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random thoughts on church “structure” and leadership

This came up in an email discussion recently and I’d like to process it here for the benefit of many of you whom I know can relate.

My husband and I were talking last night about how “dumb” we feel sometimes because people look to us for systems and plans and we just don’t always have what they want from us because so much of what we’re doing is destroying the notion that you need to have all of those things. For example - - how do you plan to reach the fringe culture? ummm…errrr….well….we were thinking of just getting to know them by hanging out where they are and seeing where it goes from there.

It’s not always easy feeling dumb. But one thing it does is require you to REALLY TRULY HONEST TO GOONESSLY rely on God. Something I’m learning I need to do WAY more.
In several different conversations lately people have been talking about leadership and how they don’t want it to seem like there’s “one person in charge”. But usually the person talking IS a leader, and clearly so. So what I’m hearing them say is that they don’t want leaders in the way that the Church has cranked them out from seminaries and bible schools in the past. Leadership and pastoring are certainly needed and good and existing areas of gifting so anyone who denies that is missing the point a bit, just like decrying any form of proclamation misses the point.

I get a little shivery when I hear house church folk talk about how there is no leader in their group, that they’re all leaders…as I heard somewhere, the leader is the first person people look at when there’s a question no one can answer or a problem no one can solve. There is a leader in every “person unit” in the human race. But a leader is ultimately and firstly a servant. A leader guards the vision and guides people IN THEIR PATH not just in the leader’s path. This is something most of us have never seen done well.

However, the question then becomes, how much has our idea of “leadership” and “pastoring” been tainted by society’s views of those things. In America, a pastor is a CEO..or at the least, an upper level manager. “Good” pastors, those who grow big churches, share the personality type with CEO’s of the world’s most successful companies. Those pastors who don’t have that personality type will likely never grow a big church outside of a sovereign act of God…at least in the existing model.

I think a more “destructured” idea of leadership freaks out leaders a bit. I’m a leader and a teacher and in a “traditional” model of church, figuring out where I fit is pretty easy as long as they recognize women as valid leaders. My gifts and personality type actually thrive in that environment. Which is why what we’re doing really freaks me out sometimes. ..what do I do and where do I fit in a system that is an anti-system, in a model that defines itself as an anti-model? If I can’t read a book about 10 fast ways to grow a church of a thousand or more, what the hell am I supposed to do with these gifts?! The easy answer is ‘let go’. But it’s a poorly unsatisfying answer.

All that to say, I’m not sure there really is an answer except to look at how Jesus led, at how Jesus taught, at how Jesus pastored….not the specifics but his attitudes, behaviors and apparent guiding principles. He was a leader, he was a servant, he was a pastor … he was NOT a CEO. He was powerFUL but not power”OVER”.

I’m personally dubious about true servant leadership and “priesthood of all believers” ideas being able to survive and thrive in a larger traditionally modeled institutionalized congregation (over 250). Not that it can’t but I’m dubious. Now, that doesn’t mean I think big churches are bad or wrong or anything, I just think they have to function in a certain way because of their size and so a lot of this discussion applies to them in a very different way. And since we are not currently called to “pastor” a large church, it’s outside the scope of my problem solving at this time.

The truth is, this whole realm is so scary to most people that even though they feel that there might be something “more”, something better, they will stay entrenched in the “way it’s always been done” because breaking open the box is not worth the pain and struggle to them. Those of us who have already laid waste the box, have done so because the box has caused us so much pain that we really don’t have a choice. We either destroy the box or the box destroys us. That’s the beauty I suppose of God using our pain to create something better.

…so those are random thoughts as they pop into my head. no cohesiveness and no answers but that’s what pomo Christianity is all about right? - answers in the form of more questions ;) And lest anyone think that I know what I’m doing and am looking down on everyone else, rest assured, I’m clueless and have yet to even manage to keep track of my cell phone much less provide answers for anyone. I mean, seriously, I just posted a picture of myself posing while sticking my finger up my nostril - - how seriously can you take someone who does that?!
[tags]emerging, postmodern, missional, leadership[/tags]

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  1. Paul — April 23, 2007 #

    I enjoyed that Mak, thank you :)

    the idea of anti-system system or a plan to have no plan, just reflects for me your point that it is not so much about the method but about the character - how are we in relation to God and each other and how does that effect/inform/transform us?

