Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28)

When Wendy & I taught last week at our Crossroads DTS, we used the above verses as part of our discussion on what it means to serve each other in mutual submission. I've always loved the fact that this brief passage makes it abundantly clear that Jesus rejects the world's way of "lording it over" others, which is definitely going against the flow of most CEO-driven church models, as well as aberrant understandings of "being under authority" or "under a covering".

I've noticed something peculiar over the years, however, which this passage also addresses. Jesus is calling people to be leaders who "lead among" rather than "lord it over". And the peculiar thing I've noticed is that (perhaps not surprisingly) this runs counter to the contemporary wisdom that puts gifted people into administrative positions that suck the life and vitality out of them.

Allow me to elucidate...

Say you have a gifted evangelist in your midst. In many instances, somebody in leadership notices how gifted this person is. They bring a recommendation to the governing board for the church/ministry. The governing board decides it's a brilliant idea to take this gifted evangelist and put him/her in oversight of all things to do with evangelism for the whole church/ministry. This is based at least partly on the idea that the five-fold gifts of Ephesians 4 are meant to function in a governmental oversight approach, for the equipping of the saints.

However, 99% of the time, the gifted evangelist just gets frustrated. People aren't responding to the initiatives or training that he/she is providing to get more people involved in evangelism. They are also now required to attend numerous staff, elder, board, and ad hoc meetings. Lots of meetings. Meetings that sometimes question the work ethic of the evangelistic overseer, since there aren't as many "results" as had been hoped.

Meanwhile, the poor evangelist has pretty much ZERO time to do what they're passionate about: evangelism. So, they become increasingly frustrated and lose their vitality, and eventually they get the "left foot of disfellowship" and the search is on for the next "anointed" person to fill the vacancy. Or sometimes (and this is preferable) the frustrated evangelist realizes that he/she is not functioning in their gifts and callings, and escapes the prison of "oversight", and gets back in the trenches doin' the stuff that brings them life and bears fruit in the lives of others. (And they find they don't miss all the extra meetings!)

Here's why I think leaders -- including (maybe especially) the five-fold ministries -- are meant to "lead among":
  1. You steal the life and vitality out of them if you imprison them in a purely administrative oversight position, which

  2. Doesn't allow them to lead by example -- "among" -- so that people can join with them and rediscover the maxim that "more is caught than taught";

  3. A "rear echelon" approach, like that of a general directing his troops from the safety of a healthy distance away from the battle, isn't leadership, it's directorship.
    A European friend once told me that he was puzzled by our church-as-army metaphors; to him, a true "leader" was at the front lines, literally leading his troops into battle and sharing the danger. A general who directed from a safe distance would not be considered a trustworthy leader.
  4. A frustrated overseer who'd rather be in the trenches, and in community rather than directing programs, is incapable of passing on the passion that he/she naturally holds for ministry. Let them "lead among", and we'll see more people released into ministry.
Maybe we should start a DTS based on the theme: "Among"...


  1. When you include a word like 'elucidate' I feel compelled to reply...

    I like the leader among - inside and outside of any church setting - but in reality I've seen few people even able to step into that role and pull it off, or at least pull it off in any large scale.

    I think 99% of the time our 'leaders' that we see aren't the gifted evangelist/insert-other-title-here, and when we do get the 1% we screw it up by doing what you suggest - making them lead over not in.

    So I pose the question: What is worse, given the statistical perspective of we mostly (and unfortunately) won't get real leaders in a leadership position?

    Having the leader "leading over", but at least some of the people realizing that someone is in charge of something, and thus somewhat following some direction.


    Having the leader "leading among" that can't pull it off, thus most people thinking "hey we have a leader? which way did they go? Are YOU my leader?" and just running around all over the place not getting anything done towards a collective goal.

    Maybe we should make a better effort into changing the culture of the team/followers to realize that there are leaders in the group, not only in front of the group.

    It's like "Hey, let's find an administrator to administer the group so the leader can do that leading by example thing!"

    I somehow feel my reply didn't meet the standard of the elucidate term, but I hope you get my drift

  2. Hmmm... it occurs to me that if we have more leaders working "among" there would be a whole lot less need for the administrative and life-draining model of ministry you describe. It's empowering and equipping to walk alongside someone who is doing something they're passionate about and gifted for. That leaves fewer of us warming pews, etc., and perhaps less for the CEO-type leader to do. Which might be a good thing after all.

