Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Among

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"...