Empowering Leadership

“Get in where you fit in!” Pastor John Stroeh


artwork by Troy Terpstra

Radically hospitable churches invited new people into service and leadership from the get go.

I noticed that welcoming churches believe everyone-no matter how rough-comes with gifts and talents that can benefit the larger body and work to plug them in early on. Hospitable leadership empowers its people cultivating a sense of acceptance, ownership, and the dignity of being a valuable contributor.

(For stories of empowering leadership, click on the green tabs below)

Welcoming the Disabled

(Fresh Wind; Abbotsford, BC) Fresh Wind’s church leadership holds a strong conviction that the Holy Spirit is present in EVERY Jesus follower. This theology is very empowering to the members who are disabled because they are just as qualified as anyone else to be used by God. The church leadership sets an example of paying attention to and honoring the Holy Spirit’s working in churchs’ members with disabilities. An example is a congregant named Eddy with Down’s syndrome who was unable to read but spent hours pouring through Scripture. The leadership tells stories about a few critical moments in the congregational life where a leader asked Eddy for a Scripture and Eddy pointed to a verse that was needed at that moment. Another example is Phil, a non-verbal man confined to a wheelchair, who carries a very strong presence of God in his person. Many congregational members report that they have powerful God encounters simply by sitting next to this resident.

Welcoming the Prisoner

(Northern Lighthouse Mission; Lincoln, NE) Empowerment is in the DNA of Northern Lighthouse. It was central to founder Sam Keyzer and is now lived out by Jeff Heerspink, the current pastor. The church leadership empowers its members not only out of conviction but out of need. There is a lot going on at Northern Lighthouse that relies on volunteer help. The congregation has a few mature and trusted congregants but is mostly former-inmates, many of whom are just learning what it means to follow Jesus. Jeff Heerspink talks about how empowering people can be compared to a “dance”. Church leadership will give newer members smaller responsibilities/service roles such as cooking a meal or being a bus sponsor to pick up prisoners on Sundays. The leadership then watches how the individual handles these responsibilities. If they can’t handle the role, or use their power in a harmful or irresponsible way, the church leadership steps in and talks to them about it. They will decide to take them out of the role or build in more accountability. Though messy and difficult, Northern Ligththouse leadership has found giving interested congregants responsibility can be a fast track for building character and maturity and benefit the church with establishing unexpected leaders.

Welcoming Shared Life

(Grandview Calvary Baptist; Vancouver, BC) Tim Dickau, the head pastor of Grandview for the last twenty five years, is a leader whose strength is empowerment. Congregants joke that if you talk to Tim for more than five minutes, he will have found out what you are passionate about, referred you to connect with another congregation member and signed you up to help out in some way. Congregants have many opportunities for involvement at Grandview from helping make meals for the homeless, working with kids, being on various non-profit committees to church staff job postings. It is the type of church community where a person can be involved as they wish to be. In fact, most congregants find they have to start saying no to things to keep their life manageable!

Welcoming Diversity

(Peace Lutheran; Tacoma, WA) Peace Lutheran’s Pastor John Stroeh talks about how empowerment in congregations is an ideal often tried and abandoned because it is very messy and inefficient to live out. He knows from experience how it is easier to keep responsibility with the few who have proved themselves effective and faithful. However, he says just because it is easier, doesn’t mean it is better. Peace Lutheran doesn’t just talk about diversity but works hard to embody this value in its everyday life.The leadership models and has cultivated a deep respect in the congregation for those coming from the neighborhood (especially congregants who represent neighborhood minorities or who have come out of hard life circumstances such as homelessness or addiction). Both former Pastor Pleahn and current Pastor Stroeh have led with the belief that the perspective and involvement of minority congregants is vital for the congregation to be relevant and connected to the neighborhood. These diverse congregation members often serve as important bridge people knowing how to reach out to those who are even more on the fringes. However, Pastor John acknowledges the messiness inherit in giving responsibility to people who are still rough around the edges (and he can tell many stories of how it plays out!) One of the biggest challenges is the amount of extenuating circumstances (lack of transport, health or family crisis, depression) in peoples’ lives which makes it hard for them to be faithful to their responsibilities. The leadership tries to eliminate and help people overcome the obstacles to participation while simultaneously encouraging its congregants to own their responsibilities.