The Rise of Shared Leadership in Microchurch Movements

June 3, 2024

The Atlas Factor: Shifting Leadership Onto The Shoulders of Jesus

Since the end of the global pandemic that launched the third decade of the new millennial, church leaders have come face to face with many alarming reports related to trending decline in church attendance. 

Not only are people abandoning church as we’ve known it, but a multitude of pastors are feeling hopeless. Adapt or die has been the common mantra in many conversations regarding the future of the church. Thankfully, amid the current crisis, a reformation of sorts appears to be brewing.

Far from a new thing, we are seeing a renewed thing emerge. Recently in Kansas City, more than 700 people gathered for the second ever Microchurch Conference, presented by a collective of more than 20 established microchurch movements. Attendance was more than twice that of the initial conference, held two years earlier in Gainesville, Florida. Add to that more than 300 online attendees and the number of participants tripled. 

Pastors, scholars, missiologists, denomination leaders, and others widely agree we are not witnessing a fad. Microchurches have been around since the beginning of the church itself, so we can all agree we are not witnessing a new phenomenon. 

A common denominator among seasoned MC leaders is a departure from top-down, command-and-control styles of leadership. Pastors and leaders of these networks are embracing collaborative systems and structures that flow from Jesus as the head of his church and draw from the collective intelligence of the body of Christ for leadership. This is a sharp departure from the solo-heroic styles that marked the most recent decades that gave us the church growth and seeker church movements. Not only are microchurch leaders discovering a new (old) way of leading, but they are also discovering a lighter load and easier yoke in leadership. 

Let’s look at just a few of the ways microchurch leaders are discovering an easier and less weighty way to lead.

Realizing there is only one Atlas.

The prevailing models of solo-heroic pastoral leadership places a lone senior leader at the top of everyone else. His or her burden is to be the best speaker, marriage expert, parenting expert, top theologian, CEO, fundraiser, face of the church … it goes on and on. It is no wonder pastors are burning out and flaming out in a myriad of ways. No one is built to carry the weight that has become the job description of a pastor. Furthermore, we find no such construct from the New Testament. 

The metaphor Paul used often was the church as body — it was not a business. Most of all, the church was never intended to have the structure of the world of business. Jesus is head of the church and the rest of us are the body, with a myriad of functions, just like the parts that make up a human body. The structure that connects the body to its head begins with the Atlas Vertebrae (C1). When a misalignment between the Atlas and the Axis Vertebrae (C2) takes place, we enter a state of paralysis. In other words, we lose the dynamic that is movement

In the realm of chiropractic care, there exists a niche known as “upper-cervical care,” where the focus narrows down to the delicate alignment of the atlas and axis vertebrae. Here, the attention is less on the rest of the spinal column below this critical juncture. Unlike the stereotypical image of chiropractors engaging in vigorous snapping, popping, and cracking maneuvers, these practitioners adhere to a philosophy centered on the belief that by correcting the alignment of the C1 and C2 vertebrae, the rest of the spine will naturally fall into place over time. They maintain that misalignment in this specific area holds the key to impacting the entire nervous system, causing a ripple effect of neurological imbalance throughout the body.

Our body’s nervous system serves as the conduit through which every aspect of our being functions — our organs, cells, tissues, and limbs all rely on its intricate network. Its influence extends beyond the physical realm, shaping our emotional and psychological well-being. However, when the spinal cord, the guardian of this crucial system, falls into a state of subluxation, our body’s ability to function optimally is compromised, if not outright hindered. The testimonials of countless patients undergoing upper-cervical care attest to the profound healing and notable alleviation of various ailments, ranging from high blood pressure and digestive issues to allergies, fibromyalgia, and even fluctuations in white blood cell count.

The lesson here lies in the metaphor that we are not to function as an Atlas and, when we recognize and align ourselves to Jesus as the only head of the church, the body of Christ has its best shot for health and movement.

Disciplemaking becomes the culture.

In these small, intimate gatherings, individuals often take on greater responsibility for their spiritual journey and the growth of others within the community. This sense of ownership fosters a deeper commitment to disciplemaking and leadership development is a product, not a position. The dynamic of a genuine disciplemaking culture is the natural formation of a leadership pipeline. Best of all, the new leaders that emerge are disciplemakers at their core.

The emphasis on disciplemaking aligns closely with the ethos of microchurches. These small gatherings often prioritize discipleship over traditional institutional structures, focusing on nurturing and equipping believers to become disciplemakers themselves. In microchurches, leaders are not just instructors but facilitators of this disciplemaking process, empowering others to spread the faith organically. As individuals multiply disciples, they naturally step into leadership roles within their communities. 

Equipping replaces empowering.

