8 Leadership Styles that Encourage (or Diminish) Faith- For Better (or Worse)

Unlike the prophet, judge, king-led faith assembly of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit engages humanity in a manner that guides, inspires, provokes, encourages, discerns, and cautions the will of each of us on a personal and intimate level. Spiritual freewill is largely a result of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and made possible through the Holy Spirit. Galatians 3:13-14 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”

On a national level, this is reflected by the separation of church and state. On a personal level, this is experienced through a “gut instinct” and expressed through conscious decisions from what we decide to make for dinner to how much obligation we take responsibility for on a variety of matters. Through a corporate Christianity lens, freewill may be preached and acknowledged- but often gets muddled in the practice of accountability and corporate expression. There are faith communities that recognize and support expression of faith through the freedom of the Holy Spirit. However, there remain many churches that impede or are inclined to direct who, what, and how the “ideal” Christian should perform by holding attenders accountable to a measurable standard through a social reward/consequence effort of coordination.

By taking a look at a variety of leadership styles, we can not only determine the sort of church style we are connected to (or are at least familiar with), we can also evaluate the type of faith community that best supports the freedom (or freewill) we engage by allowing the Holy Spirit to be the primary and unfiltered voice in our life.

Clarifying side note: For readers who have never before considered a “gut feeling” to be a conduit of the Holy Spirit; you may be wondering how freewill could remain so-named under the influence of anyone or thing- including the Holy Spirit. It’s intelligible once we understand that the Holy Spirit is only a guide to authentic truth and no more. How we choose to respond to that guide or “gut feeling” is completely up for us to decide on a personal level. An act that dismisses this voice is typically pursuing selfish outcomes that dismiss consequence of harm to others by that same act- or dismissal of an eternal perspective for so long, the ability to decipher empathy has grown numb. (This includes the inability to experience empathy within any awareness of eternal consequences- ultimately our own). The gift of freewill comes from a God who does not desire the submission of spiritual robots. God seeks authenticity of faith, and as the creator of each individual soul- provides each of us spiritual tools that allow us to become uniquely complete. Romans 8:15 tells us, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” Our purpose is not fulfilled in this life, but can and should be practiced in a manner that acknowledges a higher purpose not fully attainable in physical form.

1. Autocratic

Autocratic Leadership Style: This form of leadership relies on coercion. Key elements are command and compliance. Orders are dictated and are to be obeyed by subordinates.

An autocratic church likely includes hierarchy, promotion based on performance, clear and concise mannerisms that determine continued eligibility of qualifying members, and some form of social and/or spiritual expectation. The leader in an autocratic church will push responsibility for rule enforcement on a larger entity such as the denomination or institution that church affiliates with. Unlike an autocratic governing style, the leader of an autocratic church must also conform to preset standards and conviction style.

I have attended and even played the role of Pastor’s Wife in this sort of church. While the standards are often grounded in Old Testament biblical principals and are meant to animate “love and good deeds” in accordance to Hebrews 10:24- autocratic style churches fail to generate individual authenticity by filtering faith through a humanistic and visually-measurable standard. As a result of judging books by their covers, we consequently promote imitation commitment- and repel individuals who simply express and pursue Christ’s principles in an alternative manner. Smokers, cussers, and homophobes will have no trouble avoiding this style- as it will avoid you. Rule-followers, people-pleasers, and self-righteous beware of adopting a church that fits like a spiritual glove; our faith is not meant to conform to a standard outside of the Holy Spirit.

2. Bureaucratic

Bureaucratic Leadership Style: Mimics autocratic in that the leader makes the decision for the community. However, the leader first listens to and considers the thoughts and suggestions of the community before dismissing any that do not line up with the stipulated identity of the community.

3. Democratic

Democratic Leadership Style: A democratic leader makes decisions based on the input of each team member. Processes and styles consider the feedback of individuals equally. In this way, authority is more evenly distributed than that of an autocratic style.

Although a democratic style of church may sound more palatable than the aforementioned style of an autocratic leadership style- the expectations and procedures are the result of groupthink. In a perfect world (not driven by finances, power, or fear- and where everyone is hyper-aligned with the Holy Sprit at all times) this would be ideal. However, seeing we all have “sinned and fall short of the God’s glorious standard” (Rom 3:23), a democratic style- while humane- still fails to support individual pursuit and expression of faith.

The result of a democratic functioning church is a diluted sense of accountability for the sake of a style that members most want to find acceptable in the spiritual realm. This game of inclusion/exclusion is based and enforced at the discretion of the garden-variety attender. Support is endorsed on popular demand. If members are trending divorce on the premise of lack-of-continued interest, divorce for that reason (despite the command of Jesus to permit divorce only for the reason of sexual immorality) becomes acceptable on popular demand. Likewise, if popular demand supports the right to lethally defend property, the act of killing another for the sake of human right (although it may not reflect an eternal standard) is justified as a corporately-based spiritual endeavor. Take caution to those who seek to justify actions in the perspective of like-minded believers.

