Theology, Leadership, and Community

What is the culture of leadership like in your place of worship? 

Paternalistic leaders steal accountability and ownership from the people they lead and place responsibility for decisions in the hands of management. In the corporate world that’s called patriarchy (Block, 1996). In the church we call it “shepherding.” 

I know, I know; shepherding is supposed to be a good term that emphasizes the care of the shepherd for the flock. Psalm 23 is a beautiful psalm about the care of God being likened to a shepherd who cares for sheep. It’s a wonderful psalm and a great image that emphasizes an important aspect of God’s character. It is NOT, however, a program for how leadership ought to be done. 

Most churches are populated by adults, not sheep. In fact, most American churches require a certain age before you can join. Maturity and responsibility are expected from church members. Christianity teaches that people are accountable for their actions, to God and to one another. People are not dumb sheep that have to be shown how to eat, drink, and rest (well, ok, MOST people aren’t like that). 

Think about this. It used to be that Moses had to go to the mountain to get a vision from God. No longer. In this day and age, each person has instant access to God, each one can pray, each one can read Scripture. So instead of church leaders “going to get vision from God” and delivering it to the people, shouldn’t they instead be canvassing the people to see what God is saying to them? We do believe in a communicating God, right? We do believe he is the One Who placed the people in the congregation, right? 

Corporations frequently talk about the importance of “buy-in” when it comes to vision. Think how much time and effort would be saved in trying to “sell” the vision to people, if the vision was originally crafted from the individuals who, having already heard from God, contributed to it? This is partnership and it is the opposite of patriarchy. Great and fast-growing corporations practice this type of “organizational flattening.” How much more should this be a hallmark of a Christian culture which prizes love, community, personal piety, and responsibility? 

So then… what about authority, position, and church office? Next post…

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