Showing posts with label leader. Show all posts
Showing posts with label leader. Show all posts

16 February 2016

Shoals and flocks, church works like this

Jesus often used biological systems to illustrate the kingdom of heaven - yeast, seeds, fruit, trees, weeds. He didn't say so much about church, only in Matthew's gospel is the Greek word 'ekklesia' used, and in Matthew 16:18 he tells us that he will build his church. What can we learn about church from living systems?

Swarming robots
Swarming robots
Everything else about the church is found, not in the gospels, but in the remainder of the New Testament. It's worth noting though, that Jesus did teach his disciples to love, respect and serve one another. He pointed out that if he, their master and teacher, served them, so should they serve one another (John 13:12-17). And he made it very clear that they were not to rule over one another like the Gentiles did (Matthew 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45).

So then, how are leading and following supposed to work in the church? Peter Farmer posted recently and pointed out that new forms of organisation might be like the flocking of birds or the shoaling of fish. If he is right (and I believe he is) then the normal ideas of leader and follower don't make much sense. Tell me, where in a flock of birds or a shoal of fish will you find the leader? One possible answer might be 'the one at the front', but this doesn't work. You don't have to watch a flock or a shoal for very long to see constant changing of position. There is not one identifiable leader. There is a great deal of coming and going, twisting and turning, and the flock or shoal as a whole seems to move purposefully - but how?

Studies of flocks, shoals and herds, swarms of bees and gnats, and foraging ants all show the same thing. Each individual is making its own choices of speed and direction independently of the flock. The individuals respond to certain cues, tending to keep the same distance from their neighbours and heading in more or less the same direction. There may be other cues; bees communicate direction and distance by special movements, ants leave trails of pheromones.

Simple robots (virtual or physical) can be programmed to do much the same. Give them just a few very simple rules and they will form swarms and move together.

In church life, we too follow some very simple rules. Here are some examples, perhaps you can think of more. (Leave a comment below if you can.)

  • We focus on Jesus and do our best to follow him
  • We pay attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit
  • We meet one another often
  • We encourage one another
  • We love one another
  • We pay attention the gifts we see in one another
  • We ask one another for help when we need it
  • We pray
  • We share food together
  • We show the world that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Taking these together and integrating them, I suggest we can see Jesus at the centre, discipleship, outreach, APEST leadership, an organic and living church, and an exciting journey together. If this sounds familiar - it should! For more, check out Jesus, Disciple, Mission, Church (JDMC). Notice the light touch of the APEST form of leading one another. We are all gifted and there are times for each one to contribute something that the others need to hear, see, understand or do.

I have a strong sense that as we keep these simple rules we will find we are living and moving in unison. Like the birds, fish and other animals mentioned above, we make constant adjustments to our course, but nobody commands us (other than the Spirit of Christ).

Not only do we not need leaders in the normal sense of that word, they will rather quickly take us way off track. If you think that is not the case just look at church history. If you like, look also at the history of Israel in the Old Testament. Open your eyes, see what human leadership has done over and over again. Church is a shoal in many ways and the right course is a course of togetherness, guided by those very simple rules.

Peter Farmer uses some interesting words as he considers a murmuration (flock) of starlings. These are trust, humility, unity and diversity. Do you recognise these in the list of simple rules above? He adds that the murmuration is highly adaptive, flexible, intuitive, constantly changing, everyone plays an important part and it's characterised by flow. All of these are attributes we would like to see in church life. Do you see them in the traditional denominations? Do you see them fully anywhere? Is there a sense of direction here.

How can we rethink human leadership to set the church free to flow and turn as it is intended to do? Christ's body should surely be nimble, athletic, fit and healthy. She should be adaptive, flexible, intuitive, constantly changing, everyone playing a part, and flowing.

I believe we face an important choice. Will we continue to control ourselves to a standstill? Or will we let go of all that holds us back and go with the flow of the Holy Spirit, living moment by moment by the simplest of rules? In the end, they really distill down to love.

09 February 2016

Here be giants

A few days ago I watched a Louie Giglio presentation at a friend's home. He was talking about 'giants' in people's lives, issues that they struggle with but have not been able to completely subdue. Louie Giglio used Goliath to teach that 'giants must fall', but I think there's a much deeper meaning in the David and Goliath story.

Dwarfs and giants are real, by the way. Not so often today because of hormonal treatments that can control a person's growth. The photo shows Robert Wadlow (right) and his father (left). Robert reached almost nine feet in height; he was immensely strong and was still growing until his death in 1940.

Robert Wadlow
Robert Wadlow
Personal or corporate? - At first sight it seems that Goliath, slain by David, is a great illustration of the personal battles we face as individuals. And we heard that David represents Jesus so, like the Israelite army, I am not the one who defeats my giant - Jesus is. I'm sure Giglio is right to point this out, but I am equally sure that Goliath represents a giant that threatens, not just individuals, but the entire church.

Goliath (and several other giants in the same period) did not come to defeat individual Israelite soldiers. Goliath came to defeat the entire army and, indeed, the whole nation. He shouted defiance against Yahweh (the god of Israel) and he threatened the gathered people of Israel. I suggest that there are giants defying the Most High in our day, and threatening the church. And just as David won the entire war by defeating Goliath (1 Samuel 17:9), so will Jesus have a mighty victory when he brings down the defiant, threatening giants of our day. Let's unwrap this a bit more.

The giants - Let's think about these giants. They are very big issues that the church has developed during her long history, they mislead us and are strong and powerful, difficult to identify and shake off. The people are afraid to tackle them; these giants defy the Almighty and they cause confusion and doubt. Can we identify any of these giants? I have some preliminary ideas that I will share, but there are likely to be others I haven't identified.

The leadership giant - I believe one such giant is our great misunderstanding of church leadership. I am not referring to people here, but to an idea. The giant is not a bad church leader, he is a wrong view of what it means to lead in church. Jesus clearly said that he is the only teacher and master we need, and that we are to be absolutely humble and loving (Matthew 23:8-12, John 13:1-17, John 17:21). Yet the church is full of many leaders - bishops, elders, pastors, vicars, priests, deacons, apostles, evangelists and so forth. The problem is that we have forgotten that we have one head, Christ himself, and we are not to rule over one another. To look to others to lead us is to defy the will of the Father expressed in and through the Son. There are leaders in church life, but they don't look like the leaders I'm referring to here. For more on leaders, see Jesus, Disciple, Mission, Church (JDMC), especially the sections on The APEST gifts and Other leaders.

The denominational giant - Another giant opposing the will of the Most High regarding church is the dreadfully divided state we are in. Paul criticised the Corinthians for being divided (1 Corinthians 3), and as the centuries have passed things have just gone from bad to worse. Denominations sometimes cooperate with one another, and that's great as far as it goes, but it's not the same as being one. Jesus calls us to be one 'as I and the Father are one' (John 17:20-23), Think about that for a moment. Can it be said to be true for the church today? If not, surely we're guilty of disobedience? Paul writes about one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:1-6). Some denominations even regard themselves as the one true church. If this is so, what do they think about all the others?

Wrong thinking about mission - Mostly, the church focuses on evangelism. When we think about outreach we think about sharing the gospel. But read Jesus' words in Matthew 28:18-20. Where does he mention the gospel or evangelism? He does, however, say that he has all power and authority, that we should make disciples everywhere and that he will be with us as we do it. The evangelism giant prevents us from doing what we have been clearly told. Let's try being and making disciples as Jesus commands, evangelism will happen along the way. (See the JDMC section on Becoming Disciples.)

