Lead Pastor model. The vote was over 50% in favor, but two votes shy of the 2/3 majority.
We voted on a revamped Flat Leadership model. Again, a little less than 50%, nowhere near the 2/3 majority.
We were stuck, everyone standing his or her ground. The next few moments were contentious.
Some of those representing the Lead Pastor voice said that there are people in the church they were speaking for who didn’t think they could remain at UBC unless we moved into a more hierarchical system. One even suggested that we have to do this out of fear that Josh may leave if we don’t, never bothering to express the same amount of concern that Toph or I may do so if the result didn’t go our way.
Those of us on the Flat Leadership side suggested that those on the other side had been deceptive, and that we were feeling bullied.
We were all being children, manipulating the situation to get what we wanted.
Then, out of the corner, a voice spoke up. “I think we should pray.” The voice belonged to Austin, a student, the youngest person in the room.
In our meetings as a staff to hammer out possibilities, we had prayed a few times over the issue, and all our Leadership Team meetings opened in prayer. But at UBC we had embraced an ideology, and a good one, I believe, that once you have given something to God, then you didn’t have to interrupt every moment from there on to ask for guidance. The idea was that we assume God is working, even when we aren’t calling on God to work. But this was different, and Austin knew it. We were drowning, and he suggested we scream out, “Help!”
We returned to the vote for a Lead Pastor model. Toph had already suggested that he would eventually change his vote in this direction if it looked like the room would remain split. This meant that if there were anyone who wanted to keep a shared-leadership model on Leadership Team was looking to take cues from someone, it would be me.
I don’t know if it was a moment of great virtue on my behalf, or if I had simply grown weary of the fight. Probably a little of both. Regardless, Austin’s prayer helped me find my way again. Really wanting us to give shared-leadership a chance, but unwilling to allow the church to split over it, I changed my vote to “yes” for a new, Lead Pastor model.
Then, around the room— Yes. Yes. Yes. 100% in favor of shifting to a Lead Pastor model, with Josh as the Lead Pastor.
The room was silent for several moments, tears all around. I believe it was a holy moment.
For several years many in our moderate and progressive Baptist circles have become enamored with the Enneagram, a model for understanding human behavior and motivation. It divides people up into nine different “types,” although it assumes infinite variations within each one. Those who are not into it often get annoyed at those of us who are, because we are always trying to figure out everyone else’s number. I understand that, because no one wants to be pegged, but the enneagram has been incredibly helpful for me.
In the midst of our structure change, though, I reflected on the enneagram for less than noble purposes. As I disagreed with people in the church, I had the mindset that each of them were just acting out of their number. “Oh, that’s such an ‘8’ way of seeing this,” or “Oh, Lord, I wish that ‘1’ could just lighten up on this.” I am a 6, which some believe represent about half of the world, and I wondered why so many 3’s and 9’s were getting their way. (If you are unfamiliar with the enneagram, I apologize for how maddening all of this sounds.)
But now, I look back on those meetings over the course of two weeks in 2013 with perspective. Each of our individual numbers and the nuances contained therein hold very little importance to me in retrospect. What is important, though, is reflecting on what the enneagram (and any model of human behavior, for that matter) reminds me about people: All of us are wired in different ways. My way of “being” in the world is only one of many equally legitimate ways of being.
I still look back on those times with frustration. I believe we overhauled our entire way of operating too quickly, which had become our theme, an identifying marker of our DNA. Much like our “decision” to build a larger, bigger church building several years before, the time between the birth of a very large, consequential idea and its acceptance by the Leadership Team was less than 3 weeks. Most healthy churches spend months, even years, discerning, discussing and praying about how to make these types of decisions.
I also believe our structure change was the result of some amazing, honorable, Christ like individuals, who nevertheless used less-than-ideal tactics to effect big changes that they wanted to see happen, leaving many others out of the process, feeling bullied and run over.
But the enneagram has helped me let everyone, including myself, off the proverbial hook for those contentious times. Everyone, including those I disagreed with vehemently, loved UBC deeply and wanted the best for the church. We each acted, both for better and worse, out of our ways of being in the world. Those who are wired and gifted to bring necessary positive momentum to a community acted without concern or empathy for the ways others exist in the world. I, wired for stability and caution, acted in anger and guile toward those whose way of being in the world is different from mine.
The next few months were, surprisingly, pretty ok. We left the experience committed to making this new structure of Leadership work. I felt relieved that it was all over, ready to put it behind me, though exhausted and disappointed.
It was, by most accounts, the beginning of the end of my time at UBC.