Should We Choose Our Leaders By Lot?

“Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” – Acts 1:26

Right now at theStory we are in Acts, we’ll probably be there for another two years. I must not be reading it very carefully because I totally skipped over Acts 1:26. Are you kidding me? They picked a disciple by casting lots?

If that doesn’t make you want to just throw away everything you’ve ever known or read about leadership then I don’t know what does. Think about how subversive that is. It’s almost like they are saying, we don’t care who our leaders are because this community doesn’t live or die by it’s leaders. We just need someone to fulfill the role. Sure we can chalk it up to thinking they just really trusted God to pick the right person. I think though it’s deeper than that. This tells us a lot about who leaders are and how we determine who they are.

For theStory, we’ve always chosen leaders by their gifts, and how they will contribute to the overarching conversation as we lead our community. If someone doesn’t do that well, we get frustrated and we can’t wait for them to step down or we ask them to leave. It’s all backwards. It’s not about having the right people in the right place to find success. Obviously, this is the case if our entire church movement was founded on the back of someone drawing the short straw. Hauerwas in the video below asks “what kind of community do you need to be that you can choose your leadership by lot?”

That question completely leaves me blank. I’ve never thought of it that way. I always thought it was what kind of community do you need to be so your produce good leaders? Or what kind of community to we need to be so we can raise leaders up from the inside and not have to hire from the outside? Those questions those presume that leaders are picked by someone (other leaders? democracy?) and that we actually know what a good leader is. So I think we do need to ask this question. Because it takes the pressure off the one leader to be a perfect leader so his community succeeds. This question though forces us to put the pressure on the community so that it doesn’t even matter who the leader is. Hauerwas asks this questions and others in the video below.

13 Comments

  • Jacques Ranciere in his reallye excellent, short, and accessible book, Hatred of Democracy (which is now in the library of the Story… hint, hint) points out how the Greek city-states used to pick their civic leaders by casting lots. Any citizen was considered capable of leading based upon their citizenship and nothing else.

    What was true of the polis was true of the early Jesus movement(which both modeled itself after and subverted Greco-Roman conceptions of the civic community). Any member of the early Jesus movement was considered capable of leading based upon their membership in that movement.

    Personally, I think that, for as long as people find leaders necessary, this may be the best way to go about things. For, as Ranciere points out, the only thing worse then ending up with an incompetent leader is ending up with a person who wants to be a leader.

    (And, yes, the Story is still very heavily committed to standard hierarchies of leadership. That was made pretty clear to me when I asked to organize an advent service.)

    • True dan, but I didn’t know you were part off the community just yet?

  • Well, I was thinking we’re all members of the not-so-early Jesus movement — meaning that we’re all members of the transnational community of the body of Christ — but maybe you make a distinction between that and your denominational designation as Free Methodists? Free Methodists first, Christians second?

    • So then, anyone who moves to a city claiming to be part of this Jesus movement we should just instantly move them into a position of shaping their weekly gatherings? Even though very few in the community as a whole actually know who they are?

      So question, did you just show up and instantly want to “lead” the church and then were thrown off because the leaders that were already there had some reservations?

      We just have a two year rule (which we bent for you). Stick around that long and then you are considered part of our local expression of the Jesus movement and then your name can go into the hat.

      All that to say, I don’t know if we are the kind of community yet that can handle leaders by draw (or are we?) and if we aren’t, how to we become that kind of community?

  • I actually don’t consider anything I did to be “leading.” That’s part of the problem with your ideology of leadership — you think that organizing a liturgy is “leading” and therefore needs to be patrolled or limited and only practiced by certain appropriate people — whereas I see that as an activity that could be done by any person who attends the Story (even the fellows who walk in off the street looking for change, if that’s what they wanted to do… or even by people who don’t attend the Story).