Other giants - Are there more giants than these three? Undoubtedly, though three is probably more than enough to consider right now. The great difficulty with these giants is that we are so used to them that we no longer really see them. These giants are almost invisible, or we are so nearly blind and deaf that we neither see Goliath nor hear his daily challenge to us.

We need to ask our 'David', who is the same Jesus who said, 'Go in my name, make disciples, and I'll be with you', to demolish these giants for us.

Perhaps it's significant that David felled Goliath with a smooth river pebble. Jesus is more than a pebble, he is the very bedrock on which his church is built. And it's worth mentioning that he doesn't call us to build it. He did tell us that he would build it.

21 June 2013

Back to front truth

Leaders in the church, Part 11
< Jesus makes a start | Index | Some issues to grapple with >

Jesus gets away from the crowds and begins to teach his closest followers. There are strong hints here, and more than hints, that leading is going to be costly. It will require great humility and self sacrifice, hard labour, unpopularity and persecution, and (not least) righteousness.

Galilee with hills on the horizon
Galilee with hills on the horizon
Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew's Gospel show us Jesus teaching his close followers. It is his apprentices that he speaks to here, his disciples, not the crowd. Matthew 5:1 explicitly says that when he saw the crowds he went up on the mountain and while he was sitting there his disciples came to him.

In terms of leadership there are several things to pay attention to here. Yahshua has been travelling throughout Galilee speaking about the good news and showing it in action by healing the sick. As a result he is now being pursued by large crowds, he has become famous.

Heading out - Leaving these crowds deliberately, he goes to a remote spot involving a steep scramble that many of the sick would not have been able to tackle. He sits down on a hillside far above the lake and away from the towns and villages. Only the most determined would have followed him there. He wants to train those who will continue the work of the kingdom after he has returned to the Father.

Leaders all need to do this, at least some of the time. It's essential to reach the crowds, that is the purpose of the mission. But it's every bit as important to pass on the method and the foundational truths to the core followers. What is unique about Yahshua is not that he teaches his followers; all Jewish rabbis did that. He is different because he also goes direct to the crowds. The Pharisees and Sadducees taught their disciples in great detail, but they didn't touch the lives of ordinary people very much.

So here, in Matthew 5:1-20, Jesus comes away from the crowds and does some standard rabbinic teaching. As you read it, remember that he's speaking to leaders, those he will soon be sending out on their own. He needs them to understand some basic truths. And these truths are all back to front. Did the Pharisees think the weak would be blessed?

The beatitudes - These famous sayings of Jesus are very intriguing. Most people are puzzled by them at some level and it's likely the disciples were too. One way to get to the bottom of what seems to be a conundrum is to reverse the individual statements. I outlined this idea a couple of years ago and I have just revisited it in more detail in another post.

But the thing to notice right now is that these statements would have made the disciples think. They would have understood that this Jesus was not motivated by power or wealth, but by humility and compassion. And they would begin to realise that he wanted them to have the same approach to life. This is the underlying philosophy that all church leaders need to have. If not, church becomes an oppressive and hurtful place instead of the place of peace and welcome that Jesus intended.

Trouble, salt and light - In verse 11 Jesus makes it very clear that leaders can expect to suffer in a variety of ways because of him. Why because of him? Simply because anyone who says what Jesus says and does what he does will attract the anger of those holding worldly authority. The scribes, law teachers and Pharisees handed Jesus over for execution. The prophets suffered in the same way. The newly arrested John the Baptist was a very fresh example if one was needed!

And he explained that leaders are responsible for providing flavour and illumination. Those who do not provide these things are of little or no value as leaders in the kingdom. We often read these chapters as if they are written to all believers - and to some degree they are. But specifically they are for the disciples, then and now. Of course, we are all disciples and we are all called to lead and show one another the way. Also, we are all called to the mission of going and making disciples and teaching them everything Jesus taught us. Disciples follow and lead others so that they in turn will become disciples.

And what of the Law? - Jesus explains how his coming affects the Law. Again, it's all about leaders. Those who are obedient and teach others the same will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Do you want to be called great? You will need to become more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees (who attempted to obey the Law in minute detail). How can any man or woman become righteous? It's only possible by believing Jesus, and if we believe we'll teach others to do the same.

Clearly, the standard for leaders in the church is very high indeed. Not in terms of paper qualifications or head knowledge (the Pharisees had all the learning and theology anyone could wish for). Not in terms of appointed authority (the High Priest had that in spades). But in terms of Christ-likeness.

If you aspire to lead, begin by reading Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Then consider what it means to 'follow Jesus up the mountain'. It is hard and dangerous work but very rewarding.

Questions:

  • Are you a leader? What do you think defines a leader?
  • Are you following Jesus? If so you are a disciple, doesn't that make you a leader?
  • Why do you suppose Jesus wanted to spend so much time with his disciples (rather than the crowds)? Surely the more people he could reach the better.
  • Is it better to go wide or deep? Jesus went wide with the crowd and deep with the disciples.

See also:


< Jesus makes a start | Index | Some issues to grapple with >

20 June 2013

Jesus makes a start

Leaders in the church, Part 10
< Jesus is tempted | Index | Back to front truth >

Matthew tells us how Jesus began his ministry by moving to a new town. Like him, we need to find the right time and the right place to proclaim the good news. Like him it's essential that we demonstrate good news as well as speaking about it as widely as possible.

Walking on the shore of Galilee
Walking on the shore of Galilee
Jesus leaves Judaea following John's arrest and returns to the region of Galilee.

He moves away from his home in Nazareth and goes to live in Capernaum instead, then he begins to preach his message about the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 4:12-25).

Isn't it striking that until this time he has done nothing but construction work for thirty years?

Often described as a carpenter, it's likely his work included more than that. He was a constructor and a repairer; if you think about it those were very appropriate tasks for someone who would later construct and repair relationships between the Creator and his creation.

A time and place for everything - At the right time and in the right place he begins his work as a leader. And what a leader! Here is the King of Kings beginning to speak into the world and reveal the redemptive purpose of Yahweh in an altogether new and more dynamic way.

How often do we speak and work in the wrong place and at the wrong time? Usually we will speak whenever and wherever we have the chance. But if we are truly going to be like Christ we must learn to be much more cautious, listening to the Spirit for guidance and doing and saying what he shows us at the time and place of his choosing.

But there's more here for us as leaders. How is it that in verse 16 the 'people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light'? Like Jesus, we must live among the people. It's difficult to reach people who are strangers to us. Jesus goes, moves to a new town, and lives there. If we are going to lead we need to first get in amongst the people we need to reach and allow our light to shine there.

Missional and incarnational - Alan Hirsch considers we need a missional impulse (going out from where we are), and an incarnational impulse (living amongst those we are sent to reach). Only when these are in place can we expect to reach the hearts of the people in meaningful ways that they can accept. Isn't this exactly how Jesus began his service, in Galilee, after John's arrest? He came with a mission and he came to live among us to do it.

And in living there and walking by the sea he sees Simon (known as 'Rocky') and Andrew and comments on what they are doing in such a way that they accept his invitation to follow. He collects James and John in the same way. Now they are a band of five.

And at this point he begins to travel throughout the region, teaching in the synagogues, sharing the gospel, healing the sick, and becoming famous. His ministry is under way! Notice how he has gone out from his home locality (Nazareth) responding to a missional impulse and then settles in Capernaum (responding to an incarnational impulse).

