If we are going to transition from church-as-we-know-it (a box) to a dynamic Spirit-filled movement, we will also have to transition from leadership-as-we-know-it to something else.
Alan Creech says the WHOLE thing has to be reinvented:
I mean full-time, paid staff pastors who preach every Sunday and do pretty much all the ministry and stress themselves silly over every little thing in the community - yada, yada. I think this will kill us if we keep this up. It's beginning to happen, but we've really got to re-envision what it means to be a pastor, leader, elder, whatever in our new churches. I don't think we can afford to keep the old pastoral paradigm alive any more. We can't do that and expect to happen what we want to happen in these communities.
Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent leadership. The early church, a dynamic people movement, was supported by dynamic leadership that is contrary to today’s models yet clearly outlined in the New Testament.
Unfortunately, as always, we have to unlearn all that we know about leadership in order to grasp what it can be.
The number one issue (in my thinking) is simply this: New Testament leadership had nothing to do with c-o-n-t-r-o-l. When this is fully digested then, and only then, can we begin to grasp what leadership is meant to be.
Leadership-as-we-know-it in today’s church structures has to do with taking charge of finances, buildings, and centralized decision-making processes that involve roles and organization. It has become a business-like "CEO" type of role. Almost none of this has anything to do with the New Testament church-movement.
In addition, leadership-as-we-know-it usually involves setting one class of people (leaders) above the rest (members, or laity).
Gordon Fee says this about the historical development of church leadership:
Historically the church seems to have fallen into a model that eventually developed a sharp distinction between the people themselves (laity) and the professional ministry (clergy), reaching its sharpest expression in the Roman Catholic communion, but finding its way into almost every form of Protestantism as well. The net result has been a church in which the clergy all too often exist apart from the people, for whom there is a different set of rules and different expectations, and a church in which the "gifts" and "ministry", not to mention significance, power structures, and decision making, are the special province of the professionals. Being "ordained" to this profession, the latter tend to like the aura that it provides, and having such ordained professionals allows the laity to pay them to do the work of the ministry and thus excuse themselves from their biblical calling.
New Testament leadership, on the other hand, was clearly a servant role (didn’t Jesus say something about that?) that provided a support structure for the people-movement to take off, multiply, go crazy, and otherwise careen madly (by the Spirit) out of control.
New Testament leaders did not occupy positions on boards; they did not have control of buildings nor all-church finances; they did not have the limelight of admiration or attention (except by those who enjoyed physically beating them).
Their role was to facilitate, plant, nurture, release, build up, serve… not dominate, nor control, nor set the one-man-vision course, nor have all the answers. They were not set above, but rather, set below. The Holy Spirit, after all, works through and leads the entire Body of Christ.
The mentality of a leader is to travel alongside. The heart of a leader is to serve. The role of a leader is to support. This is not rhetoric. It must be truly walked out.
I love the way Eugene Peterson, in The Message, recounts Jesus’ message about religious leaders who seek to sit at the head table, who “bask in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery”:
You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourselves up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you.
One of the ways, in our own churches, that we make sure this is walked out is that control, one hundred percent of all control, remains one hundred percent with each house church. The church is directed by the Holy Spirit through all the members. "Shepherds" facilitate, shepherd, support, equip, give spiritual direction—all support roles designed to release and empower the church to be the church. That’s it. It is a spiritual, supporting-cast role. Period. If anyone pays any attention it’s because that person, in that situation, is demonstrating the heart of God.
Yet, when walked out this way, how important is servant-leadership as a support structure for the church-people-movement?
It’s essential to the overall health and well-being of the collective church. It provides a valuable support structure for the movement to keep moving, thriving, and growing.
As Craig Pelkey-Landis says:
Leadership doesn't have to be a matter of one person's ego basking in the glow of a few or thousands of devoted congregants. Toss that model in the garbage can. But running away from leadership can be just as toxic.
Leadership must be re-defined and re-aligned, but not thrown out altogether. We need servant-leaders who are shepherds, planters, gardeners, cultivators, releasers, givers, and equippers.
We see from Scripture two primary leadership-servant roles. 1. The elder/shepherd: to shepherd, disciple disciplers, encourage evangelism and reproduction, give spiritual direction, and counsel deeper needs. Timothy and Titus, as examples, were shepherds of shepherds. The books written to them ring out with the importance of churches being under girded by true shepherds. 2. The church-planter and five-fold itinerant ministers (Eph. 4:…): to help found, support, and nurture churches. They did not run churches, they supported them.
Yes, true spiritually-minded support teams are needed to help equip, under gird, release, empower, encourage, build up, and call out to the church to be the church—in and of themselves—to keep gathering and going.
This support structure is like the hidden skeletal system. It provides strength so that everything else in the Body of Christ can find its place and fully function. Leadership is part of what God has placed in His Body for the overall health of the Body—hidden, yet serving a powerful purpose.
We have found that it is valid and Biblical (though not necessary) to provide financial support for both of the leader-servant roles mentioned. But these are decisions that are fully made by the house churches. They are the church. They need no one else to actually be the church. They support certain leader-servant roles only because and if they feel called to do it in the same way that they support other missionaries or ministries.
However, the leadership-support structure cannot become possessive of the fruit, organize the members, put a fence around the harvest, or take ownership of anything. This type of support lets go of everything but the desire to see others run with their vision, their calling, and their God-given destiny. This type of support structure does not try to become a kingdom, a business, or a ministry: it just does the servant work of supporting the ministries of others and the churches themselves.
Leadership: difficult to deal with, needed, yet it must be put in its place!
This subject, typically, elicits many responses. What’s yours?