December 14, 2010

What is Leadership?

Like other corporate/churchey buzzwords, "leadership" can be used and interpreted in various ways.  But what IS it?  Are there right and wrong ways to lead, or does leadership simply describe whatever happens when some people find themselves following others?  More, is "leadership" only for some?

While I appreciate that some folks (like Alan Knox & David Fitch, for example) would like to redefine the term "leadership", I don't suppose definition warfare is likely to make authoritarian leaders become less like overlords and more like gracious servant-examples to their flocks.  And that, there, is my point.  To their flocks.  It's the key question:  Do these gracious servants who lead by example still claim authority over the local body and/or its decisions?  Or, to put that another way...

When Jesus decried "overlords", was he thinking of style & function, or position & power?  

In other words, would Jesus say you're an overlord because of the WAY in which you lead others... or because you occupy a position OVER others?  To me, the latter choice fits better.  Obviously we're not supposed to be ungracious or controlling.  But "overlording" means taking charge over.  It's almost a topographical term.

Nevertheless, there's a longstanding tradition through which folks in authority justify their appointed office by interpreting Jesus' words differently.  To them, "overlording" is all about HOW leaders lead.  Obviously, they say, Jesus knew we would need to have leaders.

Well.  While it's true that nothing in Church ever happens without someone leading... (that is, quite literally, functional human dynamics cannot produce joint action-taking without specific directives holding sway in the group, directives which most often spring forth from some individual or another) ...I have not seen anything in the New Testament to suggest that "shepherds" (ie supervisors, ie flock protectors, ie wise old caretakers) are supposed to be the ecclesia's primary Activity Directors.  In the NT, the Apostles were the primary AD's, and while they instruct local elders to do many things, the Apostles instruct all the saints to do much, much else besides.

Ironically, this is precisely where I most laud Alan & David.  Maybe.  It does seem that their goal in acting as tier-one direction bringers is, partly, to facilitate more activity from all the saints - encouraging the passive pew sitters to become vocal meeting contributors, or pulling folks alongside during mission work to be nurtured and trained into more active participation within the body.  And that's wonderful.  But it's not really new, or innovative.  More specifically, I'm not sure they're trying to facilitate initiative taking on the part of all saints.

And who would?  Do we really want any saint in the body to be able to lead us, in some moment?  

We ought to want that.  We'd better.  That is, IF we want the Holy Spirit to be able to lead us, we ought to be open to him leading us through any saint!  And that's why I LOVE the term "leadership".  Practically speaking, GOD can only LEAD us as a group IF WE lead one another.  And we ought to LEAD one another.  At the appropriate times, naturally.  Taking turns, naturally.

Again, what is leadership?  If group activity requires a spark of direction, at least, to get going... then should those sparks always come from certain folks?  If they do, then I don't care what KIND of leadership you're exhibiting.  It may be 90% wonderful.  But in terms of position, you're OVER those folks.  Like a "Lord".

But that's okay, maybe.  At least you can be a good lord.  For now.

Until someone shows us the next step...


Josh L said...

Never thought of it that way, but I concur. After two years now of meeting "organic", I definitely see the need for leadership. Like you say, someone has to provide the initial spark. But it is just as true that that spark should not always be coming from the same person, if in fact it is the Lord who is leading and not one or two men.

It takes a real relinquishing of control, though. There are some guys I know who talk all about how they just want to be facilitators, and that they want to equip everyone else to do their thing, ect. But day in and day out, year after year, they are still the same guys who are in charge of everything. They may not be "pastors" in the traditional sense, but they are still in a position of over-lording, whether they like to admit it or not.

Bill Heroman said...

Some guys absolutely are. But don't get me wrong. A genuinely benevolent dictatorship is the most comfortable place to be... AND, if the dictator facilitates enough to let GOD lead through others, and then stands back the rest of the time, it can be wonderful.

Or so I'd suppose. ;-)

Alan Knox said...


Great post! You said, "I'm not sure they're trying to facilitate initiative taking on the part of all saints." I can't speak for the other Bill, but yes, I am.

In fact, my favorite position (even as a "recognized" elder) is following behind someone else who has been directed by God to do such-and-such.

Even on Sunday mornings, our time of meeting together is open for anyone who would like to lead - not just myself or other elders.

So, I completely agree with your post!


Alan Knox said...

Oops... that should have been "David" instead of "the other Bill." I will thinking about Bill Kinnon who is also writing about leadership.


Josh L said...

Given what I know of your background, Bill, I am sometimes surprised by the things you say.

And then again, at the same time, I'm not. IF I understand what you're saying, that is.

Is that how you would describe your own past church experience, as a "benevolent dictatorship"?

Bill Heroman said...

Alan, I believe you again. You're so gosh darn agreeable!

Josh, maybe and maybe not. ;-)

Alan Knox said...


I disagree.


Bill Heroman said...

Well, good then. ;^)

Josh L said...

Now that's just not fair. ;)

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