Perhaps he lived there for a period of time, we don't know how long. He might even have taken on construction and renovation work. So Simon, Andrew, James and John were not strangers when he called them to follow him, they lived in Capernaum and would have seen him and spoken with him before, perhaps often.

Speak and act in ways that bless - Matthew 4:23-25 fills in the detail on what Jesus did as he travelled around Galilee. He taught, proclaimed, and healed the sick and the oppressed. People came from miles around, from Judaea, and the Ten Towns and from beyond the Jordan too.

Just as Jesus made disciples out of the people around him, so can we. Potential disciples surround us, all the time. But we must speak to them. And, just like Jesus, we need to bring good news, not only talk about it. Jesus brought good news in the form of healing, freedom and grace. He blessed people. He was kind.

If you aspire to lead, follow his example!

Questions:

  • Are there people in your area with needs? (eg Elderly, sick, struggling to manage, poor)
  • Can you think of ways you might bring something good to such people?
  • Who is more likely to listen, someone who knows and likes you, or a stranger?
  • Jesus hung out with people, where could you go to do that?

See also:


< Jesus is tempted | Index | Back to front truth >

17 May 2013

Jesus is tempted

Leaders in the church, Part 9
< John the Baptist | Index | Jesus makes a start >

Jesus was cast out into the Judaean wilderness (an arid semi-desert). As an example of a good leader he was tempted and passed the test with flying colours. We need to be like him in that respect. Whether we are dealing with material things, the miraculous or worship, we'd better get it right.

The Judaean wilderness
After he was baptised, the Holy Spirit led Yahshua (Jesus) away to be tempted.

Because Yahshua is our King, teacher, master and Lord he is the prime example of a leader. He's a perfect example in every way. Therefore, in this study of leadership in the church, there is no better approach than to pay attention to what Jesus said and did.

All of us are tempted, and it follows that all leaders are tempted, and because Jesus lived among us as a human being he was tempted too. So what can we draw out from Matthew 4:1-11?

Spirit led - The prayer Jesus taught his apprentices includes the words 'Don't lead us into temptation but release us from evil'. So it may seem surprising that here in Matthew 4:1 we read that the Holy Spirit led him into a barren place to be tempted.

All leaders suffer particular forms of temptation when they are in a barren place, so let's bear that in mind as we work through these verses. But let's also bear in mind that it's not necessarily wrong to be in a barren place. The Spirit himself may choose to lead us into and through such places in our lives, if necessary repeatedly.

Something to eat - Jesus has come to the uninhabited, semi-desert country where there's little or nothing to eat, he's fasted for forty days and nights. And Matthew 4:2 states the obvious - he was hungry!

In our places of greatest lack and when things are at their most desperate we may be tempted to take shortcuts. For Jesus, bread from loaf-shaped rocks would have been cheating, removing the temptation by means of a shortcut. But we don't grow by taking shortcuts; we don't feed just on bread, we feed on what Yahweh says. We must feed on his words of life. The first temptation is to be more concerned with bodily needs than with spiritual needs.

Something marvellous to see - What could be more of a draw than a man jumping from the top of a high and significant building in the heart of a city and landing unharmed? This time the evil one actually quotes from the Old Testament to make his point! This is about impressing people.

We are all tempted to do whatever it takes to get people's attention. For leaders this is always going to be a potential issue. Nobody is listening... OK then - watch this! Maybe I'm not going to jump off a building, but I might try loud, professional music or fancy artwork or special promotional offers.

But once again we must resist. Jesus shows us the way to handle the issue, the evil one is capable of quoting from the Bible but he is always looking for a way to trap us. He made a double mistake; he tried to test the Son by getting him to test the Father.

He may encourage you and me to test both the Father and the Son, but since that first Pentecost, we also carry in our hearts the same Spirit that is in the Father and the Son. If we are hearing from the Holy Spirit we will be just as hard to trick as the Son himself. We have a real advantage over the enemy.

An offer to receive power - The enemy has dominion over the world and offers to give it to Jesus. But the price is far too high. Jesus will never worship anyone but the Father and neither should we. I almost feel sorry for the destroyer, he is already defeated and nothing he offers is of any real worth. He must be desperate to try a ploy like this!

I will only accept what Jesus offers. I will worship him as he worships his Father. They and their Spirit are one and I will worship only the One.

An issue for leaders - There's a serious consideration here for anyone who aspires to lead. It's bad to go astray. But to lead others astray is far, far worse. If I serve anyone or anything other than the Lord and others follow me, I am leading them into peril. If I worship anyone or anything other than the Lord and others copy me, I am leading them to worship false gods.

We have here three examples, right attitudes to material things (bread), right attitudes to the miraculous (falling without being hurt) and right attitudes in worship (due only to the Almighty). These three stand for a host of other similar things - the stuff of life (daily needs, hobbies, worldly goods) - testing Papa ('look at me' in healing, prophecy, working of wonders) - worshipping false gods (money, power, fame).

Who is worthy to lead? Who will rightly feed the sheep and guide them?  If you set an example the sheep will follow, so make sure your example is a sound one!

Questions:

  • Jesus was tempted in body, mind and spirit. Can you think of examples from your own life?
  • What clues does Jesus' example offer concerning good strategies to avoid sin?
  • How long do you think you could survive in the desert?
  • We all lead and we are all followed. How can you be sure to set good examples in your life? 

See also:


< John the Baptist | Index | Jesus makes a start >

05 May 2013

John the Baptist

Leaders in the church, Part 8
< To Egypt and back | Index | Jesus is tempted >

John the Baptist came to prepare the way. We can learn about the purpose and right mode of leading from John. Like him we are to prepare the way for Jesus, encouraging people to see their need of cleansing and purity. Like John we must go first and when Jesus comes we do whatever he tells us.

Headwaters of the JordanIn Matthew 3 we read about John the Baptist.

John was a relative of Jesus' and he came to prepare the way for the coming Messiah.

He lived an unusual life out in the wilds, told anyone who would listen that they needed to turn away from every bad thing in their lives, and washed them in the River Jordan to make them pure.

He told the religious leaders that they should not make assumptions about their purity but must instead demonstrate it by producing good fruit in their lives. He explained that a greater one was coming and would separate the valuable crop from the worthless waste.

So when Jesus arrived and asked to be washed, John objected at first. When he did baptise Jesus the Spirit of the Most High rested on him and a voice said, 'This my Son whom I love, I'm very pleased with him'.

Leading people - So what is going on here, and what can we learn about leadership? John prepared the way and led people to a place where they were able to respond to Jesus. This should be the goal of everyone who leads. John's example shows us that we need to draw people from where they are now to a place where they can respond to Jesus and be made pure.

This is just as true for believers as it is for people who have not yet met Jesus. No matter how far we have come there is always the potential to take another step forward. If anyone wants to lead, that person should prepare the way for Jesus. Smooth the way, straighten out the lumps and bumps so that there will be fewer obstructions that might prevent a person coming closer into his presence.

It's not our place to do Jesus' work, it is our place to prepare people, to show them that they are not in a good place, to let them know that someone is coming who will sort out the good from the bad, the spiritually profitable from the unprofitable, the harvest from the waste.

Our job is to point to Jesus as the coming King and then to get out of the way so that everyone can hear and see the Light of the world for themselves. One of the most powerful ways we can do this is by becoming living examples, showing people the way and not merely telling them. This is the real meaning of the word 'leading', it's a matter of going ahead so others can follow.