    Perhaps this is because you want to stimulate dialogue but you want that dialogue to take place within a certain construction of the world that you view as central to your community (the story, so to speak). Hence, leaders must discipline and control the nature of the dialogue even while appearing to be open to any kind of dialogue. For me, well, I think any kind of dialogue is beneficial, even if it transcends the boundaries of the story you want to tell.

    That said, I don’t think any community is going to be able to “handle” choosing “leaders” by picking straws as long as the designated leaders are the ones asking that question. If leaders are needed to shape a community so that people can lead (i.e. so that any designated person will end up saying or doing what the previously designated leaders want him or her to say or do). the whole point is being missed. The point is not that people must be trained to lead, if their name is pulled — the point is that all members of the body of Christ have the Spirit of Christ and can, therefore, function as designated “leaders” within the body. To suggest otherwise is to deny the presence of the Spirit in (each member of) the Church.

    I reckon the community is probably as ready as any community will ever be for that sort of endeavour. But are the leaders ready for that kind of shift?

    • 1. It doesn’t matter if you consider what you did or not leading or not. The fact is, everyone there considered you a leader, and so in this case, you are how you are perceived. I don’t want to be called “Pastor Nathan” while I’m here in Ghanna, but everyone calls me that and treats me with utmost respect because of my title. It’s awkward for me, but for me to not consider what I’m doing as leading is foolish, and it would be even more foolish if I failed to be sensitive to the culture that I am in and not act the part that I am given by them (i certainly didn’t impose it on them). So at theStory, this isn’t my ideology of leadership and me imposing it on you, this is you failing to understand the ideology of leadership of the entire community and refusing to see that they see the world different than you and trying to force them into a leaderless liturgy in which they have no common ground or understanding.

      2. Dialogue? I think that is getting off topic, so I’ll just leave that one alone.

      3. You assume with your third paragraph that I am a leader of any sort, certainly not designated. We started something and people chose to come along for the ride, no one designated me anywhere, and at anytime, the community could ask me to leave. I see no problem in leaders asking questions, I’m not sure why you do. I don’t think leaders are needed to shape communities so that anyone can lead, I never said that, I’m not sure where you got that from? So whatever point you think I’m missing, I must have missed it because I don’t remember trying to make a point like the one you said I missed.

  • Re: (1) Fair point, I suppose. Most churches are probably pretty bought into the ideology of leadership that I am criticizing. That said, and without forcing anybody to accept a “leaderless liturgy,” I’m still comfortable explicitly refusing the “leader” designation — if people are confused about that, I’m happy to clear it up for them.

    I don’t know… I doubt that people saw me as a leader in the way you say — I reckon for most people at the Story at that point, I was the kinda weird unemployed guy who got hammered at the Pirate party. I believe your wife’s comment on the liturgy I helped create was: “What the fuck is Dan’s problem?” which suggests, to me, the absence of any sort of understanding of me as a “leader” and, instead, just sees me as another (equal) person in the group (and thank God for that).

    Re: (3) Oddly enough, after trying to tell me I’m a leader whether I like it or not, you then try to suggest that you are not a leader? Am I understanding you correctly here? Aren’t you on the “lead team” (or whatever you call it)? Doesn’t the denomination even understand you as a leader in some sense (and hasn’t that been part of your problems with the denomination)? As a founder, a member of the “lead team” (or whatever that is called), heck, as one of the people who helped to approve and censor/edit my liturgy, and so on, you certainly are a designated leader. Why, from your perspective, would this be an issue? I mean, if you’re not “Pastor Nathan” then why lie to the people in Ghana about that and misrepresent yourself?

    Also, I have no problem with leaders asking questions, as long as they are not asking and answering them on behalf of others. (On this matter, I wasn’t so much responding to a point you made as observing that you were asking questions on behalf of others and were doing so as a designated leader.)

