17 September 2012

Organic leadership?

I thought it would be good to repost this from April 2010 as we've been thinking about leadership recently. This old article is a good reminder that it doesn't really depend on us, it depends on Yahshua. He is the one who builds the church!

Oak leaves and acorns
Brian Hofmeister has tried organic church and found it difficult. He writes about his experiences in a report in Christianity Today - Leadership. Brian's conclusion is that leading organic church was just too onerous, and was not achievable without some degree of professional input.

However, this has not been my experience, nor that of many others. And I don't believe it was the experience of the early church either. There's little evidence of paid leadership in the New Testament.

So what went wrong for Brian and the people he met with? To answer that we need to go right back to define what is and is not organic church. The word 'organic' implies an organism, whereas much of our experience of church comes from organisations. An organisation usually has a top-down management structure and a hierarchical authority structure. Something which is organic begins from a seed and grows until it reaches maturity and produces more seeds which grow in their turn.

In this way, one tiny seed may produce not just a tree, but an entire forest. It takes a certain amount of time, but it speeds up dramatically with each generation and will eventually fill the space available. Trees and forests can be managed, but they don't have to be. There were very successful forests in many parts of the world before human explorers arrrived to manage them!

I think that Brian simply tried too hard to manage and guide and educate and persuade. But that's not organic. The seed that germinates and grows amongst a small group of people is the expectation that Yahshua himself will do the managing, guiding, educating, and persuading. He said, 'I will build my church.' And he really meant it! He is the only one who truly knows how to do it.

Church is a community of people who love one another because Christ has first loved them. When we come together to meet it's just the tip of a giant, hidden core of fellowship and community. When we meet, Yahshua is there at the centre. He is with us because we are his and he loves to bless us and guide us. But he's also with us day by day as we live our lives, he is with us in defeat and in victory, in sorrow and in joy.

A group of new believers, if they focus on Jesus, will help one another along the road to maturity. The wiser and more mature will look out for the others. There will be problems, but rather than training programmes and theological studies the believers need to discover how to be disciples. They need to be walking with the Lord, listening to what he says and watching what he does. Reading the Bible together will provide a lot of useful guidance. Eating together when possible, helping one another with practical things, and having good, family fun together will help too. Encouraging one another, praying for one another, all these things help to build community.

But the key is listening to the Lord and doing what he says. Out of this will come mission, church growth, and all the rest.

Brian tried an alternative model of church and found it wanting. But it wasn't really organic church. My advice to him would be try again but to do a whole lot less while expecting Yahshua to do a whole lot more!

For some related ideas, click the 'Links' button at the top of the page, some of the links will lead to other useful material - books, mp3s, DVDs, videos and more. But above all pray and ask Jesus himself to guide you, he won't let you down.

16 September 2012

Keeping watch

We consider the Koine Greek word 'episcopos' and see how Luke uses it in Acts as he records how Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem. It seems that Paul was most concerned with preventing misleading teaching from confusing and scattering the believers.

A flock of sheep
Let's take a look at another Greek word used in the New Testament and usually understood as a leadership term. The word is ἐπίσκοπος (episcopos) and is variously translated bishop, overseer, ruler or supervisor.

It literally means someone who looks around, or across, or on. Does it have the sense of governing others in some way, or might it rather have the sense of keeping watch and staying alert as a way of serving others?

There is a widespread perception and presumption that New Testament authors intended it in the former sense.

We can rule out 'Bishop' in the formal sense used by Anglicans, Catholics and others. The early church had no hierarchical structures anything like those of these groups. Nor is the term 'episcopos' understood in this way by methodists, baptists, or most other more recent church groups. They usually retain some form of structure and government, but often limited to the management of local congregations. Terms like overseer, elder, deacon, pastor, moderator may be employed, but are not normally used to denote hierarchical position.

To understand 'episcopos' properly we need to examine how it is used by the original authors and how readers at the time might have understood it. There are five passages where it's used in the New Testament. We'll check them out one by one. (Note that the word ending varies in Greek, depending on context and the rules of grammar.)

Saying goodbye to the Ephesians - ἐπισκόπους is used in Acts 20:28. To properly understand this passage we need some context, I recommend reading Acts 20:13-21:1. Paul has called the elders from Ephesus to meet him on the coast before he sets off for Kos on his journey to Jerusalem. (We'll look at the term 'elder' in a later article.) It's an emotional meeting, a final farewell. For Paul it's a short pause on a long journey.

In verses 17-21 he reminds them how he lived when he was with them. He was humble and severely tested, but he spoke only what was helpful and taught in their homes about repentance and faith.

In verses 22-25 he explains why he's leaving and that he won't be back.