Choosing or chosen? - John did not choose or select those who came in repentance and for washing. They chose and selected themselves. He baptised the humble folk and the distinguished leaders alike. Neither are we to pick and choose those we come into contact with, we must be willing to share the good news with anyone and everyone.

John did object to washing Jesus because he knew that he was already pure. But when it was clear that this was Jesus' purpose, John relented. Once again, John sets us a good example. If Jesus shows you clearly to do this or avoid that then you had better hear him and obey!

If anyone chooses to follow Jesus we must accept them joyfully and baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

If we are to lead we must do it in utter humility just as John did. We don't dress in fine or important clothes, we have no position or authoritative power. We eat the lowliest of food and live in the simplest of homes.

We meet people where they are and we tell them that Jesus is for them and loves them and wants to know them and spend time with them. We bless them and we leave them in his capable hands. We pray for them, we visit them, we encourage and help them and the little seed of new life within them begins to grow and flourish.

Questions:

  • Do you think people learn more deeply from instructions or demonstrations?
  • Why? Justify your answer to the first question.
  • John used both words and actions. Can you identify examples in Matthew 3?
  • You can plant a seed and water it. But can you cause a seed to grow?

See also:


< To Egypt and back | Index | Jesus is tempted >

29 April 2013

Men, women and children

Prompted as I wrote a reply to a blog post, I felt I needed to write at greater length on some principles of leading and following. Men, women and children all have a place in leading us in following Jesus. But is it men, women or children who do the best job of leading?

The simplicity of a young child
Felicity Dale, writing recently about women as leaders, asks, 'What is God about to do?' (It takes both men and women, Simply Church).

As I began to write a reply to her post, I felt the Holy Spirit leading me along a track I'd not considered before.

I'd had hints of this from time to time over the years but I hadn't put it all together in my mind.

Here's my response to Felicity's post.

If we define kingdom as the realm in which the King is obeyed, then wherever men, women and children are following Jesus - that is the kingdom.

But let's remember the children in all this. Believing children have some wonderful advantages over us adult believers. Everybody agrees that men can lead, a growing number agree that women can lead too, but who has considered that children can lead? Sometimes they do so in the most natural and unselfconscious way. And sometimes, as men and women, we just need to swallow our pride and follow them!

What is Father about to do?

I have a strong hunch that he is beginning to show us that all should lead and all should follow. What I mean by that is that we don't need to recognise particular people as leaders and others as followers. Instead we will be recognising leaders in the moment. Who is leading right now? Who is leading by their words, by their actions, by their love, by their compassion, by their joy, by their wisdom, by their humility? If Christ is revealing himself through a particular person right now, follow that person!

I'd like to develop this a little more.

Leaders - What do we mean when we think of leaders and leadership? A leader is clearly a person who leads, someone who goes in front. Leadership extends the idea to suggest someone whose role is to lead, someone who is skilled at leading and is expected to lead often, even always.

But I'd like to ask the question, 'Which way is a person facing when they lead?' There are three possibilities.

Looking forwards - Someone who is looking forwards is looking away from the people who are following. Such a person is looking at Jesus and following him. If I follow such a person I will also be following Jesus. Jesus goes where he chooses to go, the person who is looking towards him follows where he goes. I follow the follower so I go where the follower goes - so I go where Jesus goes. This is good, this is safe, this is what someone who leads should always do.

Looking sideways - I think we often do this. Such people are not looking at Jesus but nor are they looking at those who follow them. They're going off at a tangent. Follow them at your peril!

Looking backwards - Is this what we sometimes mean when we talk about leaders and leadership? Is the focus on the listeners and followers, not on Jesus?

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not talking here about someone speaking to a group of people. You can do that with your eyes firmly focussed on the King. I'm talking about someone who is focussed on the listeners and followers, someone who cares more about being followed than about following Jesus.

Another name for people who do this is 'false shepherd' (or 'bad shepherd'). These people want to feed on the sheep rather than lead the sheep to good pasture. Jesus shows us what a good shepherd is like. He is the Good Shepherd. He told Peter, 'Do you love me? Feed my sheep'.

Perhaps most of us, most of the time, look in all three directions. We gaze partly at Jesus, we glance away to the side, and we look to see who's following us.

Men, women and children - Remember, we're talking about believers here. So now ask yourself, can a man play the part of any of these three kinds of human leader? Yes, he can.

Can a woman play any of these parts? Yes, she can.

Can a child play any of these three parts? Well, perhaps. But in my experience believing children tend to look forward towards Jesus. Young children, in particular, tend to be much too naive to look sideways or backwards. So what does that tell you about the right kind of person to follow?

Jesus wasn't kidding when he told us that unless we come like little children we won't even see the kingdom of heaven.

Questions:

  • Do you know people who lead looking forwards, sideways or backwards?
  • Would you trust a child to lead you?
  • Depending on your answer to the previous question, why? or why not?

See also:


23 April 2013

To Egypt and back

Leaders in the church, Part 7
< Herod and the astrologers | Index | John the Baptist >

Joseph takes his family to Egypt to escape from Herod, and later they return and head for Galilee. This shows us how important it is to lead from obedience. But what do we do when the information is incomplete? And what does this say about leaders and about followers?

A painting of the escape to Egypt
When I began my trawl through the New Testament for information on leadership, I had no idea that by the seventh article I'd still be in the second chapter of Matthew!

But that is right where we are, looking at Joseph and Mary's escape to Egypt and then their decision to settle in Nazareth in Galilee. (Matthew 2:13-23)

Once again, dreams are an important feature. I've occasionally been guided by dreams in the past, I wonder if you have too? This time, the angel in Joseph's dream instructs him to take his family to Egypt because Herod is going to hunt down the baby to kill him. As before, Joseph was obedient, he got up and set off in the night for Egypt.

Later, when Herod was dead, he was told to return to Israel (again by an angel in a dream) and was finally guided (in another dream) to settle in Galilee in the town of Nazareth.

Leadership - What can we learn from this about leadership? Right away we  can see the importance of acting on what we hear from the Father.

Leading is not about following our own plans and visions, it's about following the Father's plans and visions. In other words, leading is about obedience. It's not about my wisdom, it's about Father's wisdom expressed in whatever way he chooses.

In Joseph's case the Almighty's will was expressed in dreams, it may sometimes be the same for us. However, the Holy Spirit may choose to speak in many different ways. It's up to us to be alert and notice his communication - whatever form it takes.

Acting on incomplete information - Something else we can glean from this story is that leading through obedience is not always easy.

'Escape to Egypt and stay there until I tell you' meant that Joseph's obedience would be open-ended. Not only would they go to Egypt, they would stay there for an unknown period of time. Presumably he would have found work as a carpenter and there was a large ex-pat Jewish community in cities like Alexandria. Should they settle, build a house and set up a business? Or would it be better to do contract jobs and find temporary lodgings?

Similarly, 'Go to Israel' is incomplete information; apparently Joseph was not told what part of Israel to choose or how long to remain there. Guidance and obedience don't always result in the clarity we might like.

There's also the important matter of using our own brains, wisdom and experience. When guidance lacks detail we may need to depend on our own resources to fill the gaps. Joseph decided for himself that it was unwise to go to Judaea. In a further dream he was warned again and decided to settle in Galilee in the small town of Nazareth. He worked the rest of his life and died in Nazareth without seeing what Jesus would eventually do. We rarely see the end from the beginning.

