A little while back David Fitch was lamenting on his normally excellent blog how corporate America has redefined “Biblical Leadership” for the church. In fact, he suggested the we should invent a new word to describe what leaders do in the church.
So do we throw the word out and invent a new word that will describe only what Christians do when they lead in the church?
Because I do respect Dr. Fitch’s writings, the next couple of posts will look at some of his comments about Biblical Leadership.
1. The word “leader” itself is rarely used in the New Testament.
Fitch rightly points out that the word for leader, arche, is rarely used in NT literature. Instead the word for servant or serving, diakonia, is used. He thus concludes, “The NT writers therefore used a word to describe leadership in the church which contrasted violently to the current secular notions of office.” Not so fast.
Today, leadership scholars make a large distinction between positional leadership and other types of leadership (like moral, charismatic, open, situational, adaptive, etc.). Positional leadership is just what it sounds like, leadership based on the position you hold in an organization. The leader appeals to the authority of the group to get people to do things. The Greek word for leader, arche, is this kind of structured leadership. In fact, we get our English word “hierarchy” from it.
So here is one problem. As the New Testament was being written, a structured relationship did not exist in or among the early church, therefore there was no need to use the word arche. The church existed mostly in small gatherings scattered throughout the Roman empire. Fitch argues that arche was not used because it typified a different kind of leadership. Perhaps, but in fact it never fit the situation of the writers. The hierarchy of the church didn’t come until later.
Fitch continues to argue that “the NT…appears to carefully avoid the models of authority available in surrounding society for defining leadership in the church. All this suggests that using the word ‘leader’ as has been defined by the business culture of the N America is highly dubious for the church and, dare I say, ‘unbiblical.'” That’s just too big a jump for several reasons.
First, there is no consensus on North American leadership in business today; Fitch’s statement is far too broad. See Goethals and Sorenson.
Second, there are a number of secular leadership writers who argue against the traditionally rigid corporations of the 40’s and 50’s. Two great ones are leadership practitioner Peter Block in his great book Stewardship and Charlene Li in her marvelous Open Leadership.
This conversation should focus on the values of individuals, not a faux division between church and business leadership. More to come.