Leadership in Kingdom Communities

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Few topics get as much heated debate as leadership in church communities. In today’s blog post, my goal is to frame three principles that are simple, yet can radically alter for the better, the current models of leadership in the church.

As always in these blog posts, I am not doing an exhaustive study on the topic, I’m not covering all the important points, and I’m not giving a course on leadership. Rather, I’m choosing a few points that can change everything if you take them seriously. These points can be applied in any form of assembled church, whether traditional churches, home churches, or café communities.

I am deliberately not going into leadership topics such as male or female roles, qualifications of elders, and organizational structure. These are worthy topics. But first, some over-arching principles are needed.

So, what are the three points that can change everything?

  1. Kingdom community leaders should come from within the community.
  2. Church leadership is multiple and shared.
  3. Church leadership is facilitative, not directive.

From Within

Let’s start with a statement that may come as a surprise. There is no Biblical evidence, mandate, or precedence for recruiting pastors from a distance. If you find a good Biblical argument for head-hunting for pastors from afar, please show me. I’m eager to see it!

I am not saying it’s wrong in a moral sense to have pastors come from afar. I’m just saying that we don’t have to find leadership that way. In fact, it’s highly unhelpful and undermines the growth and witness of the church – because it pre-empts the true maturing of the Body (I know that’s a big statement, but unpacking it is for another posting). You may now be thinking, but then, who? We don’t have people in our church who are capable, have the time, and are willing to lead!

You may be right. But it’s a problem of our own making. Our system and dependence on finding usually seminary-trained professional clergy from afar has undermined the whole character, discipleship, and leadership development of the church.  

What is clear in the New Testament is that God promised the Spirit to enable communities to serve one another, teach, edify, and learn together. This is what making disciples is all about! It’s not a job we delegate to the professional class! We now have an entire generation of believers in churches, who don’t know how to study, lead, disciple, and care for one another spiritually. This needs to be modeled. Modern pastors are professionally trained and paid workers who very few will ever be able to emulate.

Another objection I can almost hear you thinking right now is this: what about Paul and Timothy and all the other examples of people who went community to community teaching? The answer is fairly simple. They had an apostolic church planting ministry and started church communities that they soon set up with LOCAL leaders. They never assumed the role of “Senior Pastor” of those communities. Today, we have such workers, and we should support them. But in supporting them, we should challenge them to follow the same example of the early church planters – and set up local leadership. A common complaint from modern church planters goes something like this: “But they aren’t ready yet. I have to teach them a lot more. Doctrine is important, and we can’t trust them to get it right yet.” Those are valid points. But the answer is not to plant yourself as the trusted source of leadership and doctrine for that community (although that’s exactly what we have done, to our detriment). Remember that the early church was highly illiterate and did not have the New Testament, which only started to appear decades later in the form of letters and gospels. Yet, with some basic teaching, and trust in the Spirit, they were able to nurture a movement that turned an Empire upside down. 

So, we are kinda stuck! Christian communities should grow their own leaders. But we haven’t. So we recruit professionals. Which only deepens our dependence on outside leaders. What can we do? First is to accept that we are in a bit of a mess of our own making. Then, take a look at the next two points for some clues.

Multiple Leaders

Let’s assume that you accept point one, that leaders should come from within. With that in mind, consider that there is no Scriptural evidence that a single elder or leader be appointed as the “head” of the church! Paul’s instructions are to appoint people with more maturity and experience in the faith (elders!) to serve the church!  It’s the beautiful role of a servant leader. Leaders developing leaders in Kingdom Communities. If we all did this, we would have plenty of leaders to not only lead our existing communities but divide and multiply into new neighborhoods where people following Jesus assemble to love one another, serve, worship, and learn together!

Now, how does this solve the problem in point one above? It’s a clue to one thing that can be done.  In cases where a church has a paid pastor recruited from afar, that leader can commit to this principle of multiple leaders, and begin to function as an elder from within, who divests his role and experience into the lives of others in the church. Rather than ‘assume’ responsibility for running the church (because that’s what he was paid to do), the pastor can begin to practice the principle of multiple leaders so that a new generation does not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Facilitative

The role of elders should be primarily facilitative. The Church is the Body of Christ. It is meant to operate socially. That means it assembles. This is the meaning of the Greek word that Jesus and the apostles used: ekklesia. When it assembles (and even when it is not assembling) it functions as a Body where each part contributes to the health of the rest. The role of elders (church leaders) is to ensure the functioning of the body. It’s not to be the source of all knowledge and authority for the church. Rather with a servant’s heart driven by love, elders ensure that each part plays their role. And among those roles will be teachers and others who help the Body learn and grow. The elders, themselves, may be teachers, but they are probably not the only ones. If we were to use some business language here, the elders are team leaders who nurture the community’s goals through the talents and skills that exist on the team.

The current model of church is unsustainable. Larger churches make it work by sheer ability to hire professionals to do the work. But this is not what the character of the Kingdom is meant to be. Sadly, we pass our model of church leadership on to the “mission field” where new communities adopt this unsustainable model, and grow in dependence on not only outside leaders but also outside money. 

It’s high time this cycle stops. We can help interrupt the cycle by adopting these three principles. Let’s replace our fear of letting go of the familiar (tried, but not true) and learn to trust that God knew what He was doing when He gave us His Spirit to enable us as communities. Develop shared leadership from within that facilitates the community ministering to one another in love, baring Witness to our Saviour. That’s a church that can multiply and turn the world upside down.

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Mark Orr

Mark was raised as a missionary kid in Brazil. He has committed his life to helping emerging leaders be more effective, and ultimately the Church more able to carry out her Mission in the world. He has previously served in global refugee mission work. Mark and his family are Canadians, but have lived in the UK, Greece, and Uganda over the last 10 years.

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