For us and for others - Leading implies followers. We have responsibilities to others and to our heavenly Father. Here is Joseph having to make decisions that also affect Mary and the infant Jesus. Here's the One who has come as Emmanuel ('Elohim with us') placing his safety in the hands of a carpenter! Even those with great authority (even Jesus) must learn to put their trust in the hands of other leaders.

This is true in the church, isn't it? Christ himself is the head of the church yet he has entrusted his body to the leading of ordinary men and women, not because he needs to but because he chooses to. And it's the same for us.

One of the primary ways leaders come off the rails is when they begin to think people should follow them. Demanding to be followed will never be effective because true authority is always given freely, not demanded. If people don't want to follow you no amount of cajoling or threatening or persuading will change their minds. But if you are worthy of respect and trust they will follow you without hesitation, even without conscious thought.

Joseph was followed into Egypt, back to Israel and on to Galilee because Mary respected and trusted and loved him. And the infant Jesus, the fullness of the Most High in tiny, helpless, human form was also entrusted to his care and to that of Mary. Have you ever thought how truly awesome that is?

And have you ever thought how awesome it is that the Father trusts us to lead one another? Jesus lives in every believer, he has planted his Holy Spirit and nature in us individually. If you lead you are leading people who are filled with the presence of the King of Kings! So be very careful and ever so humble in all you say and do and think.

This is why we are told that few should teach (James 3:1) and none should be called Teacher (Matthew 23:8). And it's why Paul wanted the churches to recognise elders who would be true and faithful (Titus 1:5-9). Much depended on it. Much depends on it still.

Leading by doing - Notice how an angel was sent repeatedly to show Joseph what to do next. He was given dreams that showed him the need to journey and provided clear destinations. There's a clue for us here if we are willing to see it.

If anyone aspires to lead the body of Christ they must lead by their actions, not merely by talking. If the lesson is to love one another then leading will involve practical and sacrificial loving. Isn't that how Jesus did it? If the lesson is sharing the good news in every day life then leading will involve inventive ways of sharing it daily.

Unlike Father, we can't insert a dream into a sleeping person's mind. However, we can insert a dream by demonstrating it in our own lives, by acting it out. In the church we are, I think, surrounded by many, many sleeping people (certainly in Western society). So go and show them the dream, reveal it to them by your actions. You are a leader, in many ways we all are. So get to it!

Questions:

  • What would have happened if Joseph had ignored the dreams in his leading?
  • Can you think of examples of local leaders in your own life who show the way?
  • How might you lead, or lead more effectively?
  • Had you considered that when you lead you are leading people who contain Christ?

See also:


< Herod and the astrologers | Index | John the Baptist >

01 April 2013

Miriam and Yoseph

Leaders in the church, Part 5
< Leading, Matthew 1:1-17 | Index | Herod and the astrologers >

Life will throw us curveballs from time to time, it's inevitable. Let's follow the example of Yoseph (Joseph) in paying attention to what we are told and basing our leadership on obedience. We may receive some explanations as well, and they can give us great confidence as we step out to lead.

A pregnant womanThis time we're looking at Matthew 1:18-25. This little section is so human, so ordinary. It's easy to read it as a family event (which, of course it is). But it's also easy to miss what it shows us about leadership.

Before we go any further let's be clear that these verses are not about the roles of men and women in the church today. They are about a Jewish betrothal two thousand years ago. There were traditional rituals and the bride and bridegroom had to play their part and follow the customary ways.

Because Miriam (Mary) was inconveniently pregnant it seemed clear to Yoseph that something had to be done. Miriam was not permitted to ask for a divorce, Yoseph would have to do that. And if he didn't do it carefully and quietly she could be stoned to death as an adulteress.

Reading between the lines we can sense his disquiet (even horror) at the possibility of her death and his desire to ensure her safety if possible. But the harder and better choice, to marry Miriam despite the pregnancy, had escaped him or he had rejected the idea. He might have done so from perfectly worthy motives.

The Almighty's messenger (the angel in Yoseph's dream) interrupted the process he planned to put in place. When he woke up he went ahead and did what he'd been told. This is obedience.

Leadership - But what has all this to do with leadership?

We need to see that Yoseph's part was to lead in this matter. This was required by tradition, social custom and the religious expectations of family and friends. He couldn't get out of it. He had to make a decision.

Let's look in a bit more detail at what he was told to do.

  • 'As he considered these things.' - It is important that we chew things over and consider our options. We must explore all the possible avenues and alternatives. It may be that the Holy Spirit will speak to us as we do so. This state of 'not yet decided' is not one we should move on from too quickly. Yoseph had 'resolved to divorce her' but was clearly still considering. As we consider, let's also pray. And as we pray let's expect guidance.
  • 'Don't be afraid.' - When the Spirit of the Most High speaks to us he will always encourage us.
  • 'Take Miriam as your wife.' - Here is some good, specific guidance. He will give us all the detail we need. Sometimes it might not seem enough, and then we need to trust him. Perhaps he will give us more once we've taken the first step.
  • 'Call him Yahshua'. - Guidance in advance, jot this down or store it in your heart. Yoseph would need this information later.

Action, not debate - Yoseph did what he was told. Notice that the angel gave him more than this; in addition to instructions he was also provided with some explanations. Expect explanation as well as instruction but do not confuse the two. Explanation may not always come, but when it does we are greatly encouraged by it and can obey with a great sense of purpose. Papa loves to encourage.

This passage shows us clearly that if we are to lead we must do so informed by what we are shown. If I lead I must do so in obedience to what the Almighty tells me. I must be prepared to hear and obey. Anyone who leads on a basis other than the will of the Father will lead others astray and undermine Yahweh's purpose. No wonder James writes that few should teach; that is a fearful responsibility indeed. (James 3:1)

Yoseph, faced with a dilemma, needed to hear, obey, and lead on the basis of what he heard. We will do well if we follow his example.

Questions:
  • When you hear from the Spirit, how do you distinguish instruction and explanation?
  • Can you think of other examples from the Bible of people who heard and then led out of an obedient heart?
  • Are there Biblical precedents for leading without hearing and obeying?
  • Is it enough to plan to the best of our ability and then do what seems best?

See also:

< Leading, Matthew 1:1-17 | Index | Herod and the astrologers >

09 March 2013

Leading, Matthew 1:1-17

Leaders in the church, Part 4
< A joy, not a burden | Index | Miriam and Yoseph >

The basis for all church leadership is not in what we do, but in who we are. Jesus himself is of the royal line of David, he is king because of his family connection and he is King of kings because of his even stronger family connection as one person in the triune nature of the Most High.

A decorated family tree
Matthew 1:1-17 - 'This is the genealogy of Yahshua'...

Right at the beginning of the New Testament is a statement that should make us sit up and think about leadership. It's not about what Jesus would do during his three years of ministry, fundamentally it's all about who he is. And the same is surely true for us.

The foundation for any kind of church leader is who they are, not what they do. Jesus' claim to be the promised, anointed One is based on his inheritance. He is of the line of kingship, descended from David, not depending on conquest or appointment or influence through political manoeuvring. And he is descended from the father of the race, Abraham.

A greater line - As will become clear later during his three years of travelling and sharing the good news of the kingdom, he has a third line of relationship - with the Father and the Spirit. So he is of the kingly line through David,  of the chosen nation through Abraham, and has an inseparable presence as part of the triune nature of the Almighty. He could not come with a greater recommendation or from a higher source.

But take note of some of the other characters in the genealogy. Abraham we've already noted, there is Isaac who prefigures the Son to be offered up by a loving heavenly Father, and he is of the line of Judah from which Judaea takes its name.

