Backwards Thoughts on Biblical Leadership

Let’s see if I can remember how to blog…I have been following the recent posts about whether leadership is “biblical.”

It is difficult to have this conversation without first defining the underlying assumptions and values regarding relationships and organizational structures.

To the degree that growth, efficiency, effectiveness, success, and influence are the aspired values, business principles of leadership are applicable and helpful.

It may be completely appropriate to apply business principles to the administrative functions of church. The complexity of the structure determines the complexity of organizational leadership that is necessary.

However, if your personal theology or ecclesiology assumes that the church should reflect an alternative way of relating that is different than a successful business organization, business principles may be antithetical to your aspired values.

Also, if your personal theology or ecclesiology values leadership roles, authority, and headship, it is likely you can “prove” your position with the appropriate scriptures.

However, if another person values mutual submission under the leadership of Christ, they will come to different conclusions about “biblical” leadership.

One of the reasons discussions about church leadership are confusing is because there is a strong tendency to transpose organizational structures and roles into the relational life of the church.

It is typically assumed that positional roles of organizational leadership translate into authority over other believers. By attaching the verbage of servant leadership, gifts, and callings, the role of leadership is given a benevolent, spiritual spin.

The most visible leaders today do not necessarily exemplify the best leadership that occurs in the church. Leadership is evident in the service of others, not in the assertion of position and titles. Organizational leadership does not equal spiritual authority.

In our society, it is difficult to use the term leader without assuming an elevated status. It is nearly impossible for people to understand leadership without attaching some form of hierarchy and creating a role of control or dependency. I do not believe that there are people selected by God to be in a position of spiritual rulership over other believers. Relationships in the body of Christ are mutual and always mindful of Jesus as the Head and Leader.

There is a form of kingdom leadership that will not lead to organizational success. It will take you down a path that few want to follow and it will put you in positions of service that go completely unnoticed. It is counter-intuitive not to expand your influence, not to capitalize on your efforts, not to sell your vision, not to create a following. It is counter-cultural to serve in obscurity, without recognition, with little to show for yourself in comparison to those who hold up the fruit of influence. There is a point where you choose to let go of the opportunity to be important or to command attention. You actually reject situations that would contribute to your personal influence and instead pour yourself into situations that hold no potential for personal advancement. You leave the leadership track in pursuit of a value more subversive than greatness.

We won’t hear much about these radical examples of kingdom leadership.

If you aspire to the “success” model of leadership, I wouldn’t recommend this route.

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27 thoughts on “Backwards Thoughts on Biblical Leadership

  1. Let’s see. Who are you again? :) It’s good to see you writing a bit. I agree that the kind of leader that Jesus described is the opposite of what we see in most churches.
    Maybe if we had more “leaders” stepping off the fast track, more folks would recognize their gifts in serving the church.

  2. Very good post.
    Unfortunately, the saints are now so emasculated by centuries of control that it is they who always demand a king to rule over them.
    It makes life far easier to be told what to do, than to seek after the still small voice of God for ourselves.

    Your penultimate paragraph is particularly excellent.
    In short, this whole walk is called the “narrow road” and Jesus said that few go on it.
    I am not saying that these good and respected leaders are not men of God. It is just that they want their fame respect and reward here.

    What if we change our definition of the word “Leader”. We always assume it means Boss, President CEO King etc.
    However I believe that the true biblical meaning is, a person who has gone first. A pioneer, a forerunner, the winner in a race. This was true of all the patriarchs and prophets of old. it was true of the Apostles.
    They were all leaders, but not rulers. I believe that this is the correct definition of the word, and it makes sense in the scriptures which are wrongly used to enforce domination.

  3. Welcome back … right on target, as usual.

    To be the first, Jesus said, we must become last — the servant of all. Like Jesus.

    I’m enjoying Scot McKnight’s new book, One.Life. Has some good counter-cultural, counter-intuitive moments.

    It’s not that we don’t know what to do … it’s that we are afraid to do it.

    Hmmm…I seem to remember a small Hobbit named Frodo saying something like that to Galadriel about a quest he had undertaken.

    Yeah … fear. Has to be cast out by love. I’m working on that part these days.

  4. “Leadership is evident in the service of others, not in the assertion of position and titles. Organizational leadership does not equal spiritual authority.”

    YES! Now what were we talking about?

    I know that my life got a lot better when I began to understand those two sentences. The problem I have these days is finding a place where others get it too. Any ideas?

  5. Its nice to have you back, but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten how to read blogs after this particularly long hiatus.

    You’re absolutely right of course. “It is nearly impossible for people to understand leadership without attaching some form of hierarchy and creating a role of control or dependency”. Servanthood is much easier to understand.

  6. provocative post. as always. thanx …

    about the only “successful” semi-business-model leaders in churches that i’ve observed are about two of them, both of whom had successful businesses before going “into the ministry.” they were successful in business because they cared for their people, cared for their clients, supervised well, and related well.

    as i’ve noted before, the vast majority of church “leaders” i’ve seen who function in a CEO-style of church organization demonstrate regularly that they would utterly fail in running a sustainable for-profit business or a non-profit agency — and yet, they want us to follow them in folly. i’d say i don’t get it, but unfortunately, i got it from repeat experiences.

    seems we need very different ways to train the kind of leaders you speak of, but there does seem to be a bit of a movement in that direction, thankfully.

