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Leading in Community – Part 1

Over the past three decades, I have had the privilege of working with many leaders from various denominations. More specifically, my focus has been helping them function in their particular ministry leadership assignment. Some were pastors, some were church planters, and some were denominational executives of one sort or another. With some, I’ve had a long-term relationship; I walked with others for a season in some training process. Many have been apostolic, catalytic leaders. Others were more prophetically motivated or evangelistically orientated. A slight majority of them have been the classic shepherd-teacher engaged in leading a local congregation.

Through all of these relationships, I had a unique opportunity to observe many different leadership styles. Some approached their leadership task aggressively and intentionally; others were passive to the point of complete dysfunction. Some have felt comfortable in their assignment; others were utterly overwhelmed and continually looking for resources beyond themselves. Some of these leaders had a distorted self-perception – some saw themselves too large, others considered themselves too small. Some felt constrained by their church culture or particular polity; others would push back against any restriction or accountability. Of course, personality, individual skills, and giftedness, along with ministry experience, all contributed to how someone would lead. However, amid this diversity, there was one prevalent commonality: whether by default or design, these people led alone.

Of course, from a New Testament perspective, this could not be further from Christ’s intention for His Church. Indeed, leadership is a gift (Romans:128), and not everyone has that responsibility within the framework of the Kingdom community. However, the leadership task is by design something which is shared. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherd-teachers, elders, the diaconate, etc., all serve together in varied capacities with a different focus. Still, they also function collaboratively towards the same Kingdom goals. Indeed, it is in the unity of heart, mind, and purpose through the Holy Spirit that allows many diverse roles to flow together with a common purpose:

I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:1-7 ESV)

Even the Jerusalem Council (ref. Acts 15:28) announced their decision about the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Kingdom community of the Church with the phrase “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”. They deliberated in the Holy Spirit and came to a conclusion in the Spirit together.

Why then do we have the single, individual leader model so prevalent in the church today? This situation is influenced by everything I’ve already shared here and several other factors which bear mentioning, not the least of which is the “CEO Model” of pastoral ministry in our culture. The expectation is that the pastor or other primary leader tends to the organizational reality and is the “boss.” Such a “management/laborer” dichotomy is hardly biblical. It is a colossal obstacle to the collaboration seen in the New Testament.

The “anointed Individual” theology found in many pentecostal/charismatic churches, reflective of Old Testament leadership narratives, is also a factor contributing to centralized leadership. The pastor is the “modern Moses” who brings the word of the Lord down the mountain to the regular folks. No communal discernment is needed in this model, nor is it often tolerated.

Fear is another factor. It’s hard to lead in community when you are wracked by insecurity and constantly expecting to be subverted. Such fear makes it impossible to trust others and to release authority to them. I have written about this in previous blogs and spoken about it on my podcast. Having a solid identity in Christ is essential for a leader to be secure in their calling and assignment.

The “clergy/laity distinction” also pushes back against a collaborative approach to shared leadership. This “expert” model disqualifies anyone but the vocational clergy. Only the pros can play the game, and most people see themselves as amateurs. This particular framework for leadership gives the non-clergy church member an “out” on leadership responsibilities.

Of course, the “consumer Christian” prevalent in many Western churches takes it a step beyond even this. People engage the church and its activity as consumers of spiritual goods and services. They are consumers, not producers. They are spectators, not players. Why lead when I can just watch?

How we go beyond this space and engage a New Testament dynamic of leadership that embraces a collaborative approach? The first thing we need to understand is that such leadership is not a “political” reality. It can happen in any kind of church polity – if those empowered by such polity allow and empower it. It’s not about governance or organizational structures. It doesn’t matter how a church is structured, but how the people relate. Instead, it’s a spiritual approach to a communal discernment amongst called, gifted, and mature (and maturing) leaders. The insight which comes from the Spirit through these people is concerned with the life and mission of a local Kingdom community of disciples. As they walk together in the Spirit, the called and gifted leaders can join together in and by the Spirit, participating in leading together. In a translocal ministry context, the same thing can occur, as the Holy Spirit transcends time-space.

This may frustrate you, but I'm not going to resolve this in this blog edition. I want you to reflect on this; let the Spirit marinade it into your soul. Search the Scriptures for yourself. Do a little thinking and reflecting about your own journey. In our next edition, I will unpack what I’ve learned about leading with others.

I will give you this bit of a spoiler to whet your appetite. I have the incredible privilege of leading together with other brothers and sisters in Christ, in both local and translocal communities. In these environments, those I collaborate with are solid in Christ and are mature communities. How did I get to this enviable space? Well, that’s what next week is about!

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