    I read some good stuff today about how we relate to the tri-une God - often we reflect the characteristics of one but not all - so we can be senders, a la the Father, but crap at being sent a la the son. Or we can be servants but crap at being transformation a la the Spirit. Now whether we can manifest all those at once i am not so sure, after all we are cracked image bearers but i wonder how much the reaction from CEO to servant is a shift through the tri-une gears - we’ve had too much Father we need to rebalance with the son? We’ve had too much structure/plan now we need more life/creation with the Spirit etc?

    Which is of course just as appealing to my me first nature so maybe i also need to balance that out with obedience, sacrifice etc so it becomes more than an opt out but an opt in = and sometimes i’ll need to lead and sometimes be led…

  2. Paul — April 23, 2007 #

    ps loved the finger fishing shot - hope you caught yourself a beauty of a boggie??? :)

  3. Mak — April 24, 2007 #

    LOL…well, since I was just posing, no. But in any other real life situation I would have been sure to ;)

  4. Mak — April 24, 2007 #

    Paul - good thoughts, thanks.

    I keep thinking of something Tony Jones said at the Mainline Emergent conference (you can get the podcasts on emergent village) about how some focus on orthodoxy, some on orthopraxy but emergents tend to attend more to orthoparadoxy (something someone else said that Tony was quoting). … meaning, we desire to live well in the paradox, in the place of tension, walking the line.

    I find that very true and I think what you said about being incarnations not only of Christ but of Christ AS the triune God is really fascinating to think about.

  5. jim — April 24, 2007 #

    Thanks for your thoughts…i’m struggling with this a bit:

    I love being a pastor in my 90 member mainline denom. church (and yes I’ve got say that I love getting pretty well paid for it!) but at the same not a day goes by where I don’t wonder if the way we are doing church is going to survive into the future and what that means for my ‘vocation’ and ‘leadership.’

    I love that there are folks like you out there (whether by way of their pain caused by church or simply out of a general discontent with the way the church fails in its mission) going for broke and giving their all to try something new and different. Keep at it!!

    By the way I think in the switch over from your old blog to this one, I ended up dropping a link to your blog from my blogroll. Do you mind if I add you back to my blog roll?

  6. Mak — April 24, 2007 #

    that’d be great Jim.

    as to your situation, here’s the thing…I don’t for one second think that everyone is called to lay it all down and do crazy stuff like we are. The only time I think pastors will get in trouble is when they rely on their salaries, when they find too much comfort in their systems and familiar surroundings when it is AT THE EXPENSE of the sought.

    I think that God can and will use you mightily right where you’re at by expanding your vision and scope of mission. Shine on!

  7. tina — April 27, 2007 #

    I’m have all those thoughts too, Makeesha. Just the other night my husband and I were talking about really being “out of the box” and how scary that is especially at first. We decided that if you’re still comfortable, you’re not really “out of the box.” -Thanks,

  8. John Smulo — April 28, 2007 #

    I’ve been meaning to comment on this, I’m a little slow–even more than normal :-)

    I might be reading people wrong, because I take a lot of people as actually saying that leadership is wrong–whatever the model–unless everyone is a leader. I’m really frustrated by this, which might say more about me than them.

    But it seems to me that a plurality of leaders is the way to go, and that not everyone is a leader. I can’t imagine anyone who has pastored a church of even 100 saying that you don’t need some type of leadership structure.

  9. Mak — April 28, 2007 #

    I’ve heard lots of “no leader” or “no one in charge” language coming from house church folk. and it makes me cringe as well john. It just doesn’t make sense nor is it wise or Scriptural.

    I think strong leadership in a community is a great thing but we have to be thoughtful and prayerful about what “strong leadership” looks like.

    “cluster leadership” or “core team leadership” has been our preferred method but ultimately we still have a “buck stops here” leader … which is us.

  10. Shannon — April 28, 2007 #

    I think it’s clearly seen in Scripture that God has always had a “go to” individual and I don’t think he has changed his position on this. I agree that the current model of leadership is flawed in many ways and needs to be re-vamped. Part of me fears that what we’ll end up with is a very simplistic view of leadership which will only diminish God’s view of what leadership should look like. I think the risk involved is that if we have no “leader” as in “the buck stops here” kind of leader, we’ll lose the accountability that we’re all called to in scripture.

    Great post!

