Liberty Church is a dynamic, progressive church of 550 adults and 300 children in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Unusual for a Southern Baptist Church, it is governed by a Board of Elders—and the ministry is carried out through teams. The church has over fifty percent of the congregation involved in ministry. Liberty dares to think and act as a maverick, setting the pace for future churches. Yet, it was not always so …
After ten years as Liberty’s Pastor, Paul Taylor began to realize he and the church needed to change. Sometimes dictatorial and overseeing every detail, Brother Paul was not happy with who he had become. He believed the church could not grow as it was organized. The process of deciding on how and what to change took four years. In 2002, the church had changed to a team ministry concept and hired Nathan Baxter as Executive Pastor.
So now the XP has been hired, but what would be expected of him in the first year. High hopes marked Nathan’s entrance. But, how would Paul, Nathan, the Elders and church members cope with the first-year challenges of having a powerful XP manage the staff and oversee ministry?
Stirrings for Change
The Executive Pastor of Liberty is writing his Doctor of Ministry dissertation on the use of volunteers at Liberty. Baxter writes about the stirrings for change:
Liberty church was started in 1982. After twelve years, the church’s growth began to plateau. This triggered an effort to understand why the church was not growing as it had. One of the issues discovered was that the church had many very capable leaders in its congregation who were not being used in leadership positions. These positions were filled with professional clergy. Most of these clergy were trained in conservative seminaries and were very committed to the local church. They were given positions of decision-making and the congregation was supposed to get involved and rally around its leadership. The problem was that many of the staff were not gifted leaders. They were good men and women, but found themselves in the wrong positions.
Paul Taylor came to Liberty Church as the Pastor in 1986. Ten years later, through a gift assessment indicator, Paul realized significant traits about himself. He saw himself with the gifts of teaching, administration and exhortation. On reflection, one may wonder whether he saw administration as a gift or as a role that he filled.
The personality traits that he valued were being firm, strong and assertive. Yet, something else was happening—Paul was feeling overworked, “burning the candle at both ends.” Many people in the church who were capable of leadership were not in leadership roles. At this time, some might have seen him as being demanding. Being the pastor of a church required him to lead, to correct and ensure that everything at the church went properly. He saw himself as a driver of people and ministry. He was in charge and wanted the congregation to accomplish tasks. Some saw him as dominant and caustic. In order to survive, perhaps that was the way that successful pastors had to be.
The structure of the church put Paul and his staff at the center of all ministries. The Bylaws of the church were clear about the role of the Senior Pastor. He was in charge of all church services:
The Senior Pastor/Teacher shall arrange for and/or conduct all services of the church. He shall be chosen by the Elders and presented to the Church Body at a meeting(s) called for that purpose. In the interest of being sensitive to the Body, the Elders shall then invite response concerning his qualifications, capabilities, and calling. A final decision shall then be made by the Elders. The term of office is the same as that for an Elder.
This is common for churches and generally signifies that the Senior Pastor is the main preacher in the worship services and oversees the services.
While the following may be common in some Baptist churches, it accentuates the role and importance of the Senior Pastor:
Special meetings of the members may be called at any time by order of the Senior Pastor/Teacher, the Chairman or Vice Chairman of the Elders, or by a quorum of the members of the Elders. Notice of special meetings shall be given from the pulpit at least seven (7) days prior to the meeting.
The Pastor was in a powerful position, even able to call special meetings of the church.
Whether Liberty consciously desired to follow a business model, where some corporations have one person as Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer, the church did invest in the Senior Pastor those titles and roles:
The Chairman of the Elders shall serve as the Chief Executive Officer and President of the Corporation and shall preside at all meetings of the Elders. He shall supervise the activities, officers, and employees of the Corporation under the oversight of the Elders. The Senior Pastor/Teacher shall be the Chairman.
The role of the Chairman is generally one of overseeing and guiding the Board, otherwise terms such as “moderator” or “facilitator” are used. This article in the Bylaws invested the Senior Pastor with the responsibility of overseeing the other Elders. This means that the Senior Pastor sets the agenda and chairs the meetings.
