In our experience planting Valley Life, we’ve come to identify various leadership personalities. We boiled it down to two basic categories: you could call them starters and finishers, optimists and realists, but we came to refer to them as gas and brakes. In a way, both approaches are needed, but there are specific roles in which each can build a stronger leadership team.

The Gas

Fairly self-explanatory, gas leaders are always racing ahead. They see the big picture in terms of grand goals they can’t yet achieve, and they don’t care about the details. You need gas to plant a church. Without gas, you won’t start a second service; you won’t look for that better facility; you’ll be satisfied to reach few, so long as you don’t fail outright.

Gas pushes other leaders to take risks, stretches them to lead in new ways, and encourages those who aren’t leading to start. They tend to see the good of the individual and the good of the church as the same thing. You’ll be surprised what you can accomplish if you let the gas push you. But if you only have gas, you’re in trouble. Gas leaders will make promises they can’t keep, lose track of original vision, and cause unintentional relational damage because they are always running and seldom paying attention.

The Brakes

These leaders also see a big picture, but theirs is far more structured. They can see how the next stage could be achieved with current resources. If your church plant lacks brakes, then nobody is minding the details, worrying about credibility, providing follow-through, and generally thinking about the long-term sustainability of the ministry. Brakes can tell you what’s wrong with your plan, but it’s not pessimism or negativity. That’s how brakes help you succeed: by seeing the problems and dealing with them ahead of time. But if they go unchecked, brakes will never grow for fear of failing. They will never let you down, but they will also never promise anything big.

Full disclosure: I am brakes. While working with Brian in the early years of planting Valley Life | Tramonto, we quickly identified the gas/brakes dynamic, though it took a couple of years to truly understand one another in this regard (Brian is gas, or possibly an after-market Nitrous kit). We’ve experienced both the ups and the downs of this relationship. Here’s what happens when gas and brakes don’t trust one another or listen, and the dynamic breaks down:

Finding the Balance

Brakes tend to think that gas is irresponsible; gas reacts by getting tired of brakes always throwing cold water on its ideas. As a result, both tend to marginalize one another, choosing to associate and share ideas with people more like themselves. After all, that’s much more comforting. After a while, gas inevitably flames out in some way. Brakes just sits in the corner, waiting for someone to tell them they were right all along. It’s a long wait.

That’s a dark picture, but also an unnecessary one. For the most part, the two make one another better. Trust is the key factor in this dynamic, as is a very open dialogue in which both are on the same side of the table, helping one another face the same problem.

Over time I’ve concluded that to be the lead pastor of a church plant, you probably need to be gas. The lead pastor needs to be someone who runs out in front, waving the flag, and brakes don’t do that very naturally. I suppose I could be proven wrong, but it’s not likely. But in addition to gas as a lead pastor, you need to have brakes that the pastor trusts. Both leaders need to respect what the other brings, and both need to understand that they each have the best interest of the church (and one another) in mind. Gas should try to help brakes see and reach a higher potential. Brakes should (lovingly) protect gas from its own worst instincts.

What Now?

Where does that leave you? Are you a gas leader, considering or perhaps already engaged in planting a church? Stop what you’re doing, and find your brakes. They will make your church better in the long run. Are you brakes? Consider for a moment that the lead planting position might not be the best fit for you. Instead, you could be invaluable as part of a leadership team, helping another leader create a stronger church than they ever could have. Sure, that’s less of a spotlight position, but if you’re brakes that shouldn’t bother you at all.

Todd Flaming

Todd Flaming

Todd Flaming is a founding member of Valley Life | Tramonto, where he serves on the worship team and assists with church planting strategy.