Faith Works 10-19-13
The issue isn't leadership, it's discipleship
Having spent three weeks talking about ministerial formation, in terms of seminary education and ordination processes in various Christian traditions, I would be remiss if I didn't talk a bit about a much more important subject.
For some folks reading this, they'll think "Dude, that's what you've been talking about for weeks!" But ministerial leadership is, in my opinion, just one part, maybe even a small part, of what it means to have leadership in a faith community.
Not all Christian traditions have clergy, but there are still leaders. Some have very hierarchical systems with the pastor holding remarkable authority over finances & property let alone planning & program, but those places still have – and need – other leaders.
In a Christian sense, servant leadership is the model given us by Jesus, so some would even challenge the centrality of the idea of formal leadership in the life of the gathered community.
If the leader of all should be servant of all, and "the last shall be first and the first, last," then positions and status don't really fit well into such a mold.
On the other hand, you see the early Christian movement quickly regularize the apostles by selecting a replacement for Judas to "The Twelve," and then after seeing the leadership load on the elders of the community, a group of deacons were called forth to do practical leadership in a hands-on, git 'r done sort of manner. As Stephen's example showed, this didn't mean they didn't teach or preach, but they had a particular calling of service to the gathered followers of "The Way."
There have been attempts through the ages to organize gatherings of believers in a purely consensus based model, with no individual leaders named or functioning as specific "in charge" roles. My impression is that they just don't last that way; sooner or later, they end up with leaders named as such. You can call that sinfulness, or you can just shrug and say "that's how we're made," but every regularly gathering group of like-minded people will end up with a few particular folks taking responsibility to "lead."
Leading is setting the pace, clarifying the vision, following up on general intentions with specific action. And I would argue that for most Christian congregations (the faith communities I know best), the weak point is a tendency to leave leading to the preacher. Even when there are names and faces in offices that carry similar or even equal authority to that of the clergy in the life of that church, there is very often little getting out front by them, no vision to speak of (they aren't speaking of it, anyhow), and they don't get to specific action on paper, let alone in person.
There are books aplenty out there on church leadership, and most of them strongly commend to the pastor some sort of role, but they all start with an assumption that the parson already is in a leadership role, and talk to the preacher as if she or he just needs to organize the troops differently.
A different approach is suggested by Bill Kinnon, a Canadian pastor, worship leader, and communications expert. Bill says "the issue isn't leadership, it's discipleship." Bill has long been concerned about the almost obsessive focus many clergy and church consultants and church growth books put on developing leaders, doing leadership development, and restructuring churches to more efficiently lead in practical terms.
To my reading of much of his online output over the last decade, Brother Kinnon would affirm that there is probably something worth praising in almost any leadership model or training plan, but NONE of it matters a whit if there is not healthy, growing commitment to discipleship among the members. If the members of a faith community are continuing to see themselves as consumers of a religious product, you could lead brilliantly but take the congregation nowhere.
Contrariwise, if you are teaching and preaching and modeling Christ-like ways of living, reflecting, and worshiping so that you are nurturing a community of Christ-followers, you probably won't ask at year's end "why won't anyone take on a leadership role in [insert ministry program name *here*]?"
Leaders will always be with us. We need accountability structures to ensure leadership cannot become abusive and controlling of the community and its members, but beyond that, there's all sorts of amazing ministry that can happen without formal, named leaders.
But if you don't have many disciples around, it doesn't matter how hard you work to develop a plan for a project as a leader. Your plan may just have to slow down or even stop a bit, to help reach out to those newly walking "The Way" of Jesus Christ.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in central Ohio; tell him about how you lead, or how you help teach discipleship, at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.