Leadership by Friendship
The Bible uses metaphors, illustrations, to teach about complex subjects (and sometimes about simple ones). One of the more complex subjects that the New Testament addresses is the question of “What is the church.” It’s also one of the most important.
Our problem with that question is that we deal with the church enough that we have a very rich functional definition of the church: we attend church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights and we know what will happen there, who will be there: we know what the church does, and we use that for the working definition of what the church is.
Occasionally, we remember that the Church is more than our congregation, and we think of her in terms of “believers everywhere,” but this definition seldom impacts our life, how we relate with God and with other believers.
Let’s look past what we have experienced in church – what church has been to us – and instead, let’s examine what the Bible says about church – what it should be. Interestingly,
Jesus said almost nothing about the church; in fact He only used the word in two places, and He never described her.
The real teaching in the NT about the Church is in the letters from the Apostles.
Peter declares that we are “…as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house….” The concept is that you and I are each stones, or bricks, and together we’re built into a brick building, a suitable house for God, and presumably for us, the church, as well.
So the two predominant metaphors for the church are a house made of living stones (who are people), and a body made of different parts (who are people). The two are similar in that they both teach that we together (not individually) make up the church. At the same time, the two images are substantially different:
A house built of stones is solid, immovable, inflexible, unchanging, while a body is flexible, always moving (only a dead body doesn’t move), growing, changing. The two are nearly opposites. What an amazing paradox: the church is unchanging and yet always changing; solid and immovable and yet always growing and moving.
But the church really is like that: there are some aspects that are solid, immovable, unchanging, and other characteristics that are flexible, growing, always changing. The mixed metaphors actually work! It’s one of those paradoxes that God is so fond of: opposite realities contained in the same truth! Both actually are true, and at the same time.
Here’s where the trouble comes: in the application of the two truths. Think about it: in what ways has the church historically been solid and immovable, and in what ways has she been flexible, growing and changing?
Haven’t we generally been solid and immovable in the structures of the church: the programs are consistent year after year, the church government remains unchanged (though different faces move in and out of the fixed positions), the services and special events are consistent week to week and year to year; the only thing that change are the names of the songs and the faces in the worship team.
The flexible and changing elements of the church have been the relationships, or at least the covenant relationships. We’ve seen a vast “sheep shuffle” in the body of Christ: people moving from church to church over the years, usually leaving a few broken or wounded relationships behind at every transition. The church leadership has (generally) welcomed the sheep who are shuffling in and either vilified those shuffling out or maintained a stern silence, while they hire a new youth pastor or children’s minister every two or three years, reinforcing the value for shuffling sheep.
And in the process of all of those changing relationships, each broken relationship leaves a measure of brokenness in our soul; it teaches us not to rely on friends and church leaders, it slowly poisons a little bit of hope with every accusation and every failed relationship.
Pardon my saying so, but I think we have this completely backwards.
What would happen if we turned this around? What if we decided to make the relationships permanent, unwavering, and allow the programs, the services, even the government, to be flexible? Wouldn’t that be different?
It would be revolutionary. Can you imagine a fellowship who says, “The friendship that we share is more important than the things we do.”? If the vision of the leaders change, then the things we do change. If someone has the vision for a conference, then several members of the team gather around him to support that vision, not because someone has decreed the vision, not because they have to, but because they love their friend and they trust him. If the vision for a core program changes, then we make changes; we probably ask God what He wants to do instead, or how He wants to do this now, but we trust our friends, the leaders.
There are several implications to this change:
· We will have to trust each other to hear God, to be led by the Holy Spirit. This is a radical departure from the traditional concept of the Senior Pastor (or Apostolic Leader) having all or the majority of the vision and everyone else supporting that one vision. We take seriously the concept of
Jesus leading and building His church.
·· Our friendship will include the leaders of the community, and it will include friendship with God as well.
We will have some meetings that are about nothing more than maintaining and enjoying the friendship we share.
· Change will have to not be an enemy anymore. (Have you heard the joke: “How many church elders does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “Change? Change????!”)· Our ultimate values will have to change. Success will not be measured in attendance or budget, or even in the number of lives we impact, but by how well we obey God.
For example, traditionally, most churches have made certain strategic decisions about how they approach ministry, and they make certain staff decisions based on those strategic decisions. If the senior leaders have decided on emphasizing evangelism for example, or home group ministry, they’ll probably hire an outreach pastor or a director of home. But they’re generally hirelings, employees of the institution, not members of the family. Their acceptance as “staff members” is dependent on their continuing to fulfill that particular function for which they were originally hired, and to adapt to the changes in vision as it’s handed to them from the Senior Pastor.
But what if we started with the relationships and made that primary? What if the group of senior leaders (the “staff” or the “elders”) is committed first to their friendship together and with God? In that environment, we don’t start the home group ministry until God gives someone on the team a vision for it. There’s no hireling needed, no job description to post for applications: the vision has grown up internally, and we support, equip and resource the vision while it’s effective, and while the vision lasts.
But we’re not surprised if the vision changes after several years; that’s the part that is built on the metaphor of the body: flexible, changing, growing; it’s the relationships are solid, committed, unmovable, cast in stone. So every so often – maybe every year or three – we review the vision: not the decree from on high (from the Senior Pastor, or the Bylaws), but the vision that’s currently growing in the hearts of these friends? “Do you still have the vision for home groups? No? Well, what vision is growing now? And does someone else have that vision? You do? Good, good.”
There are a couple of assumptions in this:
Jesus was serious when He announced His intent not to abdicate the senior leadership of the church: He really is building His church, it really is His, not the pastor’s, and He really will resource the church to carry out His vision – which may or may not be the same as the people’s vision.
· Our friendship with each other is committed to each others’ growth. It’s characterized by “encouraging one another, and all the more as [we] see the day approaching.” We are challenging each other to growth, provoking increase in our worship, our friendship, our passion for
Jesus. There is no passivity in this.
· Because of these two values – the leadership of
Christ, and the encouragement of each others’ growth – we can have confidence that if a particular church program is part of God’s plan for bringing life into the church, then He’ll provide for the program. Provision is moved off of our shoulders and onto His.
I’ve become convinced that one reason that this model of church leadership is not real popular is that it expects so much more of church leaders:
· We must be vulnerable with the other leaders in the church.
· We must be confident in our ability to hear God and in the ability of others around us to hear God.
· We must let go of our control over the organization, and trust God’s leadership. And He leads differently than we do.
· We must be able to embrace failure, even celebrate it as a family, if one of us makes a mistake. (Personally, I’m in favor of annual awards for the Best Idea that Didn’t Work and the Most Spectacular Failure.) If someone fails, our relationship is not threatened; we gather around him to restore him to the family.
This whole vision of leadership by friendship is close enough to some of our aspirations as leaders that we miss the revolutionary nature of it; we’re tempted to take one or two principles and add them to our pastor-led or committee-led structure of mostly stone. The biggest may be the temptation to build personal relationships among our staff and leave the “I’m in charge” foundation in place.
So what would happen if we used this kind of a model to lead our congregation? Would that be a fellowship that would make you interested in being part of a church again?
I'm indebted to Graham Cooke for sparking this idea in me.
I'm indebted to Graham Cooke for sparking this idea in me.