Decentralize Your Command

One night when I couldn't sleep I turned on a documentary about Navy Seals. Other than the sheer "cool factor" something hit me with how they operate versus how most of our churches operate. When a Navy Seal goes down a member of the team can step up and fill in. Why? Because they are highly cross trained elite fighting team. The Bible says we are in a war and as pastors of the greatest fighting unit known to man (the church) we need to take a few lessons and remove ourselves from the traditional and/or business style of our churches organizational structure.

So here's what happens at most churches. The outreach coordinator decides to move on. Now we're stuck trying to find a replacement. So fire up the "search committee" and let's vote and provide opportunity for division. So the process goes like this: position empty (panic), form committee, search, find "filler.", vote, install. Rinse. Repeat. Seems kinda tiring doesn't it? Almost, non-Biblical.

That night at "bloodshot eyes" o'clock in the morning, it hit me, we need to decentralize command in our church.

In a centralized command, like most churches, decisions are made at the top and fed down. Or if a decision needs made they are fed up the chain to the "board" or "elders." In centralized command it is the masses (congregation) supporting the few (pastor, elders, & leaders) at the top. If something happens to the central command, pastor leaves, elder board quits, etc. the head is removed and the church struggles to survive. In addition, in this traditional command chain all the pressure is at the point (tip) of the spear. Everything weighs on the pastor and elders. That's part of the reason pastors are quitting in droves.

We changed that structure in our church. We lead based on what we termed as a "web style leadership." Where the pastor (me) empower the team leads (more like catalysts not leads but that's another blog) to make things happen. The leads each work their teams. The teams radiate out, like the ends of the spider web attach to multiple structures. This way if the children's lead gets "detached" the web can still function. If the center is cut out (pastor and elders) the web is still functional because it is still attached elsewhere around the outer edges of where the center was. In our "web structure" myself or our elders do not get into the weeds of the children's ministry, etc. Why? Because our children's minister works with his team and others to make things happen. If our children's ministry wants to do an outreach our children's lead gets with the outreach lead and communications lead, etc. and together with their teams put something together. Myself and elders support, empower, serve, and/or get out of the way. We don't form committees to make decisions.

The area leads (children's, outreach, worship, etc.) minister and serve as visionary, pastor and catalyst for change and empower their people. Those leads work and serve others on the team and so on. Each team works with one another on sharing resources, not competing. This frees our elders to NOT be the "sheriffs" of the church but rather a true extension of the head elder, the pastor. Our elders are free to minister, love, disciple, develop relationships and spiritually care for others. Sounds Biblical doesn't it?

What happens is that our team leads (catalysts) are empowered. They don't answer to committees or elder boards to make decisions. Instead we've turned that on its head. Just last night I had a conversation with the two leads (yes two leads) over sound, lighting and video. They wanted my opinion on what to do. I kicked the ball back to them and said, "Get with your team and ya'll make a decision. I'll provide the money and we'll identify a project manager to walk alongside you to make changes happen." Why? Because our command is decentralized. As leader my job is to empower them to accomplish their goals. Yes, the leads do have "final say" just like a SEAL commander has final say but NOT without a lot of input and cross pollination from other areas.

Recently, myself and our elders had breakfast, you know what we discussed? Not church issues (putting out fires), polity, doctrine, etc. We discussed how we can better disciple our leads to be better pastors of those they work alongside of. We are more concerned about their spiritual development, families, how they're making disciples, etc. than anything else. I think Jesus would have done the same.

Jocko Willink, a former Navy Seal writes in his book, "Extreme Ownership", "The effectiveness of Decentralized Command is critical to the success of any team in any industry. In chaotic, dynamic, and rapidly changing environments, leaders at all levels must be empowered to make decisions. Decentralized Command is a key component to victory."

Ford, Wegner, and Hirsch in their book, "The Starfish and the Spirit" emphasize the importance of churches to be able to be be more like a Starfish than a Spider. The point is that a starfish can be cut in half and survive. In fact, you will now have two star fish. If you cut off the head of a spider it's dead. In traditional church structure remove the pastor or few key leaders and the local congregation is dead. However, based on our web leadership model we could be heavily damaged in one area but because of cross pollination and cross work we continue on in ministry. While most are trying to constantly fill the "leadership void" by developing leaders to fill holes, consider this, the word "leader" is used only six times in the New Testament, while the word servant is used over 600 times. In the web we are all serving each other based on our gifting the result is that "leaders", if you want to call them that, emerge. A better word for leader is catalyst.

Another example, the lady who helps to lead outreach recently could not fill her role as life events got in the way. You know what happened? With the web model outreaches went right on as people filled the gap because we were already cross sharing and serving one another.

So while we call our "leads", "leads", they are really more like disciples, coaches and catalyst creators with vision. It has caused our church to be less of an institution and more of an organic being.

Below is a visual of traditional church structure. As you can see it all rises and falls based on the leader. It is siloed and doesn't very much look like the church in the book of Acts. Looking from the top down it's coned shaped, remove the top, it dies:

Below is our structure we've labeled "the web." You'll notice the side view, there is no hierarchy but a working alongside:

Is your church more of an "institution" or an organic being working alongside one another. Pastors, in our model you and your elders still have responsibility for creating vision, providing direction and authority to let people go when needed. However, your people feel much more empowered and the pressure of decision making and decision fatigue astronomically decrease.

How might the web structure better serve your church? Your community? Pastor, how might this lighten your load to lead?

Are times with the church chaotic and war like? Yes! Is our environment rapidly changing? Yes! Pastor, in a Decentralized Command model, are you still the leader and visionary for your church? Yes! But your role changes from decision maker to decision empowerer (I made up that word).

If you would like a free consultation on how to strengthen or change your church leadership structure you can email me at