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Leadership and Post-Christendom

by Mark Doerksen, Heartland Regional Minister, CBWC

11882_Bible-Ephesians

Shannon asked me to write a piece on leadership, and I am happy to oblige.  These thoughts on leadership have been percolating in my mind for a while now, so I’ll attempt to get these thoughts into some semblance of order.  I’m grateful for the opportunity, and grateful for the work of Cailey, Shannon, and Joell (the French pronunciation) for their work in church planting.

I was able to attend a class led by Darrell Guder at Carey Theological College in January of 2017.  For fun, Guder works on translating Karl Barth’s work into English.  So I wasn’t surprised to find out that Guder has also been instrumental in teaching David Bosch’s game-changing book, Transforming Mission.  Guder is no slouch; he’s currently the Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology Emeritus at Princeton Theological, and has taught in the area of the church after Christendom for a long time. He has used Bosch’s text as his main text book since Bosch’s book was first published, and really enjoys helping others understand the implications of Bosch’s work.

If you’ve read Bosch, you know that you may be tempted to skip a paragraph or two, but you do so at your own peril; seemingly each paragraph is rich and full of information that you don’t want to miss.  I appreciate Bosch because of his sifting of vast information, and his ability to formulate nuanced arguments for theology and mission, even today.  For example, if you were to attempt to get a definition of evangelism out of Bosch, you would have to read 9 pages with 18 different points, bearing in mind that mission and evangelism are not synonymous, though ultimately linked together.  Brevity isn’t his strength.

So too is Bosch’s treatment of leadership for the missional church today.  In Christendom, the responsibility of ministry lay mainly with the ordained, a power structure comprised mostly of men to lead the work of the church.  There is a shift in this thinking, as a movement is afoot to take this responsibility of a few ordained men and to make it the responsibility of the whole people of God (Bosch, 2014, 478).   Bosch describes this new reality as a rediscovery of the “apostulate of the laity” or the “priesthood of all believers,” a concept that isn’t new to Baptists (481).

In making this shift, people turn to texts like Ephesians 4 to think about leadership in this post-Christendom environment.  The history of interpretation of this text has not been smooth.  Calvin suggested that the only gifts necessary were pastors and teachers.  Some have suggested that the office of an apostle has long disappeared.  But missional theologians and thinkers like this passage because it speaks of the collegiality of leadership.   Leadership is not suited for one individual; instead, there are a multiplicity of gifts and abilities required for leadership.  Leadership is a community within a community.  The notion of a solo pastor making all the decisions for a community that bears witness is not a model that is as welcome as it used to be.  Instead, collegial, cordial, shared leadership amongst folks with different gifts seems to be the model moving forward after Christendom.  Folks like Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost write a lot about this model of leadership.

If Alan Hirsch is right about this, and if his church experience is to be an example for us, churches need to make a deliberate shift to this sort of leadership.  As he describes in The Forgotten Ways, the leadership of his church made a deliberate decision to embrace this leadership style, with each ministry (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) having a team leader.  This posture allows for a dynamic learning system embedded in leadership, with the church poised for mission and health.

Of course, there are some theological reservations here.  If your Twitter feed is similar to mine, you will have read that not everyone agrees with the prominence of the Ephesians 4 passage for ministry and leadership.   Must each individual within a community of faith have one of the gifts of Ephesians 4, or are there other gifts?  The grammar police also have concerns; are pastors and teachers different gifts, or the same one, and what do the Greek grammar rules have to say about this?  You get the idea, and you may well add your voice to the concerns raised here.

And yet….  Given all the concerns about this sort of leadership, I personally find this collegial approach to be helpful.  I find it especially helpful and corrective in cases where solo pastors think they are the main people to hear from God regarding a particular community.  Related, this model also helps guard against authoritarian leadership in churches; it helps pastors move away from “thus sayeth the Lord” models to a model which shares leadership and responsibility, and which appreciates the gifts of the others who are leading.  Even my personality resonates with this sort of approach; I’d much rather work together with others than to dictate what has to happen.  As I see it, we’re a part of an upside-down kingdom (Kraybill) where we serve the other, not dictate to others.  Any model that helps us avoid dictator models, even benevolent dictators, is beneficial, though, as already mentioned here, these models need to be discerned as well.

Read an outline of Alan Hirsch’s APEST leadership here. Do you agree with Mark’s analysis? Are you a Bosch fan? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment on the blog or emailing cmorgan@cbwc.ca.

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