Authentic faith can only be based on an unfiltered relationship with the Holy Spirit. The rest is smoke and mirrors. John quotes Jesus in John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Our deeds can only be reconciled by and through the One who composes our very fiber and lot of circumstance.

4. Laissez-Faire

Laissez-Faire (free-reign) Leadership Style: French for “let it/them do.” Laissez-faire leadership permits total freedom and individuality within an identified group.

Depending on the goal or motivation of group members, a laissez-faire leadership style affords authenticity without obstruction of outside influence. At best, a spirit-led individual is free from filtered and pre-digested obligations. However, with the lack of a reasonable measure of mentorship or discretionary feedback, the chances of individuals successfully overcoming spiritual hurdles in the face of adversity become stunted or potentially perceived as unattainable.

Proverbs 27:17 states, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” This indicates that we are to not only allow, but also encourage the input- even stark contrast- of another. I believe that we ought to use discretion as to what level we allow another’s thoughts to provoke us. This verse alone seems to eliminate any value to a laissez-faire style of church despite the liberty free-reign affords in encouraging authenticity. Alternatively, I read nowhere in this verse where we should allow the result of corporate thought or groupthink to dictate or determine who we can or should be in Christ.

5. Transformational

Transformational Leadership Style: Transformational leaders are regularly transforming and improving the status quo. Previously determined goals are replaced or challenged by the leader with goals just outside of each individual’s comfort zone.

While this style is closer to the ideal breeding ground of nurturing authentic faith, the goals (while individualized) are determined outside of the Holy Spirit. Even if the goals are set in a direction that encourages spiritual growth in a God-like way, they are still a predictive qualifier rather than coming straight from the relationship held between an individual and the Holy Spirit.

6. Transactional

Transactional Leadership Style: The transactional leadership style rewards individuals in direct response to actions/duties performed.

Think of commission-structured bonus-motivated sales. A hairstylist working for a corporation may get paid a pre-determined commission per service rendered, with a bonus for maintaining a consistent and profitable clientele. No productivity, no bonus- let alone pay.

Imagine how this form of leadership plays out in a church. Some may not have to because it plays out in front of them in one way or another every Sunday. My husband, Dan, served as worship leader at a church during a time that I could not attend every Sunday with him due to a previously determined work schedule. After serving as the interim worship leader for several months, a young homeless man showed up as Dan and other leaders began to prepare for Sunday morning service. He was obviously in need of food and warmer clothes. The executive pastor assured Dan he would take care of the young man in need so that worship practice could get started on time. When Dan asked about the homeless man following the morning service, the pastor informed him that the young man was sent on his way. “We cannot help just anyone who comes to the door. We have a hard enough time helping the congregants that serve and attend here regularly,” was the pastor’s response. That event spoke to Dan loud and clear that the earthly-minded direction of the church was in stark contrast to the eternal lens God has entrusted us to manage as a church. On Dan’s final Sunday serving a couple of weeks later, my work schedule was open for me to attend with Dan. The most active congregants offered to take us out to a restaurant as a thank you following morning service. Each in attendance went around the table and thanked Dan for his extended months of service as interim worship leader. Although I choose to forgive, it is hard to forget a comment made by one of the most “involved” congregants. Her intonation, the look in her eye, and the lack of remorse remain burnt into my skull as she locked my gaze and stated, “I hate you. No, I really do! If it weren’t for you, Dan would probably stay.” As if Dan’s decision had anything to do with my lack of involvement or productivity in that particular church. It’s hard to decipher one’s own reflection as fruitless when the root of a statement like that looks and acts similar to what her only base of truth deem a right and worthy pursuit.

As a side note, the two-for-one workload expectation held by churches when hiring a pastor (and his/her spouse) is archaic and often sexist. For years prior, I silently worked alongside my husband in role of emotional support, baby-shower attender, youth event decorator, meeting babysitter, van driver, stand-in secretary, errand runner, back-up musician, last-minute Sunday School teacher, truth-defender, and gossip whistleblower. I played and looked the role the church expected me to play. In return I was offered spiritual accolades, atta-boys, and social entitlement that came with the position. By the end of our 5th year of marriage and church servitude, who I was as a wife, mother, citizen, and individual in Christ took a backseat to corporate church expectation. It would take years before I would begin to find my own voice and sense of authentic worth. The scariest part of it all? It never felt wrong.

For all intents and purposes, and as a survivor of transactional-based/ reward-motivated production, I implore anyone who desires to attain an authentic relationship with Christ to pray for the ability to pursue only righteous and eternal-based reward. Anything else is simply an imposter of faith in truth.

7. Strategic

Strategic Leadership Style: The strategic leader seeks out growth opportunities while ensuring the stability of programs engaged by stakeholders.

While a noble and empathetic pursuit in intent- this becomes tough when growth opportunities clash with tradition. In church, this can (and often does) play out in a church split based on (for example) replacing the old pews funded by long-time parishioners, with modern and placement-friendly chairs- hinged on the intent of drawing in a newer and younger crowd with a chance of boosting the number of family-producing attenders and extending the lifespan of a church congregation.

