I long for a decentralized structure, and I long for servant leadership among peers. Power corrupts, which is a danger in the church as anywhere else… and a heirarchical structure is the breeding-ground for the corruption of church leaders. Jesus talked about this, about what can happen to church leaders who start well but end up enamoured with their positions. Practically speaking, this drives the necessity for decentralization so that the structures can be interrelated but independently manageable in smaller sizes.
So quoth I about a week and a half ago in this post, which I recommend reading if you haven’t already. (The post really seems to resonate, and has now been republished at emergingchurch.info.) This was point number four of nine, and I will continue to elaborate on them one after another after another as I continue to process what they all mean.
This point number four is perhaps one of the most significant, I think, because more than any other it drives the need to seek a new way of “doing church.” I have written on this one before, when I reconsidered the Ephesians 4 gifts and when I reconsidered the doctrine of “spiritual covering”.
Most forms of church government and organization in evangelical churches are fairly highly structured. With the passage of time, even some of those which are considered “low church” are functioning more like a “high church” model where the church leaders carry a significant amount of authority within the organization. Congregationally-governed churches sometimes cede authority to a pastor or leader who is more educated or who “knows about these things” though formal training or experience. Elsewhere, support materials for pastors may offer counsel on dealing with a troublesome board or the like. In some arenas, pastors or leaders lack the formal authority to pull the church in the direction they see fit and so resort to manipulation to garner support for their desired direction. In other arenas, there is no mechanism for the expiry of a term of service as an elder or deacon, such that the congregation who appointed the leader has no means of recall except through church discipline. Hey, they don’t call it “church politics” for nothing… but it’s pharisaical and I want to see an end of it.
When one looks to the early church, one doesn’t see a lot of structure (I recommend reviewing this post for more on this theme). In the seminal reference passage, we see this:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Eventually of course, they were put out of the synagogues, being considered a sect which was not on the same path as the Jewish faith. This passage does however describe a picture of the early followers of The Way, and an attractive picture it is. The text is quite familiar and is used in the consideration of small home group ministries, but one must realize that the life of the community is founded in these gatherings, and not broken down into these gatherings. I would love a return to the simplicity of this type of structure, one which is egalitarian in nature.
I would love to see a return to servant leadership, where the leader serves those whom s/he leads. The church does not do servant leadership well… most church leaders have people whom they decline to serve, forgetting that Jesus washed Judas’ feet too. The issue of serving is bound with authority… Jesus served because his Father had given him “all things.” It would seem that one who serves may have a kind of authority to lead, but it also seems that the priviledge of leadership is extended by other people; the Bible does not indicate anywhere that one believer is granted spiritual (or any other) authority over another. This question is considered more fully in this post, with comments following. So I understand that authority, such as it is to be in the church, has nothing to do with position. Jesus talked about this, saying
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” [Matthew 20:25-28]
Power corrupts. The modern forms of church government we have created (note they are not Biblically prescribed no matter how they are supported or defended) do little to avert the corruption inherent in the holding of seats of power. Where attempts have been made to curtail the amount of power granted the community leader, I observe that this tends to push the leader to lead by manipulation. Out with all of it, I say… have you ever wondered if the “powers” against which we wrestle are not spiritual at all? (Maybe only if you’ve read Walter Wink).
Far worse (or better, depending where you stand) than Jesus’ call to servant leadership, he proclaimed his “Seven Woes to the Scribes and Pharisees” in Matthew 23. Bear with me while I quote in full:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Meditate on this passage and ask yourself what you’ve personally observed about church leadership… I think that what I’ve observed is far from unique. I’m not saying that the people who lead the church are evil or not even that they don’t intend the good of the Kingdom… but the structure with which the attempt is being made may inherently set them in grave spiritual peril in a task at which they’re doomed to fail at performing righteously. Note I’m actually asking a question in this statement… this is what may be the case.
While I want to be sympathetic to the argument that says that church leaders can exist who earnestly seek God and who exhibit servant leadership and place Christ at the center of all things. I agree with this in principle, but in practice I think it places an insurmountable burden on the men who is set in such a leadership position. They will be inherently blind to the workings of pride and beginnings of manipulation in their leadership practice. They will be tempted in this, and the vast majority will succumb… meaning that the proper leadership of an entire community can rest on the spiritual standing or falling of a single individual. Jesus calls us each to be responsible for our own standing before him, and the forms of leadership we’ve known in the church so far are counterproductive to this end. There’s no safety in numbers here… on the contrary, despite warnings against the house church movement based on size and accountability… depending how it’s practised, it may actually be safer from the abuse of leadership than is the personality-driven megachurch.
And so I long for a decentralized simple structure, one that cannot be described with an org-chart except to place God at the top and everyone else equally on the next tier. Allow those who serve to instruct us by example in the ways of Christ.
i’m following your elaboration of your nine points and really enjoying it. i included a link to the original post on my “what is emerging church” page. and i’ll be posting links to this series soon. many people decline to be very definitive at all about the emerging church and i fully understand their hesitation, but we also need some clear definitions (without being definitive or final).
i was also please to see your reference to walter wink. i just finsihed “the powers that be” and loved it. finally i have a theology for my own non-violent tendencies. thanks for a great blog!