  11. Mak — April 28, 2007 #

    thanks Shannon - - I share your concern with an oversimplified view of leadership but I also wonder if becoming more “complex” involves getting back to basics in a way

  12. Webb Kline — April 28, 2007 #

    Mak, you always have a way of engaging my brain even when I can’t. Thanks again. ;)

    The thing that scares me is that whenever a group of friends gets together and starts doing something they’re impassioned to do, someone starts talking about leaders and everyone starts saying things like, “He/She’s our leader,” or “We need a leader,” or “Take me to your leader.” Next thing you know someone files a 501c3, comes up with a name, as if crazy, eccentric, or whacko Jesus Freaks just doesn’t do it for them, and then yet another institution comes in and steals away the efficiency, spontaneity, faith, passion and outright fun we were having.

    So far we’ve been too busy in our group to wind up in a mess like that. It’s not that we don’t have those who are recognized for their leadership qualities and that people don’t seek their counsel–they do. But, as with all the APEPT gifts, they’re just there. We honor and use them to guide us, but spontaneous serving is encouraged and so far God has managed to make use of everything we endeavor to do even if it was less-than-wisely executed.

    Yeah, I’m burned out from top-down leadership, control freaks and the bottomless pit of committeism, and perhaps I’ve spent too many years waking up on some exit ramp in the middle of the desert with no one around but me and my God to tell me what to do, but I’m a happy as a pig in slop with my life, with where God has led me, with what I’m able to do for His Kingdom and for people in general, and I’m REALLY, REALLY happy that for the past 15 years I haven’t had some control freak church leader raining on my parade. I’m not saying they’re all that way; maybe I just had more than my share of them.

    I still contend that we would do better to just go out there and involve ourselves with meeting actual human need than to try starting an institution before we even know what form it needs to take, or before what kind of leadership is needed (and that IS a big consideration that is seldom addressed). I’ve found that when you take the initiative to act out of compassion toward your fellow man, it resonates with people and they start jumping in to help and things begin to happen without all the burdens associated with church as usual. When form finally makes sense, you are free to allow that form to take the shape that can best serve your mission. Traditional IC is just too wag-the-dog for me. I believe it can change, but I honestly am enjoying way too much not knowing what a day will bring forth to ever be a team player in such a structure again.

  13. Steve Sensenig — April 28, 2007 #

    I can only speak for myself as part of a “house church” or “simple church”.

    I think that the way we in this type of church talk about leadership is not meant to imply that there are no leaders.

    Rather, it is meant to dismantle the assumption from the outside that there is a very clear, obvious, “person in charge”.

    It is, from our perspective, an attempt to get back to an organic sense of leadership functioning as the Spirit directs, rather than just filling a “position” on the staff.

    I don’t know if that helps any or not. I just wanted to point out that I don’t think it’s as foreign to what you’re saying as you might think it is.

    As far as Shannon’s comment, I think the idea of a “go to” person in Scripture is much more severely limited to the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus is revealed as the fulfillment and completion of all of those “go to” people. (e.g., Hebrews 1:1-2)

    Just my 2 cents.

  14. Mak — April 28, 2007 #

    Steve, I’m sorry if I sent the message that I think all house church folks thing the same way.or that all lack an understanding or appreciation for godly Spirit directed servant leadership..I was just sharing some things I’ve heard lately from people…and not just house church.

    Revolution would be classified as organic missional simple church or intentional eclectic I guess. Although, we’re pretty difficult to classify.

    David and I are clearly leaders but not the only leaders and we do not have an institutionalized hierarchal structure in any sense of the phrase.

    So I completely understand and relate to that. I think maybe I’m advocating resisting the urge to throw the baby out with the bathwater…and esp. making decisions predominantly from a place of pain

  15. Mak — April 28, 2007 #

    tina, thanks for your thoughts :) always a joy to see you drop by

  16. Mak — April 28, 2007 #

    webb - oh I hear you being burned out on IC leadership. I am too…sick to death of it. I’d like to think that Revolution has and is becoming what you are speaking of but I think that in most cases where there are good leaders and godly communities, you’ll see more structure than anyone thinks there is if you look closely enough…it’s just such an organic healthy structure that no one feels like it’s anything like what they’ve experienced in the past.

    living by example is one of the best ways to be a good leader IMO…and something that I have rarely seen in my life. My pastors and other church leaders were always too busy running the business of the church to live the mission. That change alone could make a HUGE difference in churches.

  17. Shannon — April 28, 2007 #


    The New Testament Scriptures are rich in “go to” persons. It’s sounds generic to label these Godly people as simply go to people as the office they filled was and still is sovereignly ordained by God himself.

  18. Steve Sensenig — April 29, 2007 #


    I’d be completely receptive to hearing some specific examples of what you are seeing in the NT.

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