In verses 26-36 he reminds them again of his teaching and tells them to keep watch and act as shepherds. They have a duty to keep watch, and it's very clear that this means guarding against wrong teaching. They are to be on their guard against the things he warned them of over and over again.

They were appointed by the Spirit (not by men, not even by Paul). They are called not to govern but to be alert for error and to be shepherds. In other words their responsibility is to be aware of the right way and trustworthy in walking it so the sheep will be safe in following them.

Paul commits them to 'Elohim and the word of his grace'. They are to be built up by the Lord, set apart for him, helping the weak by working hard to supply their own needs, giving not receiving.

ἐπισκόπους evidently has a sense of being vigilant and guarding against wrong teaching. There's an emphasis on bearing in mind the dangers and pitfalls, and on humbly serving and leading by example so that the sheep remain safe.

Next time we'll look at  the use of this word in Philippians 1:1.


11 September 2012

More on leading

In an attempt to pin down what the New Testament writers meant by the ideas of leader and leadership, we take a look at some of the words that have been translated into English as 'leader'.

A famous leaderFollowing my previous post I noticed Alan Knox's repost of his earlier article, 'Follow the Leader or Simon Says?'

I left a comment on Alan's post, referring back to my own blog. I was perhaps too hasty and didn't really make my meaning clear. When Alan replied, I tried to clarify, but the exchange of views had the side effect of making me think harder about the underlying issues.

As Alan rightly mentions, 'Scripture uses the Greek term for “leader.”' But then he goes on to add, 'I don’t see any problem with having leaders among the church.'

Issues with leadership - Nonetheless I do still see issues with human leaders. And these are issues that were already arising very early on in church life. This is made quite clear in 1 Cor 1:10-17 for example. In verse 17 Paul explains that he was sent for a purpose.

We are all called for a purpose, and for most of us that is likely to include some elements of leading others. During a local meeting all should bring something. In other words, to a degree, everyone should lead (and everyone should follow).

The fact that the Greek word for 'leader' is used in the New Testament is not enough, in itself, to suggest we should follow human leaders. There are a number of Koine Greek words translated 'leader'. Let's look at them in turn.

  1. ἀρχηγός (archégos) - has the sense 'prince' or 'founder'. It's used in Hebrews 12:2.
  2. ὁδηγός (hodégos) - here the sense is 'instructor, 'teacher' or 'trainer'. When Jesus says the lawyers and Pharisees are blind 'guides', this is the Greek word used (Matthew 23:16, Matthew 23:24 for example).
  3. πρωτοστάτης (prótostatés) - the sense is chieftain or ringleader and it's only used once, in Acts 24:5 in the 'ringleader' sense.
  4. ἡγεμών (hégemón) - this word means a ruler, commander or governor and is used in Matthew 27:2 of Pontius Pilate and in Acts 23:26 of the governor Felix. The English word 'hegemony' comes from this source.
  5. καθηγητής (kathégétés) - meaning teacher or leader. Jesus tells us in Matthew 23:10, not to be called masters or leaders. This is the word used in that verse.
There are two further Greek words that I might write about, sometimes used for leaders in more specific ways - episcopos and presbuteros. But that can wait for another article.

Meanwhile, is it fair to conclude that the five words listed above for 'leader' don't really fit our role in 'one anothering'?

Conclusion and some questions - I would argue that we should not think in terms of leaders and leadership in church life. We can all lead by example (and I encourage everyone to do so) but that's as far as it should go.

Is this fair? How do you think Jesus intended the church to be led? Did he intend you to lead, and if so how? Did he intend you to follow, and if so how?

Can you find other examples of leaders in the New Testament? What are they? What does this say about church structure and government?

See also: 

08 September 2012

Strategy? Who's strategy?

Do we need to follow good strategies, or do we simply need to obey everything the Holy Spirit shows us to do? I believe obedience, not strategy is the key to success. How about you?

Obedience training
I'm growing tired of hearing about strategy. Don't misunderstand me, there's nothing wrong with having a strategy but it had better be the right one, from the right source.

My strategy always misses something important.

My strategy is based on limited experience and the goal is one of my own choosing.

I select goals from a place of partial knowledge, poorly developed wisdom, and a proud and selfish heart.

Therefore my strategy will fail.

Perhaps I need an expert's strategy. If I read all the right books, listen to all the right teaching, get the right counselling and coaching, follow best practice and model my techniques on those of others who have succeeded, maybe I'll do much better.

So how, exactly, do I choose the right expert, the best example to follow, the best plan or programme or technique? However and whoever I choose, I am really just going around the same loop again. I am the one judging who represents the best example to follow. And I will be depending on the rightness of someone else's vision and judgement. I will still fail!

There is a solution, there is a way to succeed. It's called obedience.