Our task is to equip God’s people. Neither Jesus, nor the writers of the New Testament ever imply that we are to empower others. That is the task of the Holy Spirit, who is the only one with power worth giving in the first place. In the church, leaders do not empower fellow followers of Jesus. Rather, leaders create the systemic freedom and cultural conditions for the entire community to exercise their gifts and abilities. They seek to know their brothers and sisters and to do everything they can to help them to flourish and be all they can become as a fellow member of the corporate body, under Jesus’ headship.

Equipping others can include helping them discover their gifts and learning to use them by providing assessments, books, courses, or other training tools to outfit them best for their tasks. By identifying ourselves as equippers of others, we enhance our posture as servants. The leader wakes up each day asking the Lord to show her how she can serve those on her team, not how they can serve her.

Shared leadership includes accountability.

In God’s Kingdom-based leadership, freedom reigns supreme. However, this freedom doesn’t equate to a lack of accountability, quite the opposite, in fact. The more freedom within a culture, the greater the emphasis on personal responsibility and answerability. This is where the power of a decentralized, peer-based leadership culture truly shines. No one is exempt from being held accountable, regardless of their position or tenure. It’s not just about holding newer team members responsible for their actions. Even the most seasoned and prominent figures in the organization are held to task for their choices and conduct. Some fundamental principles for cultivating an atmosphere of freedom and empowerment includes …

1. Trusting people

The best work doesn’t come from individuals who constantly seek approval. Policies that hinder the creativity and initiative of capable individuals signal a lack of trust in our people and stifle innovation, daring, and progress.

2. Allowing others to put their unique touch on things

Nothing dampens someone’s spirit more than hearing the old refrain, “This is how we’ve always done it.” Many groundbreaking advancements in various fields wouldn’t have occurred if this mindset had prevailed. 

3. Releasing teams and individuals to set their own goals 

In organizations with a top-down management approach, goals are often dictated rather than collaboratively established. Such practices undermine ownership and disregard the insights and creativity of those closest to the task. In an environment built on trust, individuals frequently set more ambitious and innovative goals for themselves than those imposed from above. Ownership of goals begins when individuals have a hand in shaping them.

Aligning with our true calling as leaders in God’s Kingdom necessitates embracing a collaborative leadership model inspired by the structure of the human body. The goal is for the body of Christ to function as a network of interconnected and interdependent teams, each operating autonomously. Instead of wielding authority, leaders become facilitators and coaches, guiding and supporting team members as they contribute their unique ideas. By instilling a sense of ownership and responsibility among team members, this cellular structure empowers dynamic leadership and facilitates collective intelligence and creativity. Ultimately, it’s about disseminating the wisdom of the head throughout the body, ensuring a stronger, more effective church. When we think organically more than organizationally, we have moved a step closer to shifting the leadership burden onto the shoulders of Jesus.

As we navigate the ever-changing landscape of church leadership, it’s evident that traditional models are no longer sufficient for the challenges of our time. The rise of Microchurch Movements presents a beacon of hope amid the decline in church attendance and the overwhelming burden placed on pastors. The shift towards shared leadership within Microchurches offers a refreshing departure from the top-down, command-and-control structures of the past. It’s a return to the roots of the early church, where Jesus was recognized as the head, and each member played a vital role in the body of Christ.

But this movement isn’t just about nostalgia; it’s about practicality and effectiveness. Microchurch leaders are discovering that shared leadership lightens the load and fosters a culture of discipleship and empowerment.

Here’s where you come in:

  • Realize there is only one Atlas: Recognize that the burden of leadership doesn’t rest solely on one individual. Shift your focus to aligning yourself with Jesus as the head of the church, allowing the body of Christ to function healthily and move forward.
  • Make disciplemaking the culture: In Microchurches, disciplemaking is not just a program, but a way of life. Take ownership of your spiritual journey and empower others to do the same. Cultivate a disciplemaking culture where leadership development is a natural byproduct.
  • Equip and serve, don’t empower and supervise: Understand that true leadership isn’t about exerting power over others, but equipping them for their roles. Help others discover and utilize their gifts, fostering a culture of service and mutual support.
  • Embrace shared leadership with accountability: Foster an environment of trust and personal responsibility. Encourage freedom within boundaries and hold each other accountable for our actions and decisions.

By embracing shared leadership, we can ensure the vitality and effectiveness of the church for generations to come. Let’s work together to shift the leadership burden onto the shoulders of Jesus, where it rightfully belongs.

Are you ready to join the movement?

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Lance Ford

Lance Ford

Lance is the co-founder of the Sentralized Conference. With more than three decades experience as a pastor and church planter, he is a writer, coach, and consultant who has designed unique training systems currently being used by networks, seminaries, and leaders throughout the world. Lance holds a Master’s Degree in Global Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary and has written several books, including Next Door As It Is In Heaven and UnLeader. His newest book, The Starfish and The Spirit, is co-authored with Alan Hirsch and Rob Wegner.  
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