As the executive officer of the church, the Bylaws spelled out that it was his role to select new staff, or empower others under him to select new staff:
All other staff shall be chosen by the Senior Pastor/Teacher or his selected representative, subject to approval of the Elders.
On the positive side, this clause allows for delegation. Yet, it also requires that all staff be approved by the Elders. While this model may be effective for a church of two hundred and three staff members, it proved onerous with a staff of nine people.
What can be seen is that the governing structure of Liberty Church put the Senior Pastor in the nexus of all church ministry. The Senior Pastor was to conduct all services, be CEO, President, Chairman of the Elders and Personnel Officer. The pressures on the Senior Pastor must have been tremendous. As George Barna has pointed out, most pastors do not view leadership as their primary gift:
Barna goes on to say that “Leadership, for most pastors, is just one of those unfortunate duties they must endure as part of the deal that allows them to do that which really turns them on—preaching and teaching.”
This data from Barna fits with the changes that most Pastors desire. Ken Gangel begins his chapter entitled, Designing the Playbook: Creative Administration, with thoughts on the pressures:
A nationwide survey conducted by Your Church magazine discovered that 61 percent of pastors would spend less time in meetings if they could, 37 percent would spend less time mediating conflict, and 34 percent would spend less time counseling. If they could gain that time, they would spend it in evangelism (58 percent), personal devotions (66 percent), sermon preparation (73 percent), and prayer (75 percent).
The demands of the church were weighing on Senior Pastor Paul Taylor. He began to devalue the personality traits of the gentle shepherd, humility, care and kindness. His people skills were coming to an all-time low. Some were saying that he needed to be sensitive to the needs of the congregation and to understand their problems.
If this was Paul on a good day, then under pressure things could get worse. At times, some saw him as domineering and angry. Others might be more gracious in their assessment and say that he was “just intense,” or “the demands of being a pastor can call for that type of action.” If an intense situation arose, Paul might become moody or negative. One person said that he needed to “loosen up.”
What Paul needed to do was to better consider his actions and remove himself from some of the ministries of the church. But how? A church can only hire so many staff. He considered whether he had hired the wrong people for the staff. Who would pick up the pieces of ministry if Paul said he couldn’t oversee everything any longer? The Bylaws called for him to be the President, CEO, Peacher, Personnel Officer and Chairman of the Board. How could he and the church change?
Just as the Senior Pastor was a powerful position in the church, so was the Board of Elders. The Board was not elected or affirmed by the congregation, but new Elders were appointed by the existing Board:
The Elders shall select any new Elders. As the need arises the church members will be given the opportunity to suggest men for the office of Elder. A committee consisting of Elders shall review the suggestions. This committee shall bring a recommendation to the entire body of Elders. After a review and any possible changes, the Elders shall publish a list of proposed Elders to the church members inviting response concerning any questions about the qualifications of anyone on the list. After a period of not less than one month the Elders shall present the final list to the church members for the setting apart of those men to the office of Elder. The newly appointed Elders shall then begin to serve immediately.
This is done in other churches (see the Stonebriar Case Study where their board self-selects new Elders). The congregation of Liberty Church was invited to nominate and give comments on new Elders, but not to select them.
While the following item may be unique to the laws of the state of Oklahoma, it does signify that the Elders are overseers of the corporation. The Board of Elders were the members of the corporation, not the congregation:
The Corporation shall have no members. Any action which would otherwise require approval by a majority of all members shall only require approval of the Elders. All rights which would otherwise vest in the members shall vest in the Elders.
The Bylaws continue on this issue:
Nothing contained in Section 1 of this Article shall be construed to limit the right of the Corporation to refer to persons associated with the Corporation as “Members” even though such persons are not corporate members, and no such reference in or outside of these Bylaws shall constitute anyone being a corporate member. The Corporation may confer, by amendment of its Articles or these Bylaws, some or all of the rights of a corporate member, as set forth and determined by the Elders, upon any person or persons who do not have the right to vote for the election of officers or on a disposition of substantially all of the assets of the Corporation or on a merger or on a dissolution or on changes to the Corporations Articles or Bylaws.
