I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership in Church, especially leadership in the PCUSA. You see, I’m currently “under care” in the PCUSA, and I meet regulary with the CPM, which is the Committee on the Preparation for Ministry. I have been an “inquirer” for a very extended time (over two years) and I have no desire to move to candidacy at this time. I met with my committee this Sunday, sharing my feelings and thoughts with them regarding leadership within the PCUSA, and with Church leadership in general.
Most of us have grown up or been accustomed to hierarchical leadership and top-down models, whether it be in the Church, or in the corporate world. But I, like many others have grown uncomfortable with that model over the last few years and I wonder about its Biblical relevance. Something doesn’t seem to sit well within me when our Church structures often look more corporate, than Biblical.
I have always been drawn to Henri Nouwen’s book, In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. He talks a lot about a servant leader who leads within, from a position of vulnerability, heading in the direction of downward mobility. When I think of this leadership, I think of leaders who are amongst their peers, employees and workers, not leading from a position of hierarchy, or out front, but within. It’s a leader who is in the trenches and doesn’t keep arm’s length distance from those they lead. I picture a web, rather than top-down flow charts….I picture Jesus walking with, in and among his disciples, not sitting on a worldly throne or with a nice engraved plate on his office door.
When we think of leadership, we often think we have to maintain a certain amount of authority and influence, and to maintain that, we have to keep our distance so that the boundaries and rules of employer-employee relationships are maintained. But in Biblical leadership, one maintains power, authority and influence by giving it away, not by trying to maintain it. Jesus continually emptied himself of his earthly power by giving it away, and that is what drew people to him. Phil. 2:5-11.
I work with college students, and they are drawn to leaders who give power away, not those who maintain it. They are drawn to leaders who aren’t afraid to be in the trenches and get dirty. You won’t see this style of leadershp reflected more than seeing it in online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. Online social networks are a web and community of people where leaders are connected with everyone else…in their midst. There is no hierarchy, but it is flat and horizontal. But this style of leadership can not stay online, but must flow into our Churche’s structures and into the life of our congregations.
Hopefully I have grown as a leader over the last 6 years in our college ministry. And one of the lessons I have learned is what I have talked about above. Leading is less about placing yourself above in places of authority and power….and rather about placing yourself in places that give away power and make you vulnerable among those you lead.
I just wrote a piece Ministry in the online world of social networking, and I like what the editor of the Outlook, Jack Haberer says in his piece, The church is flat. The below says something I think about the old style of leadership and the new style of leadership, much of which has been ushered in by the “new media.” The question remains though, when is the Church going to learn.
The world really is flat, as Thomas Friedman proclaimed in his book by that title.
For those of us who have held the privileged role of “editor” (the person who decides what news is “fit to print”), that privilege has disappeared.
For those of us who have held the privileged role of “preacher,” (the person who tells the people what God’s Word says and means), that privilege has disappeared, too.
Then again, maybe we were due for a change.
Actually, the change may be just what we Presbyterians need.
You see, we’ve long been flat world thinkers. Ours is the movement within Protestantism that set out to reform not only the core theology of salvation (“by grace through faith”) but also the core theology of the church. We said “Enough!” to clergy-dominated governance. We developed forms and structures that would hold our preachers accountable to elected and ordained — on par with the ministers — elders. In fact, we labeled both groups elders, with one focusing on the proclamation of God’s Word (teaching elders) and the other focusing on the exercise of church discipline (ruling elders). We also revived and redefined the office of the deacons as ordained leaders in ministries of mercy.
In the process, we were promoting a flat world, one that dethrones royals and elevates commoners, five centuries before Web 2.0.
Nevertheless, the Web 2.0 scene still feels discombobulating. In our earnest effort to be faithful stewards of our offices — as pastors, elders, deacons, educators, music directors, and the like — we have meticulously managed information, directed programs, and — yes, let’s admit it — operated like royals, the ruling class.
Caught in the vortex where flat world accountabilities meet the need for assertive leadership, many of us have tilted toward the latter, placing crowns upon our heads.
So when people continually ask me “Why is the PCUSA Church dying?” I think a lot of it has to do with the models of leadership being offered up and how they have structured the Church organization. In terms of leadership they are heading in one direction, while the world, especially the youth are heading in another.
For some good blog reading on the issues of PCUSA, leadership, etc.
And read the below posts, which are part of a collaborative effort initiated by Drew Ditzel, and his post, An Emerging Profession: An Introduction
This is not an issue of traditional vs. emergent, or old vs. new, but what style of leadership is best suited to the Gospel and doing ministry in a flattened world.