Is leadership passé?


“Many emerging churches have experimented with the idea of leaderless groups ….Whatever the roots of the leaderless group, be it Scottish Presbyterianism, the 1960s, postmodern deconstruction, a reaction to controlling charismatic leaders, or the desire for respect, some within emerging churches believe the leaderless option may be going too far.” – Gibbs and Bolger in Emerging Churches , pgs 196-197.

The modern era, as many others, has had its share of leadership deficiencies and failures: control, hierarchies, big egos, prestige, competitiveness and the shameless use of power.

Unfortunately, in a reaction to such a lack of genuine servant leadership within the Christian movement, there can be a swing to no leadership, or leadership gets redefined in way that essentially guts it and renders it impotent. How sad.

It’s a common dynamic throughout the history of the Christian movement. There is an abuse and an overreaction: Epicureanism produces asceticism …the misuse of charismatic gifts faces cessationism …sexual lasciviousness results in abstaining from all sex …and the list can go on and on and on.

An emphasis on godly, servant leadership is never passé. Unless we want to take out a razor blade and slice out passages of the NT text that clearly deal with the gift of leadership, it’s there. However we may want to construe it, label it, or deny it, leadership is necessary. And its healthy exercise is essential for the vitality and life of any expression of the body of Christ.

If we look to Jesus as model, we cannot escape John 17:4. In the midst of this passage where he prays and pleads for those who are his kingdom followers in present and future generations, there is this stunning, oft overlooked sentence where Jesus states:

“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”

This is pre-passion talk. It is before God’s redemptive purposes were fulfilled. So what is “the work?”

While there are many right and true things we could attribute to being “the work” in terms of Jesus’ kingdom presence and ministry the preceding three years, good hermeneutics compels us by virtue of the context to the inevitable conclusion that “the work” to which Jesus was clearly referring was the calling and development of the 12 disciples. His selection, training, and impartation of life and vision to the 12, and even more focused on a sub-group of 3, was “the work.”

Jesus, the master missionary, knew that the future of the movement he was launching depended on those who would lead in his physical absence. Those who would follow him as leaders for the masses were his priority. They were “the work.”

If so for the Master, how so for us?

2 Responses to “Is leadership passé?”

  1. Andy Gray Says:

    I think that “leaderless church” is a straw man that’s easy to criticize, but the trend toward unpaid leadership is more compelling and important to consider. Of course, there is evidence in scripture that Jesus, Paul, etc. received SOME income, it’s never presented as normative (and Paul says that he intentionally thought it best NOT to invoke this privelege).

    When considering the issue of paid roles in “living out” church/mission, I think we (paid missionaries, clergy, etc.) should be clear about our stake in the results. It’s apparent that many of the people in the “emergant conversation” and other online discussions are paid clergy or seminary students (who want/need employment). In general (and I say this in all seriousness and trepidation), such a group has an inherent bias to pursue change—to a degree. (For example, I was in the Fuller bookstore looking at books about the nature of church. I didn’t see any books on the shelf that would call into question the pastor/church/seminary sembiosis.)

  2. Tim Jeffries Says:

    I’m with you on this Sam. I’m convinced that people are throwing the baby out with the bathwater when they seek to have a leaderless church. I can’t understand it from a biblical or sociological perspective.

    I my context I have sought to remove the clergy/laity divide and focus on a flatter structure where everyone uses their gifts. I’ve done this by not being paid and going the tentmaking route. It’s clear that I’m leading the group, but it’s also clear that others have responsibility to use their gifts to build the body and reach out to others as well. I’m finding that not being paid gives me the right to call others to self sacrifice for the sake of God’s Kingdom (whereas there was always the ‘well you get paid for it’ comeback previously). Of course this also frees up financial resources to be used on serving the poor and sharing the gospel. It’s early days for us in this approach, but it appears to be working so far.

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