Sunday, August 30, 2020

What use are leaders?

The theme at church in the sermon (and see Darryl Erkel on this) was 'leadership' or being a 'leader'.

The sermon was about Solomon and his wisdom to exemplify the theme.

All fine, as far as it went (see Darryl's article again), but it went the wrong way.

We in the modern west seem obsessed by 'leadership': in churches, in politics, in business. None of this is right, particularly for Christians. We have one leader, Christ (Matthew 23:10).

Leader in modern usage has more to do with the often hubristic heroic 'leader' of business. I'm pleased that Mintzberg deplores this as much as I do. If there is 'leading' it is the social influence component of management (in an organisation context). Mintzberg talks, rather, about 'communityship'.

Leadership as we seem to operationalise it in the church is an artifact of media hero-worship, but Paul describes communityship. Groups of people interacting to achieve a common goal. Any organisation, including a value-producing organisation is in effect a 'community of specified purpose'. Everyone is there to do something specific for the jointly produced value.

Now, bring this back to church. Paul tells us we all have a ministry: that is, we all serve the body of all Christians in some way. What characterises ministries is the span of responsibility and the administrative conditions of the ministry. The specific content just follows.

What is essential in all ministries is responsibility.

The oxymoronic idea of 'servant-leadership' seeks to get around this by having the worst of both worlds, it is a sad compromise where 'servant' and 'leadership' mutually destruct.

Every ministry in the church is about serving the church: teaching, administering (i.e. planning, budgeting, taking minutes, organising, convening, coordinating), etc.

But, paradoxically, or maybe not, elevating some as 'leaders' disempowers all others and defeats the gospel. It tears the practice of discipleship away from everyone who is not a 'leader'. And we wonder why the church is disempowered. It has disempowered itself!

At church the Archbishop of Sydney was interviewed (by video link). He talked about 'leadership'. Not once did he talk purely about service (except for a tipping the hat to 'servant-leadership', so, not really), or about responsibility, about equipping people, about ensuring people were encouraged to do their ministry. Not a word. It was all about the splendour or the hierarchy. Thus, is the reformation a forlorn gesture that has merely replaced Rome with lots of little Romes.

I contrast this with the Army's approach to leading. The best little text on this is by Jans "Leadership Secrets of the Australian Army".

A similar pedigree attaches to Adair's triangle of leading: its about the individual, the team and the mission.

In my Army training (at OCTU, as I already had a degree) it was emphasised that the officer's major job was the welfare of his men. Pity the church doesn't seem to have this mind.

In church circles it's never about the one responsible but those for whom one is responsible, or so it seems. And that word, 'responsible', is too often missing from the hollow rhetoric of leading, which itself should be expunged from the church.

Instead? Most 'leaders' in the church are organisers or coordinators, even managers, sometimes mentors or coaches, educators, facilitators, supporters, secretary. Use those words instead, they are far more reflective of the calling of the church and tend to make people accessible in their roles instead of isolating them with the diadem of 'leader'. Others are teachers, preachers, evangelists, etc. Words are descriptive of roles, not titles of persons.

Similarly, we don't 'lead' discussions, services, youth groups. We conduct services, we moderate discussion (moderator like the Presbyterians: I like it), we minister to youth groups, and the youth themselves are trained up as organisers, ministers, enablers, even helpers. "I help the youth group organise/run/grow.", "I help our youth group to run/operate/organise/disciple its members".

Darryl Erkel has the last word.

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