There is Rahab, a non-Jewish prostitute and her son Boaz who redeemed Ruth, and Solomon, the one who was wise enough to ask for wisdom. And last of all there is Joseph who was not Yahshua's father but who turned out to be a mere building contractor yet a great stepfather. No man was his ancestor except through a woman, Mary.

Let me repeat that. No man was Jesus' ancestor except through a woman. The entire male genealogy consists of nothing more than step-ancestors!

Not a matter of ancestry - If this tells us nothing else it should tell us that following Yahshua depends not on our inadequate human ancestry but on our relationship with the Almighty. It depends only on a willingness to turn back to the Father and receive the gift of being hidden in Christ. This is not a matter of leadership as the world sees it. Instead it's a matter of humility and acceptance and love. If a man or a woman is to lead it can only be because Jesus himself has chosen and equipped them.

These first seventeen verses of the New Testament therefore set the scene for leaders and leadership. They are foundational. Leaders are to be humble, chosen by the King alone, not necessarily of high birth. There is no inherited leadership. No hierarchical leadership. There are just people willing to play their part whatever the cost. Just like Jesus!

If you want to follow Jesus don't ask, 'What did he do?' Ask, 'Who is he?'  If you want to be a leader don't ask, 'What have I done?' Ask 'Who am I?' If you want to follow a leader don't ask, 'What have they done?' Ask, 'Who are they?'

Jesus said, 'Apart from me you can do nothing'. (John 15:5)

Questions:

  • What have you done and achieved in your life? What does it amount to?
  • Who are you? (Who are you in yourself, in Christ, in your heart?)
  • Are you a good model for those around you? Are you following Jesus?
  • If people follow you will they end up in a good place?

See also:



< A joy, not a burden | Index | Miriam and Yoseph >

06 March 2013

A joy, not a burden

Leaders in the church, Part 3
< Follow my leader | Index | Leading, Matthew 1:11-17 >

Having examined the first part of Hebrews 13:17 in detail, we can work through the rest of the verse more easily. We are to be a joy to those who are watchful amongst us, being a burden to them would be counterproductive and unhelpful.

Watching and alert
Working through the first part of Hebrews 13:17 in detail showed that the translation might be 'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't obstruct them.'

The rest of the verse explains why we should trust them and the result of doing so. (Hebrews 13:17 - Greek interlinear)

Those who 'lead the way for us' are pioneers, and like all pioneers they are alert, even wary. The Greek word ἀγρυπνοῦσιν (agrypnousin, Strong's 3982) suggests watchful awareness.

This watchfulness is applied to our lives (ψυχῶν, psychōn, Strong's 5590) as we follow in their footsteps. ψυχῶν is translated 'lives' more often than 'souls'. It's used, for example, in Matthew 10:39, 'Whoever finds their life (ψυχὴν) will lose it and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it'.

Watchful pioneers - These watchful pioneers are alert not just on their own account, but especially concerning the lives of those with them. They have a strong sense of responsibility and a duty of care. Think of this verse in terms of a young church recently planted and you'll get the idea.

If you are a more experienced believer helping half a dozen new followers of Yahshua you will be concerned about every aspect of their lives and keen to see them grow up into the fullness of the stature of the Messiah. You would share the sense of duty and responsibility described in this verse. You would want them to grow true and strong until they, in turn, could go out to make disciples.

It's the same sense of duty and care that drove Paul to write so many letters to the churches he had planted.

Moving to the last part of the verse, note that the word 'work' in the NIV translation is not there in the Greek. The word ποιῶσιν (poiōsin, Strong's 4160) means to do or make something. If it's work at all it's in the sense of assembly or construction, but more likely it merely refers back to the doing. 'That they may do it with joy and not with groans'.

The verse in English - Putting the entire verse together we might translate it something like this.

'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't obstruct them. They look out for you with a sense of duty so let them do it with joy rather than groaning. There'd be little value for you in that.'

There is no sense in this verse to support any form of hierarchical leadership structure. Rather, it describes an organic, flowing process involving a following of those who have gone further and leading to increasing maturity in the body as a whole.

Jesus came to bring life, more abundant life. He does this by setting us free from ourselves and enabling us to live in and with him, daily. We can all be helped along the way by associating with those who have travelled further, responding to their watchfulness and hearing what they say.

There's little value for us in being troublesome. That will simply slow our own progress. Is that what we want?

Questions: 
  • Does this translation make more or less sense to you than the traditional versions?
  • Is there someone who personifies this 'leading the way' role in your own life?
  • Are you watching over others? Is is a joyful experience or a cause of groaning?

See also:


< Follow my leader | Index | Leading, Matthew 1:11-17 >

21 February 2013

Follow my leader

Leaders in the church, Part 2
< Leadership and the New Testament | Index | A joy, not a burden >

We take apart the first section of Hebrews 13:17 and put it together again, examining each word and the range of possible meanings before writing out the sense in English. There are cultural, historical and political reasons for the standard translations of this verse, but the verse is capable of different treatment.

Change of direction, change of leader
Before beginning a trawl through the New Testament to study church leadership, I'd like to take a look at the verse in Hebrews that Donna and I discussed recently. Also, to set the scene, there's a basic point to make first.

As I mentioned in that previous post, any attempt at translation from one language to another will be informed by the translator's existing understanding of the subject matter.

When the translation is from New Testament Koine Greek to modern English, this understanding must be based on the flavour of the the rest of the New Testament. In particular, translating a verse about leadership will depend in part on how we understand leadership in the life of the church.

My understanding of this is that Jesus is head of the church (Colossians 1:18), that none of us should be called 'Rabbi', 'Master' or 'Teacher' (Matthew 23:8), that few should teach (James 3:1), that we are to edify and encourage one another (2 Corinthians 13:11), and that the church is built by Jesus himself (Matthew 16:18) as every part works together (Ephesians 4:15-16). As I work through the series of articles that will be my default position.

Analysing the verse - So now let's look at Hebrews 13:17. We'll take it word by word and then put the words together. I'm going to use the Biblos parallel versions to see how the verse is usually translated, and the Biblos Greek interlinear as a starting point for understanding the Greek. These are convenient as you can click through to check them yourselves.

(Notice that there is no word for 'authority' in the Greek. This was added to the NIV by the translators. Check other translations, the word is simply not there.)

πείθεσθε - This is the first Greek word in the verse, it's pronounced 'peithesthe' and is usually translated 'obey'. This is the only time the verb is used in this form in the entire New Testament but including other forms the verb occurs 53 times. The Strong's number is 3982.

'Obey' is by no means the necessary sense, the core meaning is 'persuade', 'urge' or 'have confidence in' and the root is from 'pistis' (πίστις) meaning 'faith'.  See, for example, Matthew 27:20 in the sense 'persuaded', Galatians 1:10 in the sense 'seek favour or persuade', Romans 8:38 'persuaded' or 'convinced' and 2 Corinthians 2:3 'having confidence' or 'trusting'.

When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 2:3 he did not mean 'I obey all of you' but 'I have confidence in all of you'.

τοῖς - A form of the Greek definite article, meaning 'the' and applying to the next word, 'leaders'.

ἡγουμένοις - This is pronounced 'hēgoumenois' and is usually translated 'leaders'. Once again the word is only found once in this particular form but there are 28 uses of the word including other forms. The Strong's number is 2233.

