Without apologies, I’m a bit of a Trek fan … both the bicycle kind and the sci-fi kind. Most of the time I indulge my Trekness for pure fun and escape; however, I’m a believer that if you keep your eyes open there’s something to be learned in and from almost everything.

And so, it was during a lunch conversation with a colleague that the notion of Spock’s final soliloquy in the reactor vessel came to mind: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” In its immediate context, Spock is speaking of self-sacrifice, but it’s the longer view that’s the more important lesson … one that’s difficult to learn and apply in the church. But the failure to embrace and practice these words is one of the chief reasons small churches remain small and mid-sized churches hit the wall. It’s also the reason few pastors break the mold from chaplain (AKA pastor) to leader.

The pastoral practice of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the one is counterintuitive to many, if not most, professional church leaders – especially to pastors of churches with less than 300 in worship. Let’s face it, most of us clergy-types got into the ministry to be pastors … to provide pastoral care and spiritual healing and wholeness to our flock. Our paradigmatic scripture is Luke 15:3–5 and the one lost sheep. In our experience, most church leaders score pretty high for the spiritual gift of mercy, a trait that literally gets in the way of seeing the forest because of the trees.

Leadership is a hard taskmaster, especially with spiritually sensitive and merciful church leaders. But if you’re serious about reaching the unreached for Jesus Christ, and your primary strategy for doing that includes the local church, then you’ll need to re-think your paradigm.

One of the key differences between an effective church leader and a pastor has to do with ultimate responsibility. Pastors in most small congregations behave more like a chaplain to their flock. Their ultimate responsibility is to the individual sheep (members and participants) and to ensure their charges are growing in the faith and are spiritually well fed. This keeps them pretty busy as they do pastoral care, pastoral counseling, as well as pastoral visitation in homes and hospitals and perhaps even in the workplace; not to mention all the Bible studies, fellowships, and committee meetings they attend. Indeed, they rarely have time to spend cultivating relationships with those outside the church in order to ensure they are available to the membership during office hours … and on call the rest of the time. Although virtually everyone has a personal desire to be liked, these pastors work especially hard at not only being liked, but at being needed as well. And though almost no one who’s healthy particularly likes conflict, these pastors abhor it to the point that unanimity may appear to be a core value. In Trek language, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.

Effective church leaders, and leaders of churches over 300, tend to embrace a different ultimate responsibility. Indeed, these are often seen in stark contrast to the pastoral model and may be compared with some disdain. Their ultimate responsibility is to the church, and specifically to ensure the accomplishment of the church’s mission. This keeps them pretty busy as they evaluate the mission alignment of every program, staff member, and church leader and take corrective action whenever misalignment is discovered. They spend little one-on-one time with congregational members who aren’t a part of the core leadership team. They rarely have time to do pastoral care, pastoral counseling, or pastoral visitation of their members, even when they’re hospital bound. They attend a minimum number of meetings or fellowships, delegating both responsibility and authority to other church leaders. They seem to rarely be in the office, choosing instead to spend much of their time with those outside the church. They too have a burning desire to be liked, but realize it’s more important to be effective. And neither do they like conflict, but they’re not afraid to carry the banner of the mission over the preferences of an individual, even if that means losing a valued member or two or three. Unity trumps unanimity … and those who won’t get along may be invited to get along somewhere else.

In my experience, the pastoral paradigm has been heralded as the model most Christ-like. Recently, in a private conversation, I was informed that the Bible doesn’t talk about leaders – pastors are called to be pastoral (and that’s all they had to say about that). And though it is true the New Testament doesn’t use the word “leader,” it doesn’t use the word “pastor” but once, and in that context the notion of preaching, teaching, evangelism, etc. are removed from the office (Ephesians 4:11–13). But the absence of an English cognate does not a convincing argument make. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding … that is, in the behavior of leadership. It turns out that the biggest Aha! most church leaders and church members get is when they read the Gospels for themselves and see what kind of a “leader” Jesus was (since he is the model, after all). Here are a couple of passages to consider as you evaluate your own paradigm.

  • Luke 14:25–30 Jesus sets a high bar to being a disciple (member)
  • Mark 10:17–22 Jesus’ willingness to lose those who won’t get on board
  • John 6:60–66 Jesus’ willingness to lose those who won’t get on board (another example)
  • Mark 7:1–13 Jesus deals with tradition
  • Mark 2:15–17 Who Jesus spent time with

For Jesus, it seems, the good of the mission came before anyone or anything. He was willing to risk conflict, being disliked, and even the loss of a majority of his followers to ensure mission fulfillment. And yet, in many churches … far too many churches … the needs of the one continues to outweigh the needs of the many.

To hearken back to our Star Trek analogy, the welfare of Captain Kirk’s crew (the collective) and the USS Enterprise were paramount, and yet he was willing to sacrifice either (or both) for the sake of the mission. Effective church leaders behave similarly. Nothing gets in the way of the mission, and even the personal needs of an individual may be put aside in the pursuit of the Kingdom. And so, whenever they’re faced with a decision their ultimate responsibility paradigm is put to the test – will they make their decision based on the needs, desires, and welfare of an individual, or on the welfare of the church?

If your congregation is going to go where no church has gone before, where does your ultimate responsibility lie?