This did not mean that attendees could not join the church. This means that congregants were not members of the Corporation.
Congregants could join the church and become members of the church, and voting privileges were extended to youth:
Membership in this church shall not vest in any member any proprietary rights in the Corporation, but shall only entitle the member to vote at meetings of the members on those matters submitted to the church membership by the Elders. Voting privileges are restricted to members who have passed their twelfth (12th) birthday. Membership shall not be assignable inter vitos by any member, nor shall membership vest to any personal representative, heir or devisee.
Other than not voting for Elders, and the approval of Deacons (see below), the Bylaws leave as unsaid the possible voting issues for the membership.
The entire text of Article VIII is next given, which shows the significance of peacemaking and dispute resolution in the church:
In any dispute arising between church members, pastors, or staff pertaining to any matters of spiritual teaching or practices, church finances or title to property purchased with church contributions, the dispute shall be resolved by the Elders of the church. A decision shall be reached after prayerful consideration in a spirit of humility, with each Elder regarding one another before himself.
With a strong Board, the church saw the need for a mechanism for members to approach the Board with issues:
Any church member with voting privileges may meet privately with the Elders by requesting to be placed on the agenda one week prior to the next scheduled meeting. Such requests may be made through the Pastor’s secretary.
Some saw this structure as not motivating volunteers for ministry. Some asked “why get involved as we can’t make decisions?” Others saw the structure as demoralizing. The strong Board approach allowed for input, but final decision-making, by the Elders. Further, the Board confirmed new members:
All requests for membership shall be made in person during those times set apart for such requests. The Elders will review all requests for membership and will present new members to the body.
Giving further clarity to potential problems and conflicts regarding church members, the Bylaws give the following under the title of “Principle of Elder Rule:”
The decisions made by the Elders concerning church membership shall be final and there shall be no appeal to any court from that decision.
Thus, the Board was the ultimate arbitrator of disputes in the church.
Instead of having a mechanism for rotation, the Bylaws show a preference for longevity. “The term of office for an Elder shall be for life, with the exceptions as outlined in Article VII, Section 5.”
The Bylaws also call for Deacons. The Deacons are to be selected by the members, interviewed and endorsed by the Elders and affirmed by the members:
Deacons shall be selected by the church members. As the need arises the church members will be given the opportunity to nominate men for the office of Deacon. The Elders shall interview these nominees in light of the qualifications stated in Article IX, Section 1. After a review and any possible changes, the Elders shall publicly post the list of the newly nominated Deacons. This list will then be presented to the church membership for their approval. These Deacons shall then begin to serve immediately.
Once selected, endorsed and affirmed, the Deacon is appointed for life. However, this aspect of the Bylaws has not been followed and the church sees it as out of date. Some leaders see the need for a major revision of the Bylaws. The Executive Pastors says, “we do not have Deacons but ministry teams who perform the biblical function of Deacons.”
This section shows that Liberty had Bylaws that empower a strong Board model, with limited voting and decision-making by the congregation. The previous sections showed that the Senior Pastor was the leader of the Elder Board, as well as undertaking his other responsibilities. With all of these duties colliding on one man, it is no wonder that Paul Taylor was feeling the need for a change.
The Perfect Storm
Liberty Church describes the events of 2002 as a Perfect Storm. The preceding sections show the origins of the storm. For several years the church had evaluated how to face those issues and grow to a new level of effectiveness. The leaders of Liberty Church assert that there are at least three events that caused the Perfect Storm.
