Thursday, May 15, 2014

Too Many Chiefs and Not Enough Indians

In the interests of reflexivity I have to start this blog by saying that I am a Christian Leader! I also don’t have a particular problem with churches and other organisations being well led. In fact, I think poor or absent leadership accounts for a lot of our problems.

Having said that, I feel moved to ask why the Christian world seems to have such an obsession with leadership, and in particular with encouraging people to be leaders? There are all sorts of Summits, Seminars and training courses available for leaders, and potential leaders, which are designed to “release” people into their leadership gifts. This is particularly the case with young people – there’s lots of talk about them as the leaders of the future, and the need to ‘raise them up,’ to ‘equip’ them etc. It is true that leaders need to be gifted, and training is a good thing, but I have a few questions about whether we’re getting the balance right.

My first question lies in thinking about what Jesus showed us in his life and teaching, and what is written in the rest of the New Testament. I don’t see a lot of teaching about leadership, but I do see a lot about followership. Even when specifically addressing people who were going to be leaders in the church, Jesus’ command was not “lead my sheep” but “feed my sheep.” Jesus was not concerned with structures and programmes, but with people loving each other and becoming more like him. Paul was more interested in leadership, but mostly focused on the character of leaders, not which leadership methods and styles they should adopt.

I wonder if our current obsession derives from a more recent mindset that the New Testament. Ian Stackhouse wrote a book that has changed my thinking about church in so many ways. In “The Gospel Driven Church” he argues that much of the way we view church life has been shaped by the Revivalist movement of a hundred years ago. Our emphasis on individual conversion leads to an obsession with numbers, growth, and size, and this in turn leads us to strategies, programmes, structures and hierarchy. Andrew Root makes a slightly different, but related point in “Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation.” He refers to the over-emphasis on the need in youth ministry for Christians to have influence in wider society. A word often used in youth ministry is ‘impact:’ we need to do work that will impact our young people so they will have impact on their friends. I find the discourse worrying: an impact is what occurs when a car hits a wall!

I was privileged this week to hear Mark Yaconelli speak about ministry and was reminded again that he suggests that often ministry is operating from a place of anxiety: it seeks control, conformity, results, operates by programmes delivered by experts using products, it gives answers. He offers an alternative: ministry rooted in love. This offers contemplation, processes and presence, relies on guides, in relationships, encourages creativity and questioning.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Baptist, or maybe this is why I’m a Baptist, but I can’t help but think that we’re in danger of having “too many chiefs and not enough indians.” The risk is that we create a culture in which leadership is valued above all other spiritual gifts, and those who don’t have it feel like second class Christians. By way of further confession I have to say that I led our church in prayers for leaders last Sunday, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that (Paul tells us to do it) but maybe we need to be a bit more balanced and pray for those who have gifts of giving, administration, tea making, cleaning and all those other “unsung hero” things that people do. Would it help to have a Global Followership Summit? Or to have Young Servant seminars?

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