I am the Executive Director of a national ministry. I oversee 13 staff across six cities. Annually we host 3,000 participants; some come for a week while others stay for a year. It would be easy to assume that my role grants me a lot of power. There is a sense in which this is true. My commitment to face-to-face relationships has earned me a certain measure of influence and this can be powerful.
This past weekend our Atlanta board held its annual retreat. I was once again reminded of the unique organization that DOOR is. Top down leadership has never been part of the DNA. Organizationally DOOR is committed to local leadership and local control. The implications of this are quite significant. Our national board only makes decisions that it absolutely must make. The result of this is that I work with six local boards, one for each DOOR location. Each of these boards is responsible for the local program, budget, and vision.
As the Executive Director I am tasked with the responsibility of working with each of these local boards. My primary responsibility is to remind members of our philosophy of ministry and common core commitments and to share best practices between the locations. Unlike some of my counterparts in other ministries I do not have the power to hire and fire staff. I cannot come in and get rid of board members because they have offended me. I am given a voice to share concerns and make recommendations but I cannot act unilaterally.
My term for how DOOR does leadership is “distributed power.” There is no one person, denominational partner, or local board that carries a power trump card. Decision making is always shared.
When I think back to 1994 when I first started working for DOOR I had dreams about what it meant to be the “top dog.” Most of these dreams put me in the role of “benevolent dictator.” The idea of being wise, nice, and unquestioned was intoxicating. This is not how DOOR turned out.
Years ago Garth Brooks sang a song about thanking God for unanswered prayers. Today I find myself in that place. I am the Executive Director. My ideas are constantly questioned and my recommendations are not always followed. Volunteers, Dwellers, board members, and staff regularly wonder about my “wise” counsel.
The implications of this? I do not stand alone. When decisions are made, whether good or bad, there is a community that stands behind them. Even more significant is that distributed power makes space for everyone. It is way of doing leadership that has allowed DOOR to become a wonderful expression of the diversity of the kingdom of God. It is energizing to share power between men and women; people of color and Anglos; US citizens, documented and undocumented immigrants; straight and gay; Liberal and conservative; Pentecostals, Mennonites, non-denominational, Presbyterian, Four-square and 18 other denominational traditions.
Power is dangerous, especially when it is held by one person or group. The only way I know how to tame the destructive nature of power is to share it.