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Humans are Humans, Ants are Ants… but Sometimes One Can Learn from the Other

The other day Maggi Dawn posted about ants, saying “humans are not ants.” She’s referencing a Passionate blog post titled “One of us is smarter than all of us.”

The gist of this all is a question about the wisdom of crowds… which it turns out is not a straightforward affair. While it would appear that many minds will lead to greater wisdom, in actual fact this is only true when the members of the crowd are acting or thinking individually. When they’re working as a group to reach a consensus, they end up exhibiting less wisdom than they would individually. This leads me to wonder if it might be a valid axiom to say, “The larger the committee, the more stupid the product of their efforts.” (Remember, I’m a cynic.)

The real context is about using such analogies as ants, software, and the Internet as parallels for the type of structure the church should use… that is, decentralized and non-heirarchical.

Anyhow, Maggi goes on to suggest in her post,

…human nature dictates that leaders will always emerge. If you don’t believe me, just ask yourself who it is that is publishing the books/giving the talks/speaking at the seminars on emerging, non-hierarchical, leaderless structures. There is your hierarchy of leaders.

I don’t quite agree though, so wanted to offer a minor adjustment from my own perspective. I don’t dispute that leaders will always emerge, but the main issue being taken by many regarding church leadership structures is not that there are leaders, but that that these leaders are given an authoritative office. When a leader ‘emerges’ (parallel terminology unintentional) from a crowd as one of the crowd, people may look to that person, not because they have to, but because they recognize a gifting in that person to lead. At such time as the leadership gifting can lead no further or if character issues or motivations negate that person’s leadership, the crowd will simply stop looking to them to lead.

Conversely, in most churches today, the pastor is the pastor and has authority because he’s the pastor. If the people he leads lose confidence in him, some churches do and others do not have any form of recall; some may just have to vote with their feet.

I would not agree that those who publish the books can be equated with the “leadership” of the emerging church, at least not without qualifiers. I don’t think it would be appropriate to say that Brian McLaren is “the leader” of an emerging church movement in the same way that John Wimber was the leader of the Vineyard movement. No structure, no authority. On the other hand, Brian McLaren could be called “an authority” on the emerging church in the same way that one could become “an authority” on, say, geology. Same word, different meaning. As I’ve stated elsewhere, these people who are writing the books and speaking widely on the emerging church should be thought of more as spokespersons representing the emerging church.

Is there a heirarchy among them? Yes, I would say so… but not in the way you typically think of heirarchies. Again as I’ve analogized elsewhere, the Linux Kernel development team is an example a community-based effort where anyone can contribute, and no heirchy exists except the one derived by the respect of the community members toward specific members of the community. In this context, an overall leader and a few ‘generals’ have emerged. Heirarchy does not function structurally as in other systems, but basically as the tally of respect among peers. A thorough understanding this new kind of structure is best described in Eric Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar, and I have written on this a few times previously on this blog.

The Open Source / Free Software movement (as illustrated most prominantly in the Linux operating system) is widely misunderstood. It threatens even Microsoft, the antithesis of its ideals. Stature in that community is gained through one’s contributions, which means not for profit. For most, this is a fundamentally new way of thinking because it appears to threaten capitalism, since work product is shared rather than sold… and yet, the first software systems ever created were shared, not sold. The group good was the higher ideal, and with everyone sharing, work did not have to be “re-invented” but the work of others could be built upon and improved. Then greed set in, and sharing stopped… until the Open Source / Free Software movement, which then is actually a return to older ideals.

So what am I saying?

Firstly, regarding authority: the term authority should be related more to the knowledge gleaned through involvement with the emerging church, and not the form of authority which one person may exercise over another.

Secondly, regarding heirarchy: the fact that the emerging church has prominant spokespersons does not equate to a heirarchical leadership structure; any heirarchy which exists is merely one of peer respect, and subject to change with the will of the group.

I advocate a decentralized “flat” form of church leadership. This would not be equated with lack of leadership, but leadership, authority, and even heirarchy among leaders is something that is community-ascribed and not positionally-based.

2 Responses to “Humans are Humans, Ants are Ants… but Sometimes One Can Learn from the Other”

  1. Scribe Development Says:

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  2. A Says:

    Excellent thoughts Maynard; much to chew on. I would say that I’m inclined to agree with you, but perhaps I need to think through this some more…. Nah, I think I agree with you. :)
    More people should read this post, and your stuff in general.
    Peace my (futher) northern brother.

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