Before you read on let me state that the forthcoming thoughts are from my heart. As simple, wrong, unorganized and pointless as they may be, they are still my thoughts. I am writing them to clear my head and to process them as well. I’m sure you great theologians and scholars will pick me apart, and that’s cool. Like yourselves, I’m looking for answers and it’s not enough to tritely say, “Jesus is the answer.” Let’s help each other grow and keep moving forward in our faith.
Leadership. This has been the hot topic of many blogs by missional leaders, and in my neck of the woods as well. It’s an important issue because we are in the midst of a spiritual paradigm shift in the Church that is bringing all areas of church life under the scrutiny of the scripture. Not that we haven’t done this before, but there is something different about what is happening at this point in space and time. Everything from the institutional to the missional is being challenged, and most discussions point to our defining the idea of leadership in the Church.
My belief is that leadership comes out of our ability to recognize that Jesus is Lord. By that, I mean we submit ourselves to Him and to others as they disciple us. The desired goal is to create an environment where we can make disciples and become servants. As servants we lead from the bottom up, as opposed to the hierarchical way of top down.
It was Jesus who said the greatest among us would be a servant (Matt 23). As we serve others we lose ourselves in Christ and worry less about becoming great leaders, but rather we desire becoming like Christ and loving others into the kingdom.
I remember early on my faith journey telling a mentor I wanted to be one of the leaders in his ministry. He responded by saying, “If you want to be a good leader you must to be a great follower.” At first I was perplexed because he challenged me to serve others. It was humbling and my pride was revealed. My motives were on becoming someone with authority over others because that’s all I knew about Christian leadership. Serving sometimes meant cleaning bathrooms, kitchens and auditoriums. Basically, I needed to serve others through humble submission and vulnerability. He also meant I must follow the one Rabbi who is worthy of being followed—Jesus Christ. What I hadn’t realized, until years later, was that my mentor had fostered an apostolic environment. All because he had trusted the Spirit to lead.
Many have said the time of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (APEST) has passed. They argue that the shepherds and teachers are what were left to lead the followers of Christ after Constantine instituted the Church. I disagree whole heartedly because the Apostle Paul claimed the APEST was the gift to the Church from Christ (Eph 4). I don’t believe it was for a specific point in time, but for the Church past, present and future. The APEST is called to equip God’s people to build up the Church. Through the process of equipping the people, leaders/elders are discovered who can provide spiritual care for a community of Christ followers. It was the way of the early church to walk as a community and struggle together through persecution. It’s a very organic way of growing a community of faith and discovering leaders, but not leaders as we know them in our businesses and even our institutional churches. Now, as I stated earlier they are servants and they know the Head Servant.
Just recently I was reading a good article on Organic Leadership by Mitch McCrimmon and there were two points that stood out concerning organic and mechanistic organizations.
– In mechanistic organizations, direction can be deliberately decided and planned by people appointed as leaders.
– In organic entities, direction evolves or emerges by learning through trial and error. In other words, direction is discovered by the organization rather than decided on by the few.
Another key statement made in the article is this: “Why is this (organic) important? Because everyone already accepts that organizations wanting to be more innovative need to become more organic and less mechanistic, but they perversely still want to label senior executives as leaders rather than recognize that leadership emerges at the front lines. By seeing this form of leadership as organic, we create a strong and clear link between this type of leadership and organic organizations.”
Mind you, the article was part of some research I was conducting for a project at work. The intriguing thing was in finding many articles addressing a shift in business organizations. I see this being the same issue in churches that consider themselves, or want to become missio-organic. The irony in all this is that businesses are finding more creative and organic ways of conducting business and discovering leaders. Yet, the Western Church continues to cling to a hierarchical structure and methods that no longer work. Now, I will say that I have plenty of friends who are pastors in institutional/traditional churches who are tearing down the walls between the Church and humanity. They are mobilizing people to engage their communities for the sake of the kingdom and lives are being transformed by the Spirit.
The idea here is not to bash the Western Church. What I want to do is point out that the Spirit moves and shapes those who are seeking to be in His movement. Out of that movement the Spirit reveals the leaders (servants) for the Church. Leaders emerge and take on the challenges of life according to their gifting. It’s important to state that this is difficult to do in today’s Western Church without APEST/Elders being recognized and allowing them to guide the people through mentoring. Every one of us should have a mentor who will challenge our thinking, and most importantly keep us accountable for our way of living.
While I don’t claim to be an authority in ecclesiology or missiology, I know deep in my soul this very thing; until we submit to the Holy Spirit and trust that he will speak to us and we listen obediently, we will continue as we always have in depending on man’s ways of leading. Our dependence on the Holy Spirit requires all the faith we can muster up, and without that we will be led by flawed philosophies and dogmas (Col 2) that contradict the very heart of God. We will resort to going back to that which is comfortable and secure.
For example, the Israelites had God leading them through the desert, yet they still wanted to go back to Egypt. As I think about leadership and disciple making I don’t want to go back to my Egypt of only depending on the old Sunday school, or Sunday morning experience to “be in God’s house” with hopes of the preacher speaking to the lost that they might be saved. No, what I desire is that when we gather on Sunday, or any other day, that we would listen for the voice of our Shepherd. He did say we would recognize his voice. Right?
As I close, let me reiterate that these are simply my scattered thoughts about the Church, leadership and making disciples. I believe the Church is an active, living and transforming organism whose structure and identity both come from Jesus who is the Head. I also want to be clear that I’m not saying, nor have I ever said the church shouldn’t have leaders, or that she doesn’t need leaders. I am saying the Church needs leaders who are led by the Spirit to be servants and disciple makers. The Church needs men and women who are passionate for Christ and compassionate toward humanity.
May we first be led by the Spirit to be on mission with our God. May we engage and walk with a broken, demoralized humanity that needs an incarnate Savior. May we grow in community through communitas, that our struggles would not define us, but rather refine us. May we invite people into our lives instead of an event. May we lead with humility, grace and mercy. May we plant the gospel and grow a community of faith around that gospel.