    • 1) But Rachel isn’t the one you are leading, she asked what the fuck is your problem not because she goes to church and expects to be lead in a certain direction but because she has come to accept a certain style and rhythm at church, which yours flew in the face of, and she would say that less because of her but more because she understand other people there (ie her parents) who are more likely to recognize the person up front and the one that shapes the service as a trusted leader for the day. But either way, all I’m saying is that we can claim leadership and try to grab authority all we want and point fingers at hierarchical ways of leading, but really, I think the reality of leadership is that some people lead and other people follow and other people don’t do anything and others try not not fit into that categorical system. But if you are in a place where that system is accepted, then you automatically fit into that category. Now someone like your style seems to push back against a lot of traditional forms of leadership (ie calling you pastor dan), but when you speak, people listen, and you have tried on numerous attempts to convince people through influence and conversation to participate in certain actions around the city (ie. volunteering for the homeless shelter) which is something that leaders do, they rally people together for causes or behind routines and then walk through them with the people that are there with them. I’m not talking about authority here, I’m talking about leadership, which maybe then is something that needs to be defined?

      2) Haha, you may have caught me. I tend to make two completely different statements that contradict to make two different points that don’t really have to do with the statements. But my point in my third paragraph there was more that leaders aren’t self designated, they are established by who people follow or allow to lead. So yes, I am a leader because people have begun to follow, but no i’m not a leader because I’ve designated myself as someone else’s leader. When you wanted to do a liturgy at theStory, you asked Joe and myself, why? Because we are the designated leaders or because we lead theStory through their Sunday rhythms.

      How did this conversation even get here. We probably agree :)

  • Oddly enough, once Dan told me that he’d moved to Sarnia and started attending your church I assumed it would only be a matter of time before people would begin seeing him as a de facto leader. From the very little I know about The Story it seems to be moving in his trajectory, and Dan is a charismatic and articulate person. If I were to show up at a meeting I would probably look for the person who looks the part the most, talks about the schtick in the most compelling and consistant way. That’s Dan, or at least it seems to be.

  • Thanks, Tom. That really helps my argument… in my own defense, I’m trying to be less charismatic and articulate these days (see any comment I’ve made recently on Andrew and Dan’s blog).

    If you did show up that way, I would have to explain to you that I don’t want to be any kind of gosh-darn leader but I certainly do appreciate finding companions on the journey and others who are interested in a comparable trajectory (I mean, if I’m going to go and egg your house for supporting Zionism, I need a getaway driver).

  • I can’t help but think Dan and Nathan, you were dancing to entirely different beats in this conversation.

    Dan is not a “leader” at theStory but he does have interesting, provocative, articualte and welcome thoughts, opinions and insights.

    Regardless of Dan’s leadership status in this community, when you organise, present and lead a liturgy, you are at least for the duration of that service a leader in the eyes of the people attending.

    Taking that back to the blog post, I would make two comments; first, they still appeared to believe they needed people in the Apostle roles as leaders which muddies the waters around the concept of an anarchistic community with no leaders that Dan would at least appear to be advocating.

    Secondly, Nathan and Dan both seem to discussing this as though the lots were drawn from among every member of the community rather than limited to a small pool from which to choose among. I’m not sure where that assumption comes from, or perhaps I’m reading into the comments?

    • John, are you of the thought that they only drew lots from a small pool? How would that pool get determined?
      That would be interesting to find out.

    • This is where I’m gonna revert back to a Weberian distinction between “charismatic” and “institutional” forms of authority. Charismatic authority figures are those who express the views of the group particularly well and who are thus granted some authority by the group on to the extent that, and for as long as, they speak and act in that way. Institutional authority is the sort thing thing coded into the Church — pastors, lead teams, need to have this or that qualification to be one of those, etc., etc.

      Still, even in this regard, I want to make a distinction between “authority” and “leadership.” That a person is authorized to say or do certain things does not need to mean that a person is made a “leader.” Somebody may be authorized to care for seniors, somebody to make a pot luck, somebody to clean, somebody to preach, somebody to get me a job, you know it, but the element of “leadership” need not be present here.

      So, yeah, I’ve got no beef with charismatic expressions of authority and I think the church should move towards that and away from institutional forms of leadership.

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