Summary: We have an unhealthy church leadership problem. It mirrors the world. Theologically, Christ is the Head. But not functionally. Until She gets back to organic Kingdom leadership principles, She will be largely ineffective in Her mission.
In the last post, we learned that current Christian preaching and practice focuses almost exclusively on the individual. But the gospel is more than that. It’s the creation of One New Human. For the church to be effective, it must reverse the dominant cultural mindset and behave like One New Human.
But if it’s going to do so, it must address and correct its problem with how it handles and executes church leadership. Currently, it’s in a passionate love affair with the world’s top-down hierarchical leadership model that undermines everything the Church was created to be about.
As Joseph Hellerman points out in When the Church Was a Family…
…the problem rests with both the number of leaders and the nature of church leadership…the two principles God has given for leadership in His surrogate family are plurality leadership and servant leadership…these provide safeguards against functional, spiritual and relational disaster… (paraphrased)
There are no human heads
Christians concede that Christ is the Head of the Church, but only theoretically. He is also meant to be the Head practically or functionally. This means there’s no humans between us and Him on the authority ladder.
What’s that you say? Weren’t there leaders in the early church? Aren’t there supposed to be pastors, elders, etc.? Why yes, but not in the way that you’ve become accustomed to where they’re stacked on top of each other in a hierarchical manner. That’s the world’s way of doing things, not the Kingdoms.
In a righteous Kingdom, there are no special classes of citizens. There’s the King and there are citizens. Every citizen has the same access and standing with the King as any other.
A good King does not show favoritism, but makes Himself and His resources available to all.
Christ is a Good King.
Church leadership is plural and revolving
Does that mean there is no church leadership? Not at all. But authentic church leadership is organic in nature, just like every other function in the body. It’s functional and revolving, not positional and static.
What I mean is, Christ leads through His body parts in different times and in different ways depending on what He wants to do at particular points in time. He doesn’t lead through one person at all times. He doesn’t speak through one person at the same time on the same day every week.
It’s up to the Church as a whole to hear from Him and allow Him to do what He wants to do through whomever He wants to do it. Do you see how this guards against human frailty?
So how does the Church functionally make sure this happens? First, they realize that church leadership is plural, not singular. This is on purpose.
6 reasons for plural church leadership
Hellerman gives us 6 good reasons for this…
- It’s a safeguard against abuse. It happens all the time. A human is elevated to a position of singular authority and it turns out they aren’t perfect (imagine that). Inevitably, their imperfections combine with their authority to produce unhealthy outcomes.
- It’s a safeguard against celebrity-ism. A celebrity is a somehow talented person through which others vicariously live their lives. When someone is elevated to a position of singular authority or set apart as “special”, this will kick in. This is why the leaders in hierarchical models of church tend to be the most talented, but not necessarily the most mature. Their talent for speaking serves as the entertainment through which people live out their Christian lives while sitting in a pew.
- It provides a balanced spiritual diet. Hearing from the same person over and over again is like eating the same food for every meal. You would get sick of it really quick and your body would be malnourished. Did you know that when the apostle Paul wasn’t on assignment working on planting and training churches, he was just a regular brother in his home church? Folks, that’s the writer of the New Testament we’re talking about.
- It models relational maturity. We’ve all seen it I’m sure. The positional “leader” who studied theology for numerous years and got stamped with a mark of leadership approval because they’re better able to answer theological questions than most others. But, their behavior may be no better. Many end up using their position to exercise power/control and their intellect to intimidate, manipulate and keep their status as a first class Christian. With plural leadership, there’s an opportunity to model Christian relational maturity. The ability to do this shows the church who the real leaders are.
- It provides moral accountability. Hierarchy in leadership is morally dangerous. Leaders are humans, and no human has ever been able to stand upright alone. Hierarchy provides opportunity to act alone at whatever level the leader is at. Plural leadership provides an environment of accountability.
- It prevents pride and discouragement. In sports, when a team does well, the coach gets praise. When a team doesn’t do well, the coach gets fired. In reality, the coach always gets too much praise or too much blame. This was never meant to be the way things work in the Church. When an individual is set apart, they can get too prideful or too discouraged from what happens in the life of the Church.
Church leadership is making yourself nothing
But beyond the numbers of leaders, the nature of church leadership is critical as well. In the world, leaders are the smarter ones. They’re the ones with the power to tell others what to do. They may have the most eccentric personalities. They may be the best performer at whatever the task is at hand.
In short, they’re in a position that’s elevated above a group of others. The others look to the person or persons for guidance, direction, and marching orders.
In the Kingdom, the opposite is true. The leaders are those who naturally place themselves in a position below others. Their lives are marked by humility, sacrifice and consistently placing others ahead of themselves.
Here’s how Jesus put it…
The greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt. 23:11-12)
Then, as someone who had all the power, He made himself nothing (Phil. 2:7) and placed those with no power above Himself.
Everything about leadership falls under these two principles.
Until the Church reverts back to them, She will struggle mightily to have any real and lasting impact in the world. She will be seen just like any other worldly organization with a mission statement.
May God raise up real Kingdom leadership in our time.
The rest of the posts in the Collectivist Community series are here.