  3. Robby,
    Great pictures of the kids!

    I think that for the most part our structures don't allow the kind of leadership you describe.

    However, I believe the kind of leadership you describe is vital for the life and health of the body.

    Will we have to choose between the structure and organic life?

    Another things I would add that in leadership among, there is a fluidity of leadership because it is not positional, but rather situational. Therefore the giftings of the individual in a particular situation often determine the leadership for that situation.

  4. I think the term "large scale" in Logical Professor's comment is one key as to why this model doesn't occur very often...Ministries where the leader is among instead of infront, usually aren't what the western church would consider successful because they aren't large scale. Once I took one of the Spiritual Gifting tests and came out first as having the gift of administrator and second as teacher. I can, but I hate being an heart is to teach. And although my husband is a "Pastor" he feels more usefull and effective having coffee with a "bum" on the street than standing infront of a congregation. He rather sit with people at a pot luck than lead music at a mega church...yet by the world's standards, his ministry has been a "failure"...

  5. I really enjoyed this post. I think leadership among can be paired with leadership by example (Phil 3:17 comes to mind).

    Also, I think that going to "leadership among" can be a hard transition to make because current church structures teach us that leaders are the ones up front calling the shots. Leading has become being in charge instead of showing the way. We've forgotten how to think for ourselves, and it would probably be disorienting to not have someone up front telling us what to do.

    That being said, I think we need to make this transition. Thanks for bringing this up and articulating it so well.

  6. I'd recommend "They Smell Like Sheep" by Lyn Anderson for a good exposition of leading among. He has some really good stuff about leadership implying followership and that followers can be coerced into following or they can be attracted through moral suasion. The former is in the leader's "control". The latter is in the follower's control--we choose who we look to as examples whether we realize it or not.

    I think leadership "among" would be characterized by an awareness of the importance of our example coupled with an un-awareness of those who attend to that example.

  7. Thanks for these excellent thoughts. Seems to me you're talking leading as a living reality and not a model - the only way for this to take place is "among."

  8. Logical Philosopher,

    Wow, great thoughts. I must now ruminate before I further elucidate... :)

    Seriously, I think part of the problem is the system itself. Wendy read a book called "Snakes In Suits", which is written for the business world, and suggests that our current corporate climate in North America encourages and rewards psychopathic behaviour in people.

    Given that many churches have bought into the CEO and business model of "doing church", it shouldn't be surprising, as you suggest, that we get the wrong people being rewarded with leadership "positions" from which they can perpetuate an unhealthy and un-Scriptural understanding of leadership and followership.

    Not that I have strong feelings on this topic, or anything... :)

  9. Maria,

    Yes, wouldn't it be nice if our approach to being communitas would negate some of the unhealthy dynamics we currently see by replacing it overwhelmingly with life and vitality?


    I'm in agreement with you; I'm still pondering (ruminating) on the fluidity you mention as based more on "role" (which can be temporary and recurring) than "position".


    Your comment reminds me of what others have called "the upside-down Kingdom", where the standards we usually measure "success" actually clash with the heart of Jesus' teachings. (First shall be last, great equals being a slave, etc.)


    Your comment -- "We've forgotten how to think for ourselves, and it would probably be disorienting to not have someone up front telling us what to do..." is so true, and also very scary at the same time.

    Which is probably why this is such a transitional time for so many people. I have been encouraged by posts like The People Formerly Known As Your Leader. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

  10. Bob,

    "I think leadership "among" would be characterized by an awareness of the importance of our example coupled with an un-awareness of those who attend to that example."

    Oh man, this is a GOOD ONE!!

    The phrase I've taken to using the past ten years or so is: "Invitation, not confrontation." We don't "challenge" people to the "next level", we invite them to step into whatever GOD may have for them. God's vision for them, as they have had it revealed to them, not our vision for them, "on God's behalf".


    I like that: "a living model". Thanks for a good phrase; the more I read the Scriptures, the more I am convinced that "among" is our only God-honouring choice.

  11. Semi on-topic (if you close your eyes and squint just so) check out the video on the June 4th posting at

    I like the "sophiticated consumers of worship" reference.

    It was like Robbymac, but in video form!