Sunday, December 20, 2009

Church Leadership

Recently a friend of mine has been posting about how the Alcoholics Anonymous traditions could be a model for the church. Although there are some things that will readily cross over, I find that we are not comparing apples with apples.

In the first place, the church is where God dwells by His Spirit. It is more than a volunteer organization that helps one another. Because of this, there is authority in the church placed there by the Lord as gifted people to serve and to guide the church into obedience to and worship of the Lord. Additionally they guide and are examples of how to love one another.

In AA no one rules. In the church the elders do rule. Yet their rule is not like the world. Their authority is not for their own use - so they can have a group of people in their image, but only to build up the church in the image of Jesus.

This requires authority. True, respect and trust are earned. It is not like a job where you can hire someone to fill a vacancy. It is only by God that a person should have this authority. Yet it is fashionable in our culture to disdain authority. This has come from the pendulum swinging away from those who abused authority. But authority is still there.

When I was first a christian I belonged to a church that taught that their are o positions of authority in the church. It got so that if a person called themselves a pastor then they couldn't be one because pastoring was a verb and not a noun. So if they didn't know this they were not qualified to actually pastor. We were taught of the equality of the saints, about the priesthood of believers, and of body ministry. All good stuff. But it was applied in such a way as to stop anyone from leading with any authority, or so we thought.

In actual practice, the dominating personality was in charge. No one could stand up to their "wisdom" and "insight". Because of their experience and verbal abilities we wound up doing things their way. Additionally, some people would hold the group almost hostage because of their powerful responses to things they didn't like. So in my experience a true egalitarianism was never reached.

Later I found that God put leaders by gifting in His church to lead the church with love and godliness. This stopped the mob rule and the dominating personality rule. When done by the Holy Spirit, it produced good fruit. But I have never seen anything like a perfect leader. I have never seen leadership done perfectly - including my own.

I do not want to go back to the "good old days". I believe God has set people in His church to lead who have been given authority to do so in the name of Jesus. In this way the church is not like AA. We are not a volunteer organization. There is authority in the church. Just because the authority has been misused is not justification to ban it. It is motivation to discover how Christ wants it used and to use it for His purposes and not our own.


mamma said...

hmmm sometimes the grammar is a little difficult but I get it.....

Stephen said...

I am puzzled by this post, Steve. When I first read it I decided not to reply. Then I changed my mind. When I adopted my series on the churches opportunity to learn from the twelve traditions of AA (or possibly adopt them as a better way to organize church) on my blog, I didn’t know what conclusions I would come to. I didn’t know if the traditions really were transferable. I still wrestle with some of the traditions and others clearly need to be re-formulated if they are to “work in the church”. My series is not an attempt to see AA and the church both as “apples.” Rather, it is me wondering out loud (or on paper) if AA isn’t often more biblical than the church in how it operates, and if the church should learn to be more biblical by looking at how AA formulated its understanding of what God gave them as a template to guide AA groups as they formed and grew.
You chose the 2nd tradition to take issue with, which surprised me even more. Of all the traditions this one seems to be one of the most biblical. Once again (so people reading your blog can know its content) it states:
“For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority - a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”
Before I look at this specific tradition, let me state again that what I am learning as I write this series is that I think AA – a spiritual program which found its roots in the church – often lives out biblical values in its polity more than the church.
This particular tradition does not state that AA has no leaders, but rather that leaders lead differently than leaders in the world – they do not govern – they serve. I think that this is what Jesus had in mind when he told his apostles to live as he lived – differently from the world. He came to serve not to serve. He never ruled. As leaders we are to serve. We are not to rule.
As I tried to point out on my blog, the elders in AA are elders because they have something people want. They have walked faithfully for extended periods of time and experienced a lot in life that others may not have. They are elders because people in AA see them as having something that they want.
In the church elders often are “Type A” personalities. Often they rule because of position rather than Spirit-filling. That may not always be the case but to me it seems to be the case more often than not.
You state: “In the church the elders do rule.” I don’t think you can begin to defend this biblically. Nowhere are elders told to “rule”. The church turned leadership into ruling when Constantine made “bishops” a privileged position – maybe even earlier. But that turning of leadership into ruling was an “unspiritual” turning.
I too have experienced the “big fish in a little pond” syndrome among the Plymouth Brethren who practice a plurality of leadership. I have seen big personalities take over churches and destroy them. I have seen big personalities take over churches and grow them into mega churches. I will not dispute that without checks in place big personalities take over. That is precisely the reason this tradition is so important and why the it eschews any type of leadership that looks like traditional Western governance.
It is also why I think Jesus also eschews this type of leadership. Positional, ruling authority tends to lend itself to Machiavellian pitfalls, and they are not pretty. As I read this tradition, I see nothing but a re-statement of biblical leadership.

