Summary: What may be the biggest challenge to Christ-centered community is for it to allow Christ to be the Leader. There are 3 personalities people in community can have that tend to wreck it. True Christ-centered community is built on the foundation that all His followers stand on equal footing with equal rights and equal control.
I’m going to be honest as one who has attempted more than once to be a part of forming and developing authentic Christ-centered community. It’s hard to do. It’s what we were made for, and it’s what we should seek first in this life. But there are many challenges working against us as Kingdom citizens that are difficult to overcome.
Technology has made it easy for people to move around for jobs, better weather, and other reasons. The way our cities and neighborhoods are designed creates separation in the way people live and who they interact with. People generally live independent lives with enough money to survive and keep to themselves.
Those situational challenges make it difficult in and of themselves. But then there’s another challenge that relates specifically to people with leader-type personalities. That challenge is to allow Christ to be the Leader of the community.
This one may be the hardest of all to overcome, because it goes even further beyond the circumstances that are challenges…down to internal heart issues.
As I’ve talked about extensively in this series of posts on church leadership already, Christ the Head doesn’t lead His Body through one or a few mature people that take more control over it than others. That’s the opposite of Kingdom maturity. Maturity in the Kingdom is marked by one’s ability to be a servant and slave to Christ and His Body.
It’s found in the motivation to empty oneself and make others more important. It’s to make the agenda of the whole Body being led by Christ together more important than any personal agendas or preferences.
In his book 58 to 0: How Christ Leads Through The One Anothers, Jon Zens points out 3 main personalities he’s identified over his extensive time working with churches that tend to violate the spirit of Kingdom servanthood and wreck Christ-centered community.
Here’s a mix of my and his thoughts on these personalities…
The Toxic Personality
This person brings a ton of knowledge to the community. They tend to read or study more than everyone else. The problem is that their knowledge puffs them up. When you’re around them, they give off the impression that their higher level of knowledge equates to a higher level of importance in the church.
They won’t say that of course, and they really aren’t aware of it. But you can feel it from them. This higher level of importance equates to them assuming they should have more control over the direction and decisions of the church.
Zens says about this personality…
The individual we have in mind is hypercritical of almost everything except what he/she favors and does. He/she has a domineering manner that tends to crush “the opposition.” [Care must be taken] that this person does not destroy the community’s relationships and efforts at communication.
The Utopian Personality
This person wants the church to be perfect, or at least as close to perfect as they deem possible. They’ll take their knowledge of how Christians should act and what church should be and they’ll dream to be a part of it right now.
They’ll take their model, plan or strategy and place high expectations upon the community to conform to it. If you’ve ever been around people that do multi-level marketing, you get much the same feeling from these people. You’ll feel like you’re being recruited to buy-in to their plan and build their dream…instead of collaborating on Christ’s plan for you together.
From their perspective, their plan is what Christ wants after all. After a period of time when their expectations of what they had a plan for are unrealized, they will get emotional.
Zens says about this personality…
After a short time of searching for an unrealistic experience of body life, such a person will usually succumb to disappointment and frustration due to the impractical and unfulfilled expectations that he/she has put upon the body. Often, the result displays itself with emotional reactions that are accompanied by anger, anxiety, aggression and cynicism toward other members of the body.
This person tends to either withdrawal and leave, figuring no church is better than an imperfect church; or they’ll attempt to take more control, seeing it as their “role and gifting” to guide the church into what it should be.
Zens quotes from Henry Nouwen’s book Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life about what’s under the surface most of the time with this personality…
People suffering from loneliness often deepened by the lack of affection in their intimate family circle, search for a final solution for their pains, and look at a new friend, a new lover or a new community with Messianic expectations.
The Leader Personality
This person assumes they’re going to take the lead in any given situation. They covet the leadership role, like to be in the spotlight, and rarely (if ever) are looking to share it with others and truly collaborate. They may not be domineering in their approach, but they will consistently insert themselves into situations where they may not even belong.
They give off the feeling that everything should run through them. They will work hard and are quick to initiate and be the problem solver. They tend to be smart, talented, good with words and charismatic.
Zens says about this personality…
This problem has probably more often been the ruin of communities than any other. Instead of assuming to be a “leader,” they must learn how to be “just a brother or sister.”
It’s about the whole Body
With each of these personalities, you can feel a high level of reluctance to lose in any situation. What I mean by “lose” is…when it comes to the direction and decisions of the church, they have a hard time collaborating with others as brothers and sisters. They may be willing to have discussions, but you usually walk away feeling like they weren’t looking for a collective solution from Christ, but they simply wanted to steer you toward their solution.
Each of these personalities can find justification for being the way they are in the Scriptures. But they do this while ignoring the higher-level Kingdom principle of being a servant and slave as the relationship lens through which to view and adjust their contributions to community.
The people who exemplify these personalities are typically well-intentioned, and they may know theology and church concepts very well. They just do not yet know Jesus Christ very well.
True Christian maturity
Zens gives a different perspective of Christian maturity than one who just thinks they know stuff…
Jesus has a different vision of maturity: It is the ability and willingness to be led where you would not rather go…. [to be] led to unknown, undesirable, and painful places….”
As a part of His Body, leading isn’t persuading people to go down the path that you’ve pre-determined is the correct one. It’s to help facilitate getting direction together as a Body directly from Christ the Head.
He may and will use particular people to give direction in particular situations. But as the book of Proverbs teaches us, everyone should always be suspicious of themselves. If we’re looking for Christ’s direction, everyone should be looking for the whole Body to confirm His voice together.
Directional leadership in community is revolving
Where direction comes from will also be revolving. It’s not going to come primarily from the same people in every situation. While some people may have more wisdom to offer across a wide range of situations because of their experience and maturity, the Holy Spirit is like the wind and He works in seasons. He gives direction through different people in different situations at different times.
As we learned in the Consistently Wise series, no one has cornered the market on this in all situations, no matter what their experience and maturity level.
God’s Kingdom pattern for relationships
While every Kingdom community will have to deal with these personalities at some point or another, we also must be careful not to apply these personality labels too quickly or incorrectly. They don’t apply to someone just because they lovingly challenge something and are trying to lovingly influence or persuade people to a particular direction they think Christ is leading the community. We must not sway too far in the other direction on this.
Conversation, debate and dissent are healthy for a Kingdom community. In fact, they are a vital part of the process of laying hold of Christ’s direction for the group, as I lay out in the Made For Circle series.
These personalities are about the way people are treated. They give off the impression that they’re more important, that what they think is more important and that they’re a special person or in a special group of people who deserves to have more control over the direction and decisions of a community than others.
A foundational part of the training Jesus gave (and still gives) His disciples about His Body/Kingdom/Family is that these relationships would “not be so among you.” (Matt. 20:25-28)
No matter what lens (Body/Kingdom/Family) of the new humanity Christ created you look at it through, the pattern of relationships for its members is the same. All His followers stand on equal footing with equal rights and equal control.
It’s only when those in a Kingdom community lay mutual submission down as the foundation of their relationships in Him that it has the opportunity to survive and thrive.
The rest of the posts in the Servants and Slaves series are here.