Leadership Versus Jesus [God Talk]

Do Christians love leadership more than Jesus? Depends on the sites you’re looking at. The following posts do a great job putting leadership in it’s place: behind Jesus.

 The Parent Trap – Jennifer Turner questions Christian authority with an edge that would make any punk rocker raise his fist in rebellious agreement. “It’s easier, quicker, and more satisfying in the short term to tell people what to think, how to behave, or how to feel; it’s much more difficult and time-consuming to dialogue, explain, and listen. It requires more maturity to accept conflict and messiness as part of the process, and to accept that the process may take decades.”

Leadership??? – Ross Rohde suggests in this post that servant leadership is an oxymoron. “Servanthood isn’t a different way of being a leader; it is not being a leader at all. He [Jesus] is saying “don’t do this; do this instead.” He wasn’t saying something similar to I’ll give you a new way of being a leader; he was saying don’t be a leader.”

Who Leads Your Church? Servant Leaders? and Upside-Down Leadership: A Parable – In this trifecta of leadership posts, Felicty Dale paints a picture of biblical servanthood and/or leadership. “We can ask God to bless our plans, our programs, our vision. Or we can join God in what he is doing, following where he leads us, responsive to his every whisper.”

Are leadership and Christianity mutually exclusive? Is mainstream Christianity hopelessly infatuated with American hierachies? Can a Christian follow Jesus and a pastor at the same time?
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4 thoughts on “Leadership Versus Jesus [God Talk]

  1. danyulz says:

    I am consistently fascinated by the ideas you bring up through the blogosphere. I find that about as often as not I agree with you. In this case I’m on the not agreeing with you side. I figure your consistent and public transmission of these types of thoughts demonstrate a willingness for discussion and I love a good counter-argument. We’re brothers, so I hope its assumed (but best not make assumptions) that I’m not writing this in a spirit of conceit or one-ups-manship. Or of idle argumentation. I think these are important issues and worth discussing. You pose the question: “Can a Christian follow Jesus and a pastor at the same time?” My conviction: yes. In fact, I would suggest that it is a biblical precedent, not an American one, that all Christians submit themselves to the authority of leaders, including church leaders submitting to one another. I want to acknowledge the foundational assumptions that I believe we share. These convictions are founded on a belief in the authority of scripture in its entirety to command and describe the patterns of the Christian life. This is true because the Bible is a living document that is illuminated through the Holy Spirit capable of speaking truth into our current culture from the timeless words held within. This conversation gets difficult if we are not drawing from the same source. As such, here is what I have found the Word to say on the issue. First, Paul opens up the issue in Titus 1:5 saying “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.” Paul seems to intend for there to be publicly recognized organization for the body of believers in each place. This begs the question, what are these people supposed to do? Paul gives further description in 1 peter 5, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” This clearly implies a leadership model with a recognized leader and less mature Christians “in your charge.” This trend was established very early on in the life of the church, already being seen in Acts 20:28 “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” Here lies another important trait to origin of Church organization. The Holy Spirit is credited as establishing the authority of overseers to care for the church. This is not a human effort to subject Christ’s movement to worldly structures, but an Spirit lead pattern designed to support and grow the Church into an increasingly mature picture of the Kingdom Christ came to usher in with his death and resurrection. One might suggest that this is a Pauline notion not found in the life of Christ. However, at the end of John’s gospel we see Jesus himself indicate an authority to shepherd. “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” It is well known that Jesus referred to himself as “the Good Shepherd.” If he intended to avoid servant leaders under his headship, why would he give Peter this charge? Certainly, there is a measure authority that comes from the command to “tend my sheep.” This seems to suggest a consistency in Christ’s ministry and intention with the patterns of the early church. Now, all that is not to suggest that the human elements of the Church have not screwed this up massively. Christ could never have intended the abuses and corruption, both modern and historical, that Church leaders have perpetrated under the guise of religious authority. How can we be sure that the leaders we submit to will be faithful to the prompting of the spirit and the path laid out in the written word? For me, I have only been able to do it through the slow process of building relationship both with leaders and with Christ. Ultimately, it is Christ who will shepherd my heart, but I believe a key tool he uses are the mature Christians he has put into my life to speak wisdom as I sit in relationship under their teaching, guidance, and care. I have been incredibly blessed to be ministered to by remarkably humble and wise leaders who take the mission of Christ and his Kingdom, as accomplished by the prompting of his Spirit, very seriously. They make me a part of their ministry as shepherds and as friends and equip me to connect and serve Jesus Christ according to his will for my life. Never commanding or brainwashing, but boldly teaching, encouraging, and connecting. It is good for these people to be publicly recognized for their wisdom and special appointment by the Holy Spirit to fulfill this role for the Church so that more might benefit from their experience and maturity. That’s my experience and that’s my belief. I pray that by whatever means He has in store, God might provide for you a Church family to come alongside as you pursue Christ and His purposes.

