Updated: Feb 6, 2020
By Russ Johnson
As you may well know, the correction of the pervasive falsities around “church leadership” is not accomplished by the mere acknowledgment of their existence. That said, it’s hard to make corrections to falsities apart from knowing what practices are false. To that end, here are two more insights from the Scriptures.
First up: Leadership is about Service – Not Sanctity & Sermons.
Jesus brought new leadership to the world, one that would exist in what He accomplished on the cross, and therefore, be characteristic of His family. “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20:26) Lest we play a semantics game and say things like, “The way I serve is by teaching others what to do,” Jesus puts skin on what this looks like when He washes his followers’ feet and ultimately dies for them. So:
In Christ, you are free to die to the idea of special-anointing for leaders
The idea that leaders have some “special anointing,” and this is something you should seek, seems pretty foreign to the reality Jesus ushered in through His resurrection. From that point on, every believer lives in Christ Himself, equal and full of His Spirit (Col 1; 3). The days of needing Moses to come down and tell us what to do are no longer needed since God Himself has come down to us all in Christ. You are are free to stop waiting on the next vision from some leader, and instead, go live into the vision Jesus has already ushered in.
In Christ, you are free to die to the idea that you need well-crafted sermons
Sermons are good, but monologues are limiting in regards to how most people learn. Jesus taught in ongoing conversations as he walked and ate with people (no microphones, speakers, or amphitheaters here). In a culture that was primarily illiterate and had no copy of the Scriptures to study (much less the New Testament that was yet to even be written), it’s not likely the early Church offered a weekly diet of sermons from a handful of stories passed on orally. People learned together as they participated in the things of Jesus (i.e., acts of love, mercy, hospitality, listening, encouragement, prayer, generosity).
Which leads to my next point: Leadership Is Seasonal – Not Eternal.
If the hope (and need) is to see the Church spread through the tables of everyday people, the value system attached to "success" in the church world has to change. Why? Because as long as people believe the larger a church is, the more effective it is, leaders will champion assimilation structures (think services that lead to classes > volunteering > groups > people staying until they move or die) over the "raise-up and release everyone" approach we see in Jesus.
Think of it as parenting. Just like we wouldn't attend a seminar on parenting hosted by a couple whose children all grew up to live in their basement, let's not think “success” in the church world is defined by how large a community is.
Seeing this allows us to focus on the real question at hand: Where are the leaders who will help people grow to maturity so they can go spend their lives loving God and neighbor?
If that's you, amen. Welcome to the party. Here's something you may find helpful as you step into seasons of leadership in other's lives: People are generally obsessed with spiritual guru's. Yes, the love for religion reigns in the human heart. It's why we love people who offer all the answers and why we wrestle with the life God has actually given us in Christ. So as you step into this work, remember that you (and every leader) will let people down in one of two ways:
First, you can let people down poorly. This happens when those following you realize that what you promised never actually delivered, or when you inevitably fail. Donald Miller said it well, “If you want to be viewed as a godly person, at some point you are going to have to start lying.” Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said: “apart from Me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15)
Second, you can let people down well. This happens when you help others come to the realization that they too are a priest in Christ, and never actually needed you to begin with. (2 Pet 5) All that everyone needs, they already possess. The role of a leader is helping them awaken to this reality so they can go walk in this same role in others' lives.
People following Jesus is the aim of leadership. To walk in that work is a sign, a sacrament, that's rooted in serving others for a season to help them go and do the same.
Let it be that beautiful. Let it be that simple. Let it be that inviting.