  7. It is so nice to see each of you again and hear your thoughts.

    This whole topic is very much like the complementarian/egalitarian debate. It is not possible to convince some people that the husband is not in a role of spiritual authority over the wife. It is also not possible to convince some people that that a pastor is not in a role of spiritual authority over a gathering of people.

    I think that business leadership can be useful in the organizational life of the church. I also believe that mature believers do function as examples to the degree that they choose to serve others. It is the mature person’s responsibility to encourage others to depend on the leadership of the Spirit, not themselves. I believe that there are “leadery” type things that an individual can do to serve others and to serve a community and that a person may choose to make a career of this type of service. I think that all of these things can be good and “biblical.” I do not believe that any of these things indicate that some are called to a role or position of spiritual rulership in the lives of other believers.

    And now, it’s time for wrapping presents. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season.

  8. A key insight here: If one “values mutual submission under the leadership of Christ, [you] will come to different conclusions about ‘biblical’ leadership.” Loving it and I’m sure to use it myself :-).

    It is interesting that the discussion on leadership at other blogs has stirred up so much pointed discourse. Makes one curious about the context behind the positions.

  9. Do we believe that law and grace/faith are mutually exclusive?
    Gal 5v4. Christ is become of no effect to you, whoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace.

    If we believe that hierarchical leadership is correct, then in reality, we are declaring that another person should become the LAW to us.
    We are saying that the Pastor should tell us what to do, on behalf of God.
    Obedience to the Pastor, however we wriggle away from it, equates to obedience to law.

    We may be in a lovely church where faith and grace are both well taught, but if we are in practice expected to follow the leaders, as the representative of God, then OUR FAITH IS IN THE LEADERS.
    Rather than personally listening for the leading of the Spirit, we are unquestionably under law.

    Out in the streets, we are under the legitimate constitutional (ie.secular) law of the land. In the church we are under the denominational law of the church.
    The pastor equates to the policeman.

    It is frequently taught, whether from the front, or from amongst the congregation, that obedience to the pastor demonstrates the submissiveness of your heart to God. In truth it demonstrates the opposite. God doesn’t even enter into the equation. Such obedience is mere law keeping. As such it voids grace, it voids faith.

    Therefore I believe that hierarchical, leadership driven, church, establishes law over and above faith or grace.
    Gal5v4Christ is become of no effect to you, whoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace.

    1. Sorry about the confusion. It is a quote pulled from a personal journal. It seemed odd to “cite” myself, but the style of writing also didn’t flow with the rest of the post so I put it in blockquote. Maybe not the right call, I don’t know.

  10. I like the idea of a leader as one who goes ahead (as Jesus, the Pioneer of faith, did) rather than one who “stands over”. In the sense of setting examples for others to follow, I often tell a roomful of people that “all of you are leaders.” You never know who is watching you, learning from you, making up their mind to do (or, not do) as they see you doing. So in the version of “biblical leadership” that I would like to see promoted, the big concern of rulership has to do with one’s own self: “keep watch over yourself and your ministry,” “guard your heart above all things, for from it are the issues of life,” “consider yourself lest you also be tempted,” etc. Or as Proverbs 16:32 says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” And what we need is people who are more keen to do this, than to tell others that they ought to do so. None of this is possible without being fully caught up in the love of God for all people.

  11. This is an interesting post. Yet I know of no one that models this, or I have completely overlooked them.

    Who would you suggest that lives this kind of leadership.
    2 Thes 3:9
    “not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example.”

  12. Jesus loves me.

    Loving and following Him and Father,
    I love others.

    They, loving and following Jesus, Father, and I,
    love others.

    “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”

    That is biblical leadership.

  13. You have to earn the right to lead. Love is the way to earn leadership.

    The currency of the Kingdom of God is love and faith. A leader without love is just irritating noise 1 Cor. 13:1 And without love there is no kingdom activity 1 Cor 13:2

    1. Hi Scott.
      Yes love is essential, but.
      I would also say that in order to be a leader, he should be seen to be on a journey to some destination or other.
      Far too many “Leaders” are just prison camp guards masquerading as leaders. Join them and all you get is life imprisonment in their establishment!

  14. Francis,

    love and faith is just the beginning. A leader leads! Prison camp guards. Wow I never thought of it like that. A pastor should enable/encourage people to minister. Teach people how to hear God for themselves, and feed themselves and stand on their own. Isn’t that how we teach our own kids?

    1. And if our kids get it wrong, do we worry?
      No.
      We are thrilled that they are learning. We watch our children with delight every time they speak new words, or do new actions. We love it, mistakes and all.
      The prison guard pastors are so concerned that their inmates will do something wrongly that they ban them from ALL activity.

  15. This probably has nothing to do with what you wrote. But I am only now getting around to reading it and it’s something I’ve been chewing on.

    If you’ve ever seen the movie “300” this will make sense to you. The author of the book (who, ironically, I went to highschool with) developed a really intense portrait of what it meant to be a king in central Asia during the time of Xerxes (Persian Empire). Here’s a video of the specific scene I’m thinking of – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqzX8nIbOAs – so when I consider what it meant to be called a “king” in the culture that Jesus was born into and then I hear his words saying, “I did not come to be served but to serve.” and, “I did not come to be king.” I am reminded that our definition of leadership is monstrously underdeveloped and immature … not to mention that it exists in the wrong dimension.

    Nothing in Jesus’ Kingdom is going to look the way we think it should look … and given the examples we find the gospels, I really don’t know why we’re so surprised by that.

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