Churches just might be the least clarified organizations in our society; I believe one of the reasons is a lack of understanding among these three types of leadership—vision, management, and governance. Recently, God has given me numerous opportunities to assist churches with what Patrick Lencioni calls “creating organizational clarity” in his book, The Four Obsessions of the Extraordinary Executive. It’s always interesting to draw out the organization as the leaders describe it to me (the real organization typically looks different than any org chart they have been using). Then I’ll ask what works well and not so well, followed by comments about vagueness and duplication. This always leads to a lack of freedom to lead well, holding back from tough decisions, and a lack of progress toward vision and mission.

Have you heard the question, “Who leads at your church?” or “Is your church board-led, elder-led, staff-led, or pastor-led?” I believe these are absolutely the wrong questions. The right question is this, “What leadership roles are held by whom in your church?” It’s a lack of clarity in answering this question that leads to a breakdown in organizational clarity throughout the church.

The old differentiation between leadership and management (e.g., determining which wall the ladder should lean against vs. climbing the ladder, etc.) has always been incomplete and misleading. I believe that management is a type of leadership. Peter Drucker said that managers had better have a measure of what we traditionally call “leadership” and that leaders had better have a measure of what we traditionally call “management” in order to be successful.

And “governance” is usually left out of the discussion altogether. What exactly is that?

So, here are some brief definitions that I propose:

  • Vision leadership is setting the direction of the church, fleshing out how to get the church moving in that direction (strategy), creating a climate and culture that aligns with that direction, and executing in continually moving in that direction.
  • Management is the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively. It comprises planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling for the purpose of accomplishing a goal.
  • Governance is insuring that the church is pointed toward the right target, that it is moving at the right pace toward that target, and that it stays in-bounds as it does so.

Can you see that all three of these are types of leadership? But clarifying the difference is the first step in bringing clarity to your organization.

The second step is to determine who should be doing each of these in your church.

Frankly, in most churches the board is mostly managing, the pastor and staff are also trying to manage, and there is no one providing vision leadership or governance. So here’s the ideal division of roles.

  • The Pastor should be the point leader in vision leadership.
  • The Board should govern as its primary function.
  • The staff should provide the primary management, working in conjunction with the key lay leaders, who should work under the direction and support of the staff. If the church is too small to have staff other than the pastor, then lay leaders should provide this. The Board, in this case, will also be a management board, making many management decisions.

Now just how the vision is developed is another subject, but the bottom line is that it should be done with the involvement of the Board and staff. And exactly what governance looks like is also an entire subject to itself. You can read about both on my website

But the beginning of clarity is to come to grips with the fact that there are different leadership roles. Minimizing the overlap among these roles for the pastor, board, and staff, especially as the church grows, is the pathway to organizational clarity and church effectiveness, helping the church become a more beautiful Bride of Christ.