Leading Is Not A Spiritual Gift

The basic formula for leadership in the church (especially church planting) is this:

1. See a need to start something
2. Find a solid, well liked, person who people follow or be that kind of person yourself
3. Invest in that person so that they can maximize their following

Now, a few things about this model. First, you’ll notice that step number four isn’t there and it is certainly isn’t “start that thing that needed to be started” rather it just kind of ends at step three. I see it this way because in this model it seems that the end goal is just to have good leaders with large masses of followers. If you have that then you are successful. Who cares if you ever start that thing you thought needed to be started there is lots of people here now so God must have lead you somewhere else because clearly it’s a good thing and there is nothing wrong with it. Crowds equal success in this model. It’s just a bonus if you are doing the very thing you started off thinking you needed to do.

Second, this model tends to see “leadership” as a spiritual gift in which some people have it and some people don’t. Those that are leaders have a certain kind of personality usually. They tend to get things done well. They tend to be dynamic speakers. Most important, they are usually great managers. In other words, they are great at managing other people and making sure that they are doing what they should be so that the goals get accomplished.

Third, to build on the second, this model makes these ‘leaders’ find all their value in their abilities to lead. If they are dynamic and good enough, their entire¬†identity¬†gets wrapped up in being a leader. They end up crafting their leadership abilities and figuring out how to be the best leader they can be. They end up needing to do more and more things and constantly be taking people somewhere. If they are really good they might even start mentoring other leaders and send them off to do the same. However, if the crowds start to dwindle, or the leader begins to notice that they aren’t being followed anymore they will very quickly start to feel restless and need to go somewhere (or start something new or push for a new direction) in which people will follow them still or listen to them.

The whole idea of leadership in the church is pretty much bull shit. We have set most of our “leaders” up to fail by defining their role as leading (which btw is not a role at all). As soon as it’s someone’s job to lead we have a serious issue on our hands. When someone walks into a room full of people and their role is “leader” then we have lost sight of the Kingdom of God and how it understand relationships. Unless of course this leader is washing everyone’s feet around him. There is a reason why Paul has a five fold ministry setup. There is a reason why none of them are designated as the “leader.” There is a reason why Israel was dying for a king and God didn’t want to grant it. There is a reason why we want to be followed.

The church was never meant to function with authoritative leaders calling all the shots and being put on a pedestal in the spotlight and teaching all the individuals how to think. The church doesn’t need visionaries that are constantly dragging people around from one idea to the next. The church doesn’t need more followers of Christian leaders.

Maybe I’m beating a dead horse. Looking back at some posts that I’ve written over the last few years, it seems I’ve been saying the same thing over and over again. When Leaders Fail At Leading, What Next? | Church Is Just Leaders and Followers | The Art of a Good Leader | Servant Leadership Doesn’t Work. So I should just stop, I really need to get new ideas.

But I’ll end with this. Leadership isn’t a thing we need to be pursuing. Servanthood is, love is, community is. There is a reason why Christians didn’t call each other leaders and followers in the New Testament. Rather they consider themselves family (brothers and sisters) and part of the same body. In both cases, Christ is the first born and Christ is the head. That is the only leader we as Christians should be acknowledging.

My friend Dan, left this comment on my post called “Servant Leadership Doesn’t Work” that I thought was fitting to end this.

Neither Jesus nor Paul called people to be leaders. Instead, they created a fictive kinship group wherein the various individuals would relate to one another as siblings. Now, if you know anything about family relationships at the time those fellows lived, you will know that sibling relationships were to be defined by mutuality and equality (with the exception of the special treatment received by the first-born… but, of course, Paul refers to Jesus as the first-born so that conveniently removes that obstacle… just as naming God as the Father of this family conveniently prevents any person claiming the authority and power ascribed to fathers). This was a mutuality that involved each person sharing the same status and power as the others and each person sharing in the material belongings of the others.

This is also why Paul is writing letters to assemblies (ekklesiai) that are in constant conflict and turmoil. Because there was no clearly defined human leader(s) within the assemblies, things were terribly messy, factions developed, etc. Paul, however, encourages people to remain in this messy place rather than developing a more regimented structure of leadership. This is also why he must cajole, beg, plead and convince the audiences who receive his epistles – Paul did not do much to consolidate himself as a “leader”. Of course, as with most of his other efforts, Paul fails to convince here and so leadership structures rapidly appear (as in the deutero-Pauline epistles) and, not surprising, those structures favour people with (relatively) higher status and wealth (some things never change).

Thus, Nathan is bang-on when he argues we should strive simply to serve (and not be “servant leaders”). In service, I surrender my desire to lead a person anywhere. Instead, I assist that person in getting to where s/he wishes to go (even if I sometimes question the destination).

Really, the notion of “servant leadership” functions as little more than an ideological gloss for those who wish to have their cake and eat it too (i.e. I can be self-glorifying and possess power over others, while also having a clean conscience and believing that I’m acting in the best interest of others).

2 thoughts on “Leading Is Not A Spiritual Gift”

  1. Just starting with the first paragraph for now…..
    The perspective about the “basic formula for leadership in the church” is not
    the perspective I share, and I am sorry to have it viewed as this, (what was stated above),
    if that is what the culture/people who live life with us see, and/or authors’ voices are writing.

    Everyday, all day long, people who love Jesus are talking and listening to Him. They ask for help to be like Him, (they know they can’t do without it). They talk to Him about who they know and love, who they’ll meet that they haven’t yet; they’ll ask “what do you want me to do?”,
    they look for the opportunities that God places in their paths so they can literally let God
    reach out thru them to the person/people they see….That is step #1. It’s the most important,
    and without it, we risk being busy doing lots of good things….(good to who? good question.)

    The second step then flows out of this first step, “do what you see God doing”…..
    act on what He tells you, shows you,……and sometimes, most times…it’s different everyday.
    This is exciting stuff! It’s an unfolding adventure…Amazing, adrenaline-filled, God-led stuff….and so with it comes incredible passion.
    And who can keep all that passion inside? Who can?? -haven’t met anyone yet…it spills out all over the place,
    exploding all over your face, trembling down your arms, energizing your limbs…..and it draws attention. Not because you want it to, but by nature, because it is so contrary to the world we live in, it just does. People notice. And, when they ask you about what you’re doing, and why….your passion splats all over them, and they get a taste of it. And they want in.

    Crowds don’t equal success. Following Him everyday equals success. More and more and more people coming to know who God is equals success. And, once people know who He is….learning how to listen and talk to Him for themselves, and do what they see Him doing for themselves, that’s success. God has given to us the ministry of reconciliation.
    Reconciling the world to Himself. The above is just how I see it working out. In our culture, in our country, in our time. I think it’s how Jesus lived too.
    Technically it’s leadership, if you want to define it that way. But really, it’s just living with Jesus, and leaving the results up to Him. People will follow for a time…..but then they grow, and transfer that following to God and step out for themselves. And then, people will follow them. Etc.

  2. Karen, thanks for the comment!

    I think sometimes I write about a model or a perspective like I do here just to highlight a common trend that I see, certainly not pinpointing that onto anyone in particular, but more of an unhealthy system that I see becoming more prevalent. I don’t think it’s completely real all in one person, but kind of weaves in and out of people as an overarching system. All that to say, I think what you described here is how it should work and then doing that in community. What does God want us to do and what is he already doing and then join in is a good model for living day to day. It becomes scary to me when we say God wants this person to lead us (and seemingly take the fall for when things go wrong and seen as successful when things go well) and we think that is a normal way for the body of Christ to live.


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