A relationship based approach of leadership theory known as Leader-Member Exchange provides a tool to understand the perceived tendency of Baptist pastors to digress from traditional servant models of leadership toward a "great man theory" (Rost 1993) or "heroic leadership" (Burns 1975) which has led to member dissatisfaction and conflict in some churches. This leadership praxis tends to exclude the majority of Baptist members from leadership and places such leadership over and above them. Resulting in compliance, conformity and disempowerment.
The objectives of the research were to propose a new hypothesis and definition of Baptist leadership based on the work of Uhl-Bien and Rost. The hermeneutical methodology involved a method of continuous reflective interaction between theory, literature and empirical results. The data were collected from six Baptist churches in both South Africa and the USA by means of an extensive questionaire which explored the perceptions of Baptist church members toward their leadership in general and their pastor as the leader in particular.
The results of the research demonstrated that in situations where there were higher levels of LMX, positive outcomes were noted, particularly in the freedom to exercise authority and decision making.
Baptist church structure has been called "congregational" for centuries, and the leadership paradigm has been referred to commonly as "servant leadership". However, history and experience may have parted ways, suggesting that, with regard to leadership, many Baptist pastors struggle in apophatic darkness, by simply stating what Baptist leadership is NOT: Presbyterian, monarchial or some other paradigm. Perhaps it could be referred to as "mamgement by design".
Three of the many options for church structure found in Baptist praxis were studied and it is discussed how LMX theory may assist in the evaluation of leadership in the local church within those particular paradigms.