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Church news, Tim Tseng update

Alignment versus Autonomy

March 22, 2012

Dear Canaan EM’ers and friends,

How are you doing? You may have noticed that I haven’t written our e-newsletter for the past two weeks. In part, this was due to the annual crush of program planning that Canaan is accustomed to doing every Spring.

But two recent developments have made me more introspective about my role in our church. First, I was part of an assessment team that analyzed a troubled local Asian American congregation. Our team concluded that its Chinese language pastor had to be let go in order for the church to survive. Second, Mike D’Antoni, the basketball coach responsible for Lin-sanity, resigned as the head coach of the New York Knicks.

Both incidents reminded me that leadership is a fragile and fleeting vocation. It is easy to lose transparency and trust.

I think this is why, in the letter to the Hebrews, church members are encouraged to cooperate with their leaders:

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith…Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. – Hebrews 13:7, 17

As one who serves under authority, I must do my best to remember, imitate, and express confidence in my leader. This does not mean that I have to agree with everything that my leader says or does, but it is my responsibility to communicate that I’m all about “building up the church” above all else (see I Corinthians 14).

But leaders also have a responsibility to lead well, for they “must give an account” to God. The two recent incidences that gave me pause are classic cases where a leader has lost his ability to balance alignment and autonomy – and could no longer lead effectively.


The pastor who was let go placed too much emphasis on “vision alignment.” He was so focused on getting everyone to conform to his vision that he ended up bullying and manipulating the church members to get what he wanted. It didn’t matter if his intentions were good or that the results were beneficial for the long-term health of the church. Once he tried to force alignment to his vision, he lost the trust of his members and rendered the church’s internal culture very unhealthy. In this situation, the pastor had to leave regardless of how many years of excellent ministry he provided.


The lesson I drew from Mike D’Antoni was, in some ways, just the opposite. Known as a nice guy who treated his players like mature adults, he did not seek accountability to a common vision. Lin-sanity ended when injured superstars returned to the lineup and chose not to play hard. In some cases, they did not even follow the system he established for the team. Allowing too much autonomy and too little accountability, D’Antoni could no longer motivate his players to play hard for him and the Knicks lost six games in a row. As a smart coach, he knew that he could no longer lead effectively once he “lost” his team. So he resigned. The Knicks, by the way, have not lost since then. The new coach’s first words were “I’m holding everyone accountable.”

I share this with you NOT because I’m having second thoughts about serving as your pastor. I believe that God has called me to Canaan for his purpose. But please be aware that I am always assessing the effectiveness of my leadership and our English ministry’s leadership. I hope that, together, we will balance alignment with autonomy.

Canaan’s English ministry has a bright future. As we seek to walk like Jesus’ disciples, please continue to pray for our leaders, encourage them, and help them balance alignment and autonomy!

See you Sunday!

Tim Tseng , Ph.D. 曾 祥 雨
Pastor of English Ministries


About Tim Tseng, Ph.D.

I am Pacific Area Director of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship's Graduate and Faculty Ministries. I'm also a historian, theological educator, and pastor.


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