Summary: Google, eBay & Amazon all put systems in place where influence was based on trust earned over time. The Kingdom doesn’t contain leader and non-leader classes of Christians. It operates by functions (gifts) as Christ leads through each member according to the grace given them as they earn trust over time.
One of the biggest reasons (among many) that all 3 of these companies have had so much success up until now is they solved a big, widespread problem – a lack of trust online.
You see, on the Internet, people had (and still have) issues with trusting what they read and who they do business with. Rightfully so. Anyone can publish anything (like me!) :), and you have no idea who you’re buying stuff from unless it’s a reputable company that you trust. Even then, spammers can trick unsuspecting computer users into thinking they’re doing business with a brand when they’re really not.
But these 3 companies each put interesting systems in place that in large part solves these problems. Let’s take a look at each of them.
The reason Google became the #1 search engine in the world was because they developed an algorithm that returned the most relevant and useful results for people’s searches. How did they do it? They made the algorithm largely based on user feedback. Instead of returning results based only on what was on a web page, they made the most important factors based on things like how many other websites link to that page, how many users visit the page when it shows up in results (as opposed to choosing another result), and how long users engage with a page when they go to it.
What would cause a website to link to a page? Trust. You typically link to a page when it’s a valuable piece of content. What would cause users to visit one page over another in search results? Trust. You typically scan the results for brands you’re familiar with and give them more weight when deciding which result to choose. What would cause users to engage with a page longer? Quality. You typically stay on a page longer if it’s valuable to the task you’re trying to complete. And if a site delivers quality on a consistent basis, what’s the result? Trust.
How do you make it to the top of the search results? You earn trust over time.
In the early days of auction sites on the web, you were really taking your chances. It was one thing to purchase something on the immature Internet from a well-known brand. You were fairly concerned about the security of your financial information and many (if not most) people were hesitant. It was another thing altogether to purchase in an auction atmosphere where you didn’t know the seller from Adam. Until eBay came along with its feedback system.
Now, buyers and sellers could give each other feedback and the feedback was turned into a “score” for everyone to see. If you wanted to be able to buy and sell on the platform long-term, you would have to behave yourself. As feedback scores grew, so did the legacy of your buyer or seller profile. People with more feedback and higher scores were more…trusted. They also made more money because the trust their feedback scores carried resulted in higher bids on their items than the same items being offered by other lower-rated sellers.
Other auction sites came along after eBay trying to offer buyers and sellers the opportunity to do business without any fees. Seems like a better deal, right? But ultimately, they were unsuccessful in taking down eBay. Why? eBay had built a network of trust; and buyers and sellers weren’t about to give that up to go somewhere else that didn’t have that just to save a couple bucks.
How do you make more money on eBay? You earn trust over time.
Although Amazon isn’t an auction site, they also allow outside sellers to offer their items for sale on the site. They also had a trust problem to solve. They did it by creating a review system.
But that had a problem. People’s reviews could be fake! Sellers would pay people to leave reviews without ever having bought or used the product. That’s until Amazon edited the system so that users could upvote a review by indicating that it was helpful to them. Fake, non-specific reviews could be sniffed out by the community while helpful reviews could be promoted in the review list to top rankings. People deemed a reviewer’s opinions to be valid for the sole reason that most other people deemed it valid and important as well.
The more a review is found helpful by other users, the more reliable it becomes. Once again…trust earned over time.
What these companies teach the church about leadership
What are the common characteristics with all of the systems these 3 businesses created?
- They empowered the community by distributing the power throughout the network.
- The people or products that perform with integrity and deliver the most value over time become those the community elevates.
- Safety isn’t in titles, labels, or positions; but in trust.
- Leadership is recognized by others, not claimed by oneself.
- Policing the community isn’t up to leaders. It’s up to the community.
It’s supposed to work the same way in churches.
What Jesus said about leadership
Let’s take this a step further. Check out what Jesus said about leadership…
And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:10-12)
As Jon Zens says about this verse in his book 58 to 0: How Christ Leads Through The One Anothers…
Jesus isn’t denying functional differences within the church, he’s prohibiting the use of self-exalting and honorific titles of distinction (Leader, Pastor, Reverend, etc.) among those who have chosen to follow Christ. While conferring honorific titles upon prominent religious authorities may be the way of the world, it is not the path that Christ has called us to pursue. Yet, in spite of the clarity of Jesus’ command, Christians have historically ignored His words.
Now, why would Jesus tell us not to be called leaders (or pastor, reverend, minister, etc.)?
I’ll submit to you 2 ideas based upon the Kingdom principle that the church is a circle…
- Calling someone a leader (or calling yourself one) creates a tangible psychological divide between brothers and sisters in Christ. This divide into classes of Christians plays upon the psyche. Those called leaders can become easily trapped into thinking more highly of themselves than they ought (Romans 12:3). Those that are “non-leaders” become psychologically disabled from functioning as an equal part of the circle because they see 2 circles instead of 1. There’s the leader circle and the non-leader circle. Although not based on Truth, the non-leader circle sees themselves as being less important or responsible in the life and experience of the church.
- Identifying special leaders hinders the ability of the church to allow Christ to be its Leader. In healthy church life, leadership is revolving among the members because Christ is the Leader and He expresses Himself through everyone in different ways and at different times. When specific members are labeled as leaders, it transforms leadership from revolving to static. When the people gather, they then look to the same people to “run the show,” show to speak. When issues arise in the church, it’s the same people that are expected to deal with it; regardless of what their actual gifting may be.
Will there be more mature believers in a group that express the mind and life of Christ more than others? Of course. One of the ways that they’ll express this maturity is by refuting any titles of special honor. Christian maturity always points to Christ as the one who is doing the leading.
Functions, not titles
What about the Apostle Paul? Didn’t he call himself an Apostle?
That’s where things get a bit tricky if you’re reading the Bible with a Western institutionalized mindset. When you read the word apostle, you’re not reading a title. You’re reading a function.
The title communicates “I’m a separate and special kind of person in relation to you no matter how much we know each other.” The other says “I’ve been performing this function because I earned trust over time and the community commissioned me to perform it.”
Check out what Paul says about himself in Ephesians 3:8…
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things…
Allow me to offer my amplified translation of what he means here…
I’m nothing special, but I’ve been given a special gift to perform a special function, which you have recognized and empowered me to perform. That is to allow Christ to lead you by apostling you through me.
To understand the word “apostle” in it’s true sense is to understand it as a verb, not a noun. The same goes with any of the other gifts mentioned in the Bible that we mistakenly use as titles.
With titles and positions, people can slide in and out of these static entities regardless of actual gifting and regardless of if they’ve earned trust over time in relationship with the people they’re around.
With functions, you’ve either performed it well and earned trust over time with the other members of your circle or you haven’t. The community decides that.
Promotion in the Kingdom
In how many churches around the world do people call someone “pastor” or “leader?” I’d say the majority. I believe the psychological damage is more severe than most people think it is; both to the person being called it and to those doing the calling.
As Jesus showed us, Kingdom leadership is truly on the bottom rung of the ladder. Just like the systems these 3 businesses developed, it entails serving the community with humility and integrity over time in the ways you’ve been gifted, and then watching that community take the knowledge and power that’s rightfully theirs to recognize and elevate those who have served well. Promotion in the Kingdom always comes from a community that fully knows the person and recognizes their worthiness for the “grace given them” to be trusted.
With all 3 of these businesses, people flocked to them and built community around them because the systems allowed them to. We’re seeing this trend in our day and age as well, and we’re getting to go back to the experience of what it really means to be the church.
The rest of the posts in the A Decentralized Network series are here.