I need to begin by listening to the Holy Spirit, then I need to do what he tells me. That's it, here endeth the method. There are good examples out there and it's good to be encouraged by the good examples of others. But the best examples are people who demonstrate obedience.

What do you think? Is obedience all we need if we are to follow Jesus into the harvest?

If not, why not?

What else, in addition to obedience, do we need?

03 September 2012

Beginning all over again

Beth Foster's blog is a story of movement and challenge. For the past year she has been learning to live for Jesus in a radically new way - and she is changing! Read 'Organic Life' for yourself and follow her progress. But beware! You might find yourself changing too.

Organic Life, Beth's blogHave you ever been at a place of new beginnings? Most of us have experienced the pain and anxiety when there's a disconnect between old and new. Usually there is expectant hope and a joyful looking forward as well, perhaps tinged with some apprehension or great sadness. Mixed feelings in many ways.

Whether it's a new job or retirement, a new birth or a family death, moving to live in a new home (and leaving an old one), a lot of things are going to change and we have to adjust. The same can happen when the Holy Speaks to us about a major change in our spiritual life.

I've been following Beth Foster's blog 'Organic Life' since she first started it almost a year ago. She doesn't post frequently, but everything she's written has been well worth reading.

If you are new to her blog I suggest you begin at the beginning and follow her story along from post to post.  Highly, highly recommended stuff. It's a page turner and it's challenging and thought provoking too. She is coming out of a new beginning, letting go of what was, learning to live in the 'now', prompted and guided by the Holy Spirit. She is a brave and determined lady and is unwilling to accept second best.

As you read, don't be surprised if you find yourself challenged and changed. And while you're there, I know she would appreciate a comment from you.

01 September 2012

Groups of six to twenty

< Groups of two or three | Index | Groups of sixty to eighty >

Groups of between six and twenty have many of the properties of family, especially when they share a meal together. Groups of this size may be sub-sets of a larger local church, or they may form an independent house church, or they may serve a particular function (such as an Alpha Course).

More than six, fewer than twenty
At sizes much beyond three, the dynamics of a meeting change quite dramatically. Let's take a look at this and examine the strengths and weaknesses of groups in the range between six and twenty people. (The optimum size is probably between eleven and fifteen.)

But before we do that, we're going to consider how groups in this size range are typically managed.

Many churches of more than about thirty people have smaller groups meeting during the week in addition to a main meeting on a Sunday. These groups go under a variety of names - home group, cell group, life group, small group, house group etc. Generally, such groups are encouraged or required to divide if they grow larger than about twenty people. The governance may be formal and tight, or looser and more informal.

Another kind of meeting on this scale is the house church, not usually managed or overseen by a larger organisation, but independent in nature.

Alpha groups often work well at this sort of size. So do prayer meetings, planning sessions, community projects and more.

Regardless of how such groups are managed and whatever they may be called, all of them share features and properties that are simply due to their size.

  1. Groups of this size can fit into a typical living room or garden, they don't need special facilities beyond those offered by any normal home.
  2. It's possible (and generally useful) for the group to eat together before, during and/or after whatever else they may do. Sharing a meal relaxes everyone and encourages a family atmosphere.
  3. This kind of group is small enough that everyone can know one another well, and everyone can play a part. Larger groups will usually contain some people who just sit and listen without playing an active role.
  4. Unlike smaller groups, daily contact is not practicable. So meeting once a week or less often is typical.
  5. Unless there are special reasons to avoid it, groups between six and twenty work well with a mix of men and women, young and old - just like a family.
  6. Although relaxed and friendly, groups like this will never be as intimate as groups of just two or three,
  7. With numbers like this it's possible to sing and even dance. There is scope for Bible discussion, prayer for individuals and for the local area, prophecy, tongues and interpretation, and teaching.
  8. In a mixed group of this size there will usually be a good range of experience, ability and personality. As a result members of the group can often guide and encourage one another.

There is great value in groups of this size. Fewer than six people may be insufficient for all of the dynamics listed above to come into play, and more than twenty is too many for everyone to play an active role. If you are involved in a church of thirty or more people, suggest to them that it would be useful to have smaller groups meeting during the week.

Brian Swan's post, 'The 'F' word', is a graphic tale of how things sometimes (often?) turn out in larger groups. Being small is no guarantee of being able to communicate well, but certainly it can help.

Questions:
  • If you are currently part of a group of this size, can you tell us about it in a comment? What is good? What is not so good?
  • If you are not part of such a group, are there ways you might find or create one?
  • In what other ways might a group of this size prove useful?
  • Jesus had twelve close followers, why did he choose a group of this size?

See also:

< Groups of two or three | Index | Groups of sixty to eighty >

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