My story is that before being part of a team that planted a church in the city, I had been blessed to be a pastor for over a decade working in fairly organized churches. In the last few years I’ve had to go through a serious overhaul in my apprehension of ministry leadership. I am now part of a “Leading Community” that is forging a network of missional-communities in a very Post-Christian city.
The Anabaptist Influence
Over the last decade I devoured every book and conference I could touch that taught me how to be a better personal leader. But somewhere in that leadership hunt I stumbled upon an odd little book called “Body Politics” by John Howard Yoder. I first thought it was about American politics but discovered this short-but-sweet book was on Anabaptist ecclesiology. It’s contents lodged in my mind and spun an inner conversation. I started to read both Anabaptist works and the New Testament narrative, alongside my 21st century leadership library. A growing conflict and discontent was brewing in my leadership framework.
Re-imagining New Scaffolding
Since planting this awkward missional expression, I’ve had to re-imagine and reconstruct our leadership scaffolding. I had baptized my previous leadership commitments in isolated Bible verses and Christian lingo. In my evaluation, I began to see the overly-individualized and overly-professionalized nature of a large portion of leadership paradigms. I began to ask the question how does leadership function in a land where old maps no longer work? The challenge was to pare back my leadership zealousness in order to resurrect a Missional Leadership that is fluid, communal, sustainable and equipped for the collapse of the Christian Empire. Without being exhaustive in this post for a more Mutual Missional Leadership, what follows is the basic principles that we've employed in our Leading Community. Naturally when I speak of a more inclusive and participatory leadership, pragmatic types see chaos and anarchy. My experience has been the opposite. We intentionally cultivate the following scaffolding that steers us away from becoming personality, program or power driven. It is not romantic or without it’s struggles but it is a framework that pushes to the surface the priesthood.
1. Communal before Clergy
The Scriptures contain: Apostles, Elders, Pastors, Evangelists, Prophets, Deacons, Teachers, Paul and his Coworkers, Barnabas, Peter, James, Timothy, Junia, Phoebe, Eudia, Lydia, Priscilla and Aquila. We do not believe there is one prescribed form of church government, though we do see contextual organization. We are convinced that the early church was in process, attempting to figure things out as we are and we notice most of the NT letters where troubleshooting problems. From the New Testament we minimally observe mutuality, diversity and character. So we establish a "Leading Community" with a mosaic of voices even if it causes us to slow down our pace. The movement of the Kingdom was not intended to revolve around one gifted personality, propped up on a stage as a magnet communicator. We'd rather the messy work of "influence by mutuality" than "authority by hierarchy." Our pursuit of an emotionally healthy life together is our greatest leadership. We call people into our shared life; the cost of following Jesus and the work of building for the Kingdom on earth.
2. Submissional before Sergeants
Together we have the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. There is no chain of command, no louder voice amongst our Leading Community. Sure, our personal passions and strengths lean towards emphasizing certain areas. But we practice equality and mutual submission in valuing each others opinions, experiences and perspectives. Just because someone does more of the teaching or someone communicates to the body more often does not mean they hold more authority. Authentic consensus is valued over compliance. The work of agreement is exhausting at times but it cultivates ownership. We champion each other to use our strengths to bless and nourish our larger community. But trust is imperative as we decentralize. When we hear curious information about someone else we defer to trust; choosing to treat them with honor and respect as we seek out a direct conversation for understanding.
3. Disciplers before Deciders
Our "Leading Community" are first disciplers because we are all called to apprentice others as we apprentice under Jesus. Our team cannot make good decisions unless we are in the sacred, complicated space of being entrenched relationally with others on the journey of discipleship. This means an active calendar of sitting still with people one-on-one to navigate inner-life, family, mission and community. Leadership is not primarily about making decisions. Our first responsibility is developing people, empowering their inherent priesthood and inviting them to submit all of life to King Jesus as we seek to do the same. Our ability to influence is built on continued, transparent, relational proximity instead of church structured programs with us at the helm.
4. Consultive before Concrete
Be available, accessible, in direct dialogue and breaking bread together. Spend unhurried time meeting with people, discussing the movements of our community before forming a concrete position on an issue. Hold forums, dinners, coffee-talks to receive consultation from our larger communities. Let feedback weigh heavily on the Leading Community. Learn to compromise based on good insight from the community we love. Believe that the Holy Spirit is in them just as much as it is in you. Don’t treat this like a hoop to jump through. Embrace this for what it is; listening to the voice of the Spirit through others.
5. Accountability before Autonomy
We covenant together towards a rhythm of life that orients around two arenas; missionality and community. We welcome sustainable practices that draw us into greater hospitality, generosity and presence in our neighborhoods. We commit to orienting around community by working towards vulnerability, truth-speak, pointed encouragement and regularly shared meals. Skills do not qualify leaders character does. Leadership calls us collectively to model covenant and promise keeping. This accountability to the "way we are human" requires the constant self-evaluation among the leading core. Status can become the source of the lie that says "I don't need accountability because of who I am."