Perhaps it is appropriate to start the year with this post. The ideas expressed here shape and define my understanding of Scripture and relationships. They influence my ideas about church, they form my personal relationship values for marriage and friendships, and they reflect my understanding of my relationship with the Father.
For me it isn’t possible to address the issues of power and leadership within relationships without those beliefs being reflected in every area of my life. At the core of these issues is the perception of who we are in relationship to God and who we are in relationship to others. I cannot imagine anything more defining or impacting on our relationships than one’s perception of their standing in relationship to God and others.
I would describe myself as flexible concerning my views of church expression, realizing that God can and will use the many different models and structures that exist. I am not a militant proponent of the “one true church model.” However, I do believe that within the myriad of church expressions, a proper understanding of authority and power is possible, and it is essential.
The problem with functioning under an inaccurate power structure is that it creates a trajectory that ultimately puts us where we did not intend to be. We find ourselves down the road realizing that our results are not what we aimed for. As far as the trajectory of church leadership is concerned, we are dealing with the trajectory of hundreds of years of history of traditional church government hierarchy.
I do not presume to have all of the answers concerning leadership, but I do see a few key values that create the foundation of how we view leadership roles and authority within the Body. While there are many aspects of our life together that are simply matters of preference, proper understanding of how we are to relate to one another is necessary. Our organizations, whatever model they happen to be, should reflect this relational understanding.
The problem with misunderstanding the nature of roles and relationships goes beyond just being an issue of doctrine or belief, because as we live out wrong beliefs in this area, the results are relationally damaging. It is not a benign issue. In an attempt to fulfill roles that were not intended, we miss out on the kind of relationships we were intended to have.
I expressed similar thoughts in a post titled Grids which was an introductory post to the leadership series:
…hierarchy is damaging to relationships because it removes the beauty of mutual submission and service which God intends for our relationships. To define our church relationships through the lens of mutuality rather than by government and hierarchy would make a huge impact in our understanding of body life and community.
Hierarchy imposes a power structure on relationships that were intended to be mutual. With mutuality, we have the freedom to give love and respect. We freely submit to one another in authentic relationship. Power and control remove that freedom by demanding submission. Requirement replaces love and relationship.
The ideas of headship and spiritual authority create a role of mediation. For each member of the Body, there is one King and Lord. He is our source of Life. No one else should presume to take that role in another believer’s spiritual life. At the extreme, there are those who presume to broker God’s grace to others. In a more subtle way, there are many who create dependence upon themselves for spiritual leadership and guidance.
We see this dysfunction in our corporate lives when there is an underlying belief that responsibility for the care of the body rests on the pastor. It is common that we not only passively allow this dynamic, but many demand that this individual meet all of their expectations. By doing so, we functionally neglect caring for one another and miss the opportunity to learn what living according to the one-another passages would be like in its fullest expression.
The narrative of the New Testament is heavy with the theme of a new era of unobstructed access to the Father. The veil is torn, we are no longer dependent on priests. All systems of mediation have been removed, and we are now encouraged to approach God as sons and daughters. Not only that, but Jesus was very clear in His command that believers not rule over one another.
For those whose circumstances and gifts create influence, there is a responsibility to steward their influence. The purpose of gifts and leadership within the body is to serve and equip. Those who are mature and gifted have the responsibility to empower and release others without demanding subservience. I would go so far as to say that as the body of Christ, we are supposed to learn to function in this way together.
Living in mutually submissive relationships isn’t always the easiest or most expedient because it requires that our actions and decisions be based in authentic and actual relationships with one another. However it is beneficial that we pursue and work toward this relational ethos in order that the work of the Holy Spirit can be reflected in the unity and relationships that occur as we submit to Jesus as the Head and to one another.