The first factor was the conclusion of a four-year project of organizational restructuring. The church leaders even go so far as to say a complete restructuring. The Executive Pastor writes about the period:
In 1998, the Senior Pastor convinced the staff and the elders that it was time for the church as an organization to “reinvent itself.” He realized that the ministry management model was not producing the results he was looking for and that it limited the number of people who could serve. After serving twelve years as the Senior Pastor, he knew that the church needed self-renewal. There were many highly capable leaders in the church who were not in leadership roles. In many cases, they served under pastors who, although they were valuable to the organization, they simply were weak leaders. The organizational structure used was a traditional flat management model with straight-line organizational charts where the people at the top were paid and everyone else were volunteers. This method of organizing ministry, therefore, relegated men and women who were leaders in their secular jobs to very small leadership roles, simply because there was no room on the chart for them.
The church leaders desired to leave no area of the church untouched by their review and overhaul. Of major importance was the fact that the church went from a staff-led ministry to a team ministry concept. A significant term for the church was team. They wanted to move away from ministry leadership by a single man or woman. The Executive Pastor says the church calls this “ministry in isolation.” They wanted to move toward teams of gifted people working together to lead and perform ministry.
Once the restructuring was formed, a mechanism was needed to implement the plan. To achieve the restructuring, Liberty began a Strategic Leadership Team. The Strategic Leadership Team would be responsible for all the other teams and include both paid staff and volunteers. The Strategic Leadership Team would have oversight for Operations, Spiritual Formation, Outreach and Worship Arts. Key to Liberty’s model was utilizing both paid staff and volunteer staff (see below). Interesting to note is that from the inception of the Strategic Leadership Team, the church desired to put volunteer staff on that team. The church updated the term “staff” to include both paid and unpaid members. The church also recognized that for the organization to accomplish its ministry purpose, someone needed to lead the new Strategic Leadership Team, someone other than the Senior Pastor.
The second factor of the Perfect Storm was the adoption by the Elders of a five-year Envisioned Future. The Envisioned Future was adopted, as well as a statement of Vivid Description.
The Envisioned Future of Liberty Church
The overall visionary outcome for Liberty Church in five years is that every day someone receives Jesus Christ through relationships with transformed believers of Liberty Church.
The Vivid Description of Liberty Church
- That people who attend Liberty Church will use the front door of their home as an entrance to the church.
- That people who attend Liberty Church experience personal transformation through the pursuit of an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
- That people who attend Liberty Church find meaning in life by living with an eternal perspective as fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
- That people who attend Liberty Church will have their need to belong fulfilled in small loving communities.
- That people who attend Liberty Church embrace their call from God to evangelize the world.
- That the campus of Liberty Church is a vibrant redemptive center.
The church experienced the convergence of the three factors to create, what Liberty calls, A Perfect Storm. For example, the organizational reorganization from the first factor produced the Strategic Leadership Team. This Team would be a vital component of the second factor. To achieve the Envisioned Future, the Strategic Leadership Team would be needed to champion that vision statement. The Team would ensure that all other teams in the church were aligned with the vision and working toward achieving the vision. The goal was to keep all of the church’s energy focused in accomplishing the Envisioned Future.
Paid and Volunteer Staff
Just as the first two factors are tied tightly together, the third factor in the Perfect Storm is tied to the first factor. The church realized that it had many talented and gifted people as members and regular attendees. These men and women were willing to serve the church by giving significant amounts of time each week, some upwards of one or two business days.
From the first factor, in developing the Organizational Restructure, the leaders saw that the existing paid staff would be insufficient to implement the Envisioned Future. Further, there would be deep struggles for the paid staff as they tried to be effective in the new organization. To achieve the Envisioned Future, paid staff would need to serve in their areas of giftedness, calling, passion and experience. It would be important to evaluate the existing paid staff. Some of the paid staff might have to be retrained for their positions. Others might not make the adjustment and need to be relocated to other areas of the church or be moved off the paid staff to unpaid staff. Looking back, the Executive Pastor sees eight aspects of volunteerism needed in the church at that time:
- Volunteers need to be treated equally as the paid staff.
- Volunteers need to be recognized and rewarded.
- Volunteers need to be given serious levels of responsibility.
- Leaders of the organization need to be open to change and have credibility with the volunteers.
- The vi