I love you, Church, but we’ve got a problem.
Sometimes it seems like you are addicted to tyrants and despots. Like those Hebrews asking for a king. Or else you are addicted to ineffectual and passive leadership. The kind easily manipulated by the whims of the powerful or chided in parking lots. You make it seem like we only have those two choices in our leaders: directive or enabling.
In other environments, this makes sense. In the corporate world, bosses need to be decisive and there is a clear chain of command. Decisions are made according to an organizational chart. But the church isn’t like that, and we all know it.
So we think the solution to such direct authority is to get rid of it and manage by consensus. I suppose this is a truly viable arrangement in the future. Perhaps sooner than we think.
And still, we are addicted to leaders. To those generals who would lead us into battle. Or to our great deciders: the ones to whom we all can pass the buck. To our visionaries who can dream for us. To our planners who can come up with the winning strategy. To our defenders who will champion the cause, regardless of whether or not anyone is behind them. To our motivators, who will get everyone pumped and ready to move at a moment’s notice. And we often expect a single person to be all of these things.
And we also want to live in a democracy, in which all have a vote and the majority will rule. Just, as long as the leader can still lead.
We say we want a collaborative environment, but we are addicted to singular authority: to one person in charge. We can’t handle group responsibility. And yet this is precisely what we need, where I believe we are headed, and what GOD ultimately prepared the people for.
We easily reject authoritative and enabling leaders. We don’t want a dictator or a wet noodle. We want a leader who listens but can still take charge. We want a leader who doesn’t demand his vision, but actually does have one (and we’ll gladly join). We want someone other than ourselves to lead. We don’t want to be on the hook for that.
How many times have you asked people to join a group and have heard “I’ll be a part of the group, but I won’t lead it.”? For me, it is too many to count. We are all called to be leaders and yet we want someone else to do that stuff for us.
As I wrote recently, the way our churches are being led is changing. Which is really good. I just honestly wish it changed a bit faster.
The solution is simple, but not easy. It takes redefining for ourselves the nature and expectations of leadership. Simple, right? We also have to embrace what clearly is important and necessary. And we must discern (through scripture, tradition, and reason) what GOD is doing with our leadership.
All of this is easier said than done.
The vision I laid out last week is an important start. There I argued for a more collaborative and leveled environment. One that makes sense according to our needs and to our tradition. But before we can get there, I think we have to confront what Scripture tells us about authority: about kings and leadership. About the passive (and whiny) populace who refuse to build the kingdom. And we must confront Scripture’s opposition to earthly structures and patterns. Which means corporate CEOs are not our model, Jesus is.
I fear that too much of our focus is on leaders to do the heavy lifting. Ask a coach of any ability what it is like when he or she has to field a spectacularly bad team. We all know who the scapegoat will be when the team inevitably fails.
This, to me, reveals the actual problem, and therefore the most logical solution. We expect the leader to be the everything, to be how the team gets a championship, how the corporation delivers to the shareholders, how the church will grow.
The example we get over and over in scripture is to not do that to our leaders. Most stunningly (and convictingly, I think), Jesus makes the 12 into Apostles long before he’s gone. In Mark 3, like its parallels in Luke 6 and Matthew 10, Jesus names his closest followers and not only instructs them to do like him, but sends them out to do it. The team’s success isn’t 98% based on the effort of its leader, but lives and dies by the commitment of the team to deliver.
Tradition has wrongly seen the calling of the apostles narrowly. We have made it particular: as the commissioning of bishops: rather than instructive. We should see this as demonstrating pastoral leadership and relevant to the way we are all called to serve as Christ rather than under Christ.
If we want our leadership to match the several images of leadership displayed in Scripture, then perhaps we do these three things right now.
- Reinforce and celebrate leaders who share their authority and as they learn to share their authority.
- Encourage and restructure our organizations to better share authority between pairs and small groups of leaders, rather than individuals and “the one who knows how to do it” or “knows where everything is.”
- Expect more commitment to leadership than the grunt work. Many of our leaders are so worn out by physical and time demands of leadership that little is left for the emotional and spiritual work we need them to do.
- The church must together make a modest commitment to formation and spiritual growth, regardless of experience or age. In other words, Sunday School isn’t just for the kids. And expecting every leader to be working on their spiritual growth in a formal way is not too much to ask.
It will take some sacrifice of our expectations and vision for the church. It will mean redefining many of our traditions and invite us to name new concepts for success. Which means that we cannot expect or allow our leaders to be dictators. And we cannot pretend as if we all have not been baptized into leadership.