Leadership and “Community”

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There is a perception, which has existed throughout Christian history in various forms and expressions, that the best form of decision-making exists when the “community” together determines the mind of God.

Such an egalitarian view has obvious strengths and there is truth to such a perspective. It has served as a much needed corrective to authoritative, dictatorial leadership and hierarchical structures that have thwarted God’s plans and purposes. Democratic theory is based, to a degree, on the concept that better decisions can be made when multiple eyes are brought to bear on an issue. And if we take seriously the concept of human depravity, the checks and balances of those around us can provide necessary adjustments to the limited and perhaps skewed perspective of one individual.

In modern leadership theory, much to do is also made about “goal ownership” and the importance of everyone “owning” the goals and direction of a group. Giving everyone the chance to feel good about a decision and to believe that their voice has been heard certainly makes the carrying out of any decision easier. Also, in cultures where democratic values are in the warp and woof of the value system, there is often a deep-seated sense of entitlement that everyone should have a say, regardless of role, responsibility, or giftedness.

On the other hand, communal decision-making also has its weaknesses. It can evolve, as DeTocqueville so eloquently pointed out, into the “tyranny of the majority.” Just because the community believes something or decides a particular way, does not make that decision right. Nor does it insure the presence of the Spirit of God in the process or the outcome.

Shirley Jackson’s sobering play, The Lottery, comes to mind where a small town American community ritually selects one of its citizens every year for stoning in order to insure a good harvest. Or on a larger scale, we see that democratically choosing leaders does not insure a moral or right decision. Adolph Hitler, who was democratically elected , is a good case in point. Communal decision-making does not necessarily equate with good decision-making and can descend into group grope.

One unsettling aspect of communal decision-making is the fact that in certain forms, it can neuter the biblical gift of leadership and see leadership as primarily a facilitative function. Anyone who attempts to lead is simply the “facilitator-in-chief.” True leadership is abdicated to the group and in some modern and increasingly postmodern settings, this abdication is justified as “good process.”

Gibbs and Bolger in their book Emerging Churches, devote an entire chapter to this issue and how one of the characteristics of many emerging churches is “leading as a body.” This is clearly a reaction to the hierarchical and controlling models of leadership all too characteristic of modernity, which of course are anathema to “...many younger leaders who represent a culture of networking, permission giving, and empowerment.”

What is unfortunate is that in embracing “leading as a body” as these authors describe it, the proverbial baby may be thrown out with the bathwater. Such a reaction guts the legitimate exercise of the gift of leadership and leaves it impotent. When “all are welcome at the leadership table,” those with the gift of leadership are dis-empowered. It is a misconception that genuine servant leadership, when framed by kingdom values, must always be expressed by democratic, egalitarian, and consensual process. That’s hard to justify theologically, biblically, or sociologically and the final result is no leadership at all. In the end, genuine community is the real loser.

2 Responses to “Leadership and “Community””

  1. Keith Says:

    A couple years ago a Russian asked me a question: if Russians vote out democracy and vote in a dictator, was that democratic? Ha!

    It’s interesting what you’re bring up. It isn’t either-or. How do you see somebody leading with the “gift of leadership” while still having a “culture of networking, permission giving, and empowerment”? I think that’s the key. Otherwise, the democratic-consensus folks will just label what you’re trying to say as authoritarian, one man rule. Could you keep going on this…

  2. John Says:

    Perhaps there is a question of timing – when is the gifted leader empowered to lead? It seems like the gift of leadership, more than the other gifts, must be exercised after spiritual authority has been recognized in the leader by the community.

    “To tell a man he is called to be a leader is the best way of ensuring his spiritual ruin, since in the Christian world ambition is more deadly than any other sin, and, if yielded to, makes a man unprofitable in the ministry. The most important thing today is the spiritual, rather than the intellectual, quality of those indigenous Christians who are called to be bear responsibility in the younger churches.”—Bishop Stephen Neill

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