  2. Joel Zehring says:

    Such great insights, Daniel. Thanks for those scripture references. Your comment gave me plenty of reading material to review. I picked up nothing but grace in your comment. I know as you hammered out your response, you were testing your own thoughts and beliefs to ensure that you are seeking Christ in everything. I absolutely agree that elders are necessary, natural members of a healthy church body. I see elders as sheep among sheep, following Jesus first as he leads the flock into prayer, service, sacrifice, mission, evangelism, suffering, etc. I guess these believers could technically be called leaders, but only in the sense that they're the first to follow Jesus's direction. I don't think elders should set themselves up as executive decision-makers for any group of believers, large or small. I think that would lead to "domineering". Speaking of size, do you know how big the groups were that Titus's and Peter's elders were leading? I wonder how big these flocks were, and how tight the elders were with any given member of these groups. I would guess the ratio of members-to-elder in most mainstream churches in America is significantly higher than the ratio in the NT churches. Perhaps 15:1 in the smallest churches, up to 1000:1 or more in mega-churches? How many elders does your church have? How do they care for the flock without domineering? 

  3. danyulz says:

    Great question about ratio. I’m not sure what the ratio is at our new church. Since the merger combining staff has left me a little fuzzy on exactly how many appointed Elders we have. And we just added two to that number last week, along with 17 people to the kingdom this week through Baptism! Though the question of numbers is an important consideration, I think a defined ratio is problematic based on the limited information in Bible. However, I think there is sufficient variety to call into question defining a specific number. For instance, at Pentecost 3,000 people were added and at that point is was still just the 12 apostles. Needless to say, the Christian walk is one that is designed for a personal connection and shared living out of our faith, and I’m with you in believing that end can only be accomplished with limited numbers. There are a couple of ways our Elders seek to lead without domineering. First, they preach straight out of the Bible. Exegetic teaching brings our community straight to the Bible and limits the amount of personal agenda that comes through as teaching on a Sunday morning. Second, they recognize that the personal connections required for Christian living must take place outside of a Sunday service and outside of their own personal sphere. In response, they keep church simple so that there are not a million things to keep us inside the church. They take leadership development very seriously and seek to disciple/equip committed individuals to be followers of Christ who have the skills and heart to disciple people in small , and sometimes larger, groups of Christians that gather together in community. Third, a perhaps most importantly, they prayerfully consider God’s Will and his guiding in fulfilling each of the roles and responsibilities they are given. Our elders are in prayer together consistently and maintain accountability to each other without having one particular elder as head over all the others. So that’s the answer so far. It’s not perfect. And being a big church certainly means we have our fair share of consumer Christianity going on. However, as a member I feel equipped and inspired to do my part in proclaiming the gospel and discipling his people as we all pursue Christ together.

  4. Joel Zehring says:

    God is good all the time! 17 dead people raised to life is awesome!God can use any group of people, large or small, in any way and at any time. I'm so thankful that we serve a God who delights to express himself through such diverse gatherings of people. Here's the trend I see: Christians gather in big groups, and then try to break out into smaller groups to capture what's missing in the large group gatherings. There's nothing wrong with this model, except that it's the overwhelming default in numerous evangelical churches across the country. This default status is a problem for a few reasons: There seems to be a critical mass that must be achieved for the bigger-to-smaller model to fly. If a church doesn't reach that critical mass, small groups/missional communities/connection groups don't fly. That means many of the churches who adopt this model are struggling to realize full body life because they're not big enough. Speaking of numbers, this big-to-small model perpetuates a one-dimensional definition of what a "healthy" church should be. As you stated above, there's no specific direction in the NT regarding the right numbers (except maybe "two or more"). But if your church isn't big enough to support smaller gatherings in addition to the whole group gathering, then you're already living with an inferiority complex. Church leaders can claim quantity without ensuring quality. Sure, 5000 people attend your worship services weekly, but are they all disciples? Should you even have to ask that question? I don't think one person needs to know everyone, but everyone should be known by someone. Anonymity is not an option in the Kingdom, but it's a weekly reality in big church. What if churches adopted a small-to-big model, instead? Pairs of believers or groups of two and three families gather together. Ideally, these very small groups of Christians do two things: make new disciples and network with other groups. On occasion, these groups get together to worship or serve or reach out as a network. Maybe networks even gather with other networks from time to time to celebrate God's great work in our different communities. Just like in big-to-small churches, everyone doesn't know everyone, but everyone is known by someone. Strong disciples make strong small groups. Strong small groups make strong networks. Strong networks empower disciples to make more disciples. It's not the only way, but perhaps it's a different way that would help some churches to get off the growth hormones and focus on obeying Jesus. Again, the big-to-small isn't wrong. God uses churches like this in power ways. It's just wrong to assume that this is the only way to be the church.

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