The range of possible meanings include someone who leads, thinks, has an opinion, supposes or considers. And we need to be careful here because the English word 'lead' has at least two senses. It may mean 'to be ahead' (like someone running a race), or it may mean 'to manage' or 'control' (like a company CEO or a Prime Minister).

Other forms of this word are used to mean 'regard', 'think' or 'esteem' (Philippians 2:6, 2 Corinthians 9:5) and 'leader' or 'chief' (Luke 22:26). The verse in Luke is telling, because Jesus is saying that if you are going to be a leader you should behave much more like a servant.

ὑμῶν, καὶ - These words are the pronoun 'your' (modifying the previous word, so 'your leaders') and the connecting word 'and'.

ὑπείκετε - This word is a Greek verb, it's pronounced 'hypeikete' and the common translation is 'submit'. This is the only time it appears in the New Testament, the Strong's number is 5226 and it means 'retire', 'withdraw' or 'submit'.

The sense is not necessarily submit as in submitting to the law or surrendering in battle. It is just as likely that it suggests giving way, holding back or making space.

How can we assemble this? - Although we haven't examined the rest of the verse yet, we have enough to put the first part into everyday English. So here's my first stab at it.

'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't get in their way.'

But any translation must fit its context, so now let's take a look at that. The writer wants to make some final remarks as he reaches the end of his letter. My friend Sean pointed out that the leaders are also mentioned in Hebrews 13:7 . They spoke Christ (the Word of the Most High) and the writer urges his readers to consider the results of the way they live and also to imitate their faith.

This suggests that these leaders are indeed leading by example, not by command. Just like the cloud of witnesses in chapter 11 and the beginning of chapter 12, these are living witnesses to the right way to live and the right way to believe. 'Trust those who lead the way for you and don't get in their way' Don't interrupt them, don't argue with them, hear them out when they speak in a meeting, live the same way they do, believe the same way they do.

Why the normal translation? - All of this leaves a question hanging. Why are these Greek words assigned the meanings 'obey', 'leaders' and 'submit' in most translations? We have seen that they just as naturally suggest 'trust', 'those who lead the way' and 'giving way'.

The answer, I believe, is that we are used to the standard translation. Early English Bibles were intended to support the clergy/laity system and also the rule of the king as head of the Church of England. The Wycliffe translation makes this very clear - 'Obey ye to your sovereigns, and be ye subject to them' - a strongly political statement! Because we are used to the idea of hierarchical church leadership of one form or another we are rarely free to translate this passage differently.

But the Holy Spirit is always leading us on into fresh pastures. Perhaps the old way of viewing this verse is not in line with what he is saying to the church today.

'The Message' puts it much better, 'Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel.'

That's it for now, this blog article is already long. Next time we'll work through the rest of verse 17 and try to put the entire thing together.

Questions:

  • Should we translate the Bible according to tradition or according to Holy Spirit guidance?
  • If we are being shown something new about church life, should we re-examine passages that no longer seem to fit?
  • What are the dangers in making changes to the standard translations?
  • What are the dangers in not making such changes?

See also: (Note I added these links after writing my article. My purpose is to uncover the meaning of the verse for myself and then check it later against what others have written.)


< Leadership and the New Testament | Index | A joy, not a burden >

17 February 2013

Leadership and the New Testament

Leaders in the church, Part 1
< No earlier items | Index | Follow my leader >

How should we manage and govern our meetings? How is church to be led? Everything changed in the 1960s and 70s as the Holy Spirit swept into the denominational church. Existing churches were impacted, the house church movement began, and new streams of church sprang up.

Leading and following
My wife and I have a long-standing difference of opinion about church leadership. Let me explain.

Donna is a member of Open Door Church, part of New Frontiers, one of the new streams of churches that, like others, has its roots in the Charismatic Movement of the 1960s and 70s.

The bursting out of the new wine of the Holy Spirit wasn't easily retained by the old wineskins of denominational church. What was known as the British house church movement began at that time.

New Frontiers and the other streams of the time were based on the view that new organisations were needed. Of course, some Anglican, Catholic and non-conformist churches did embrace the fresh outpouring of spiritual gifts. The pentecostal denominations were already active in that way. But there were many 'refugees' from old fashioned denominationalism and also many new believers who had never tasted a particular form of church. The new streams aimed to cater for both groups.

Staying small and open - But there were many others (of whom I am one) who felt that the new streams of church life took on far too much from the old ways. Having a leadership structure and meeting in a large building were the most obvious of these old ways (though there are many others). Used as we were to meeting at home without leaders, sharing meals together, and giving the Spirit complete freedom to lead us in praise and worship, we were quite unable to feel comfortable with any kind of organisation.

And that's the basis on which Donna and I have different views. She is very much at home in an organisation with a structure, a building, and management. I am at home as part of an organism with very little structure, no building, and managed and directed by the Spirit of Christ alone.

Another kind of small group - We do overlap in one important way. She is one of three leaders of an Open Door Small Group that meets every Tuesday evening, and I am glad to be part of that group. The meetings are in some ways rather like organic church. We meet in homes, we usually start with a shared meal, there is plenty of opportunity to chip in with a thought, a prophecy, a tongue, a vision or a prayer.

On the other hand the meetings are structured around three main elements and are managed hierarchically. Meetings normally begin with a meal, then worship led by a member of the group, next questions and a discussion based on the previous Sunday's 'preach', and finally a time of prayer on topics raised by those present. The Small Group leaders report to neighbourhood leaders who in turn are responsible to the elders of Open Door and in particular to the lead elder.

Donna is comfortable with these arrangements, I am less so. But we both enjoy the meetings and are grateful to be able to share in them regularly together.

The role of the Spirit - But it's not just a matter of how meetings are organised. There is also plenty of evidence that the Holy Spirit fills every available gap that we concede to him. I have a great deal of experience of this going back many years and also in recent times. Meetings that are completely open, not planned or governed by us in any way, are little pockets of time and space that he joyfully, even gleefully inhabits. Many times I have witnessed him working amongst us in amazing and unexpected ways, but always when he is given the freedom to do it.

It takes courage to attempt this. Things can go wrong. People can get in the way. We cannot come to this place without taking risks. But when we are prepared to step aside and let the Spirit of Christ move among us freely, he will fill the place. The more space and time we give him, the more present he becomes.

And I am convinced that out of such a place of blessing we are better equipped to go out and, in our going, to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).

Profitless discussion - A couple of days ago Donna and I had a rather profitless discussion about church leadership. (I take full responsibility for my unhelpful attitude.) I'm going to outline it here because it pinpoints the issues, points to a way forward and may be helpful to others thinking these issues through. Here's how it happened.

We were about to begin reading James together when Donna spotted Hebrews 13:17 on the opposite page. She asked me a direct question, 'How do you explain this verse if you don't think the church should have leaders?'

Indeed the church does have leaders. But they are understated and not people who rule or manage. They are recognised by those around them, not appointed by other leaders or by a committee.

But instead of saying this I responded to Donna's question by digging into the Greek and pointing out that you must translate any passage in sympathy with the general thrust of the entire New Testament. What Jesus did and said and what we read in the other letters must inform and guide us. Translation is not an exact art. The flavour of the English words we select to represent the meaning of the Greek must depend partly on that wider context. So we talked about the text rather than the concept of leadership.

The discussion went pear-shaped and we never did make it as far as reading James that evening. Partly because of this I feel the time has come to study church leadership in more detail and to be clearer in my own mind about the biblical background and the practicalities.