Once again, spirituality becomes distracted by outward influence. Despite the good will or intent, authentic faith is not the product of disorder and will diminish when we use our freewill to chase other endeavors.

8. Coach

Coach Style Leadership: As the title infers, a coach style leader works with and understands each individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Individuals are not only placed in a position that each can contribute best, but also encouraged and challenged to engage individual growth and success. Individuals are often placed on teams of others whose strengths differ yet compliment the rest of the team’s strengths.

Anyone who has ever had the support of an empathetic and judicious mentor in a professional setting can attest to the far-reaching benefits of the compassionate and steady guidance of someone who identifies with your goal, and has the experience and wisdom to encourage strengths to grow while gently nudging misjudgments and shortcomings. This sort of relationship requires two forms of intimacy; first, an intimacy with the identified profession, and second, an intimacy with the goal of that profession. Beyond that, a mentor requires knowledge of the personal strengths and struggles of the mentee.

This form of leadership fits biblical depictions of church and faith amid a few insightful descriptions. Regarding celebration of differences in usefulness, Romans 12:4-6a describes the church as working parts of a larger body. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” Regarding faith, Jesus explains in John 10: 26-27, “…but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Regarding knowledge on an intimate level, Jesus tells us in Mat 18:19-20, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” And it also encourages conversation of differences referring back to Proverbs 27:17 (iron sharpens iron). Finally, a faith community like this can be a safe place for raw honesty and tough love, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Proverbs 27:6 KJV).

Fast Food for the Masses

Many modern day churches are operative despite lacking the most fundamental functions of an authentic community. They put on a great performance, proclaim truth, encourage giving, support large and worthy causes, but tend to only engage even the faithful attenders on a surface level. We are spoon fed another’s portion of weekly nutrients and sent home without even a discussion on where each of us are personally- neglecting dialogue about how to engage our own mission fields (work, neighbors, friends, enemies) in a way that is personally authentic and encourages all to draw near to a God who also created and loves them. All members of the body are taught the lesson for the hands (outreach), or feet (missionary), or shoulders (carry another’s burden)- depending on the focus of the church or sermon of the week. But, what good does a sermon for the shoulders do when you are a jammed finger in rapid decline and in desperate need of explicit support? Without being connected with healthy, counterbalanced members and a mentor who knows you on a personal level, we are just playing church. Parts of the weekly sermon may speak to us on a deeper and readily useful level- but imagine the power of a team and coach who can speak to the issue you are having at work with a dishonest coworker, an alcoholic neighbor, or an upcoming task that has you locked in yet another round of anxiety fits. Sure, approaching the prayer partner at the alter is one good option- but think of the benefit of a coach and team who understands your propensity to debilitating anxiety and knows how to reach YOU on a much deeper and meaningful level. Imagine a church of coaches/mentors/teams supporting you and your everyday mission field.

In a perfect world, any leadership style would work. However, at the end of the day, priorities become confused when a leader has a large budget to meet- sermons become fast food orders when there are many people to serve in a little time. Missionary work becomes the focus of the whole team because it is largely impractical to effectively support the many mini mission fields that each congregant engages on a daily basis. The sermon for carrying another’s burden will have to do for the member paralyzed in anxiety for yet another week. Why is the modern church attendance dwindling? Could it be that the fast food and community support can also be easily accessed from home, sitting on a sofa, in front of a laptop? A successful Internet search can even help address particular endeavors (albeit impersonal).

Authentic faith seeks intentionality

A good article with a couple nuggets of God’s truth, a few minutes of social media, and a donation to my favorite charity feels and looks a lot like attending church- without the need to scrape the ice off of my windshield. Lazy? Sure. A desperate excuse to not engage with a church in my community? Possibly. But, what is the church’s excuse? I can dress up fast food by putting it on fancy china and engage Christians in a half-ass manner on social media. Without authentic and intentional community, we are simply showing up for the sake of a gold star. Our neighbors, coworkers, and greater community need us to be more for ourselves so we can be more for them. It’s crucial that we engage on a level that surrounds us with a solid team- working toward a common and higher purpose that depends on the unity of the team- with a coach/mentor who understands the strengths and weaknesses of each team member- so we can be Jesus to the most obvious mission field; our own.

Psalm 32:2-11 (msg) Count yourself lucky – God holds nothing against you and you’re holding nothing back from him. When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. The pressure never let up’ all the juices of my life dried up. Then I let it all out’ I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.” Suddenly the pressure was gone – my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared. These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray; when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts we’ll be on high ground, untouched. God’s my island hideaway, keeps danger far from the shore, throws garlands of hosannas around my neck. Let me give you some good advice; I’m looking you in the eye and giving it to you straight:  “Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule that needs bit and bridle to stay on track.” God-defilers are always in trouble; God-affirmers find themselves loved every time they turn around. Celebrate God. Sing together – everyone! All you honest hearts, raise the roof!


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