There are other associated issues and I think I need to look at them as a whole, not piecemeal. So I plan to come back to this topic from time to time as I make progress with the study.

Meanwhile, I would be very grateful for any thoughts or feedback you might have on the different approaches to church leadership and church government. Please leave a comment.

Questions:

  • Have you had similar or related experiences? Please consider sharing them in a comment.
  • What are your views on the Holy Spirit's involvement in your meetings? Is he fully present? Is he fully visible and audible?
  • If you could change one thing about your meetings, what would it be?

Challenge:

  • Try this at home. Meet with some close friends with no agenda and no preparation of any kind. Share a meal gratefully remembering Jesus' presence with you. After the meal sit in a comfortable place together and focus on Jesus. Don't mind silences, but share together anything  the Spirit shows you, including pictures, words, prophecy, Bible passages, persistent thoughts and more. What happened? Report back here with a comment.

See also:


< No earlier items | Index | Follow my leader >

31 December 2012

Clergy and laity

Choudhrie's steps, Part 1 of 21
< No earlier items | Series index | Meet in houses >

In his first step for transforming church life, Victor Choudhrie suggests that we rewrite the job description of the professional clergy. Instead of employing professional clergy we should expect leaders to encourage the sheep to serve one another.

A shepherd and his sheep in RomaniaHere's the first of Victor Choudhrie's steps for transforming the life of the church, in his own words.

Rewrite the job description of the professional clergy from that of a pulpit orator, sacrament dispenser and tithe gatherer, to that of a shepherd who feeds his flock to be healthy and reproducing, by encouraging them to practice the priesthood of all believers with authority to baptize, break bread and equip fishers of men. He must model a flat church structure wherein brothers and sisters submit to one another, pray one for another, serve one another, exhort, forgive and love each other. John 13:34-35; Matthew18:21-22; Ephesians 5:21

There's a lot to digest, right here in step one. It is written on the assumption that the reader is currently involved in a typical western denominational church of a particularly traditional kind.

There are professional clergy, people who are paid to work as pastors or vicars or whatever they may choose to call themselves. These people have three major roles - speaking from the front, presiding over the sharing of bread and wine, and fund raising.

A change of role - Choudhrie is clear that there must be a change of role. Shepherding involves feeding, promoting health and ensuring there is active reproduction. This would be a farmer's desire for any flock of sheep and it should equally be the shepherd's desire for church sheep. So far so good, at this point those in the newer streams of church may be feeling they are doing a reasonable job of meeting that first step. Catholics and Anglicans, however, may already be having a hard time accepting some of the changes being proposed.

But there's more! Choudhrie insists that the sheep themselves must be encouraged to act as priests and to take responsibility for baptising, breaking bread, and equipping others for capturing new followers. And the members are to learn to submit to one another and themselves do the work of church leaders. This may give pause for thought to many more of us.

Probable responses - How will traditional churches receive the suggestions in step one? There are three possibilities.

  1. Some may reject the step out of hand because it goes against church tradition and denominational rules.
  2. Others may try to make adjustments to bring their current model of church more in line with the requirements of step one. They might, for example, encourage selected and trusted members of the congregation to speak from the front from time to time, or take charge of communion, or manage a home group.
  3. And some might accept step one as it stands and make fundamental changes to the way church operates.

Questions:

  • What problems do you see with each of the three responses?
  • If the sheep are to do the work themselves, is a shepherd still necessary?
  • What do you suppose Choudhrie means by a 'flat church structure'?

See also:


< No earlier items | Series index | Meet in houses >

25 November 2012

The place of women

Here are some brief comments on ten points from a magazine article. All of these points aim to keep women in a subsidiary role in church life. We look at them to see if they are justifiable and if not, why not.

Adam and Eve
Charisma Magazine has produced a list of  'ten lies the church tells women'.

This sounds very alarming and 'lie' is a strong and emotive word. Are they right, is it true? Let's take a look at the list item by item and consider it.

The ten points are certainly worth pondering. Are they deliberate lies, are they perfectly reasonable ideas, or are they just careless and unthinking remarks?

I'll comment briefly on each item as we go through the list, but I strongly recommend taking a look at the original article where further arguments are provided. Here, then, are the ten points.

God’s ultimate plan for women is that they serve their husbands - I'm not sure how widely this is taught, but it's clearly not correct as it stands. If we are to serve anyone it is first Jesus and secondly one another.

Women can’t be fulfilled or spiritually effective without a husband - I'm inclined to say, 'Let them be the judge of that!' Paul suggests we might prefer to stay single so we can focus more fully on living for Christ (1 Corinthians 7:34), so it's preposterous to suggest that spiritual effectiveness depends on marriage.

Women shouldn’t work outside the home - So... no female nurses, or teachers? Lydia worked as a fabric trader and hosted Paul and his fellow travellers in her home (Acts 16:14-15).

Women must obediently submit to their husbands in all situations - All situations? Really? What if the husband requires her to renounce Christ? We are probably all familiar with Ephesians 5:21-33, but notice that Paul begins by saying we should submit to one another and ends by stressing love and respect. Does 'do what I say' really equate with love, respect and mutual submission?

A man needs to “cover” a woman in her ministry activities - The whole idea of 'ministry activities' is suspect - for both men and women. We live to serve Christ in everything we do and say and think. We dare not think in terms of ministry and non-ministry activities. Anna is a good example of a woman without a man to 'cover' her (Luke 2:36-38).

A woman should view her husband as the 'priest of the home' - Are we not all priests? Peter says that all who believe are a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9-10)

Women are not equipped to assume leadership roles - Junia was 'outstanding among the apostles' according to Paul (Romans 16:7). (Despite some attempts to argue the contrary, Junia is a female name.) Phoebe was a deacon (Romans 16:1), Priscilla was a 'fellow worker' (Romans 16:3)

Women must not teach or preach to men in a church setting - Paul writes that women are to remain silent (1 Corinthians 14:34), but he also writes that the brothers and sisters (implied, eg NIV) should each speak or sing (1 Corinthians 14:26). Whatever he means, it's much too simplistic to regard it as a blanket ban on women speaking. It's necessary to dig deeper than that.

Women are more easily deceived than men - There is no biblical basis for this idea. None. Genesis 3 is often offered as proof, where Eve says that the evil one 'deceived me, and I ate' (Genesis 3:13). But this is, frankly, a cop out. Adam also heard the temptation and ate so he was equally deceived.

Women who exhibit strong leadership qualities have a 'spirit of Jezebel' - This one is just made up. There is no suggestion of anything like this in the New Testament, no support for the idea at all. It seems to me to be both hurtful and offensive, a criticism that is sometimes wielded like a weapon.

There is, perhaps, just one more thing to say; and it's a warning. Be very careful about creating obstacles! (Romans 16:17-19) Let us be both wise and innocent.

May the Father and the Son through the power of the Spirit lead us into all truth and build us into the church, his Bride, pure and complete and perfect in every way. May we so love and encourage one another in everything we do that the world will see his nature represented in us. May the body be one just as the Father and the Son and the Spirit are one. In Jesus name, amen.

Questions:

  • What did Paul mean when he wrote 'there is neither male nor female'? (Galatians 3:26-28)
  • If you are a man, should you insist on these ten points? If you are a woman, should you listen?
  • Gentleness, love, peace, kindness and patience are part of the fruit of the Spirit. Are these evident in the ten points? If so, how? (Galatians 5:22-26)
  • Truth, authority, service and submission are not part of the fruit. Why not?

See also:

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