Steven Ganz said...

One reason I say that elders rule is because of 1 Tim 5:17 "The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching." NASU

Now how do they rule and what form does this take? What kind of authority do they have? Regardless of how these questions are answered, the elders still rule. If you are reacting against the word 'rule' maybe we can find another word. NIV says direct the affairs of the church. NLT says do their work well. perform their duties wisely Weymouth. provide effective leadership NET

The Greek word that is translated is proistimi. The meaning be at the head of/manage. The shading care for is always present.(from Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament)

Somehow this has to be taken into consideration. The leadership in the church has authority. Paul spoke of his authority. Paul also told Timothy and Titus to set stuff in order. This takes authority. The writer to the Hebrews tells us to obey our leaders. Why? Because the tell us to love people and to love God. They tell us about God so we can have faith. Leadership in the church is more than modeling correct behavior, although it must include that.

Keith K said...

"Recently a friend of mine has been posting about how the Alcoholics Anonymous traditions could be a model for the church. "

What can AA possibly offer the ekklesia of Jesus Christ that Christ not already given His people to help them express and experience Himself??

"I find that we are not comparing apples with apples."

Absolutely are comparing apples with space shuttles, or apples with nuclear physics.

" a volunteer organization that helps one another."

If this is your definition of the ekklesia of Jesus Christ (as it probably is to many) then there is not much difference between the church and AA.

AA has helped untold thousands break free from the bondage of alcohol no doubt, but bringing the ekklesia of Christ DOWN to man's level of fallen thinking in the way His church should function is kind of embarrassing. Has not Jesus given us everything needed to meet under His Lordship and Function as His people under His headship? How much of fallen man's kingdom translates into the Christ's kingdom ...."love one another?, treat one another kindly? bear each others burdens?..
those were in Christ's kingdom first.

"Yet their rule is not like the world".

Probably THE most misunderstood words in all of earthly churchdom!
There IS leadership and there IS authority in Jesus' ekklesia but it not done the way the world system does it.
Note what Jesus said to James and John when they hoped to have the "power" seats next to Jesus...

..."You know that the rulers of the Gentiles LORD IT OVER THEM, and their great men EXERCISE AUTHORITY OVER THEM. IT IS NOT TO BE SO AMONG YOU, but whoever wishes to become great shall be your servant.." (Matt 20:25)

How often have you experienced TRUE CHRIST-STYLED servant leadership instead of hierarchical over-lording??

"In the church elders often are “Type A” personalities. Often they rule because of position rather than Spirit-filling. "

Is is because American churches (I don't know about those outside this country, ask Steve G. on that one) have sent themselves up following the corporate/hierarchical model. Authority becomes positional. The essence of the church is a 501 C-3 non-profit organization with a pastor/king as the head.

"For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority - a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience."

What God do they mean? Jesus? Buddah? Chemosh? How does he express himself in group conscience? I am not attacking you, just ask'n to clarify.

I am not anti AA. AA does good. If God uses AA to blast a person from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His glorious Son, then praise be His Holy Name!

People who have been radically transformed by being born from above live in a different kingdom.

My point is that good and all that AA is, there is very little that translated over to the ekklesia of Christ.

Steven Ganz said...

Hello Keith! The church is the body of Christ, a community of believers under the Lordship of of our head, Jesus Christ. The authority of Jesus is pushed into the background too often because of the abusive way this authority has been demonstrated. This authority has been given to those who have been sent by Christ to oversee the body. Overseeing is a responsibility, and we all know the if we have a responsibility but no authority to accomplish it, it ends in frustration. The goal of leadership is to help others into their own areas of service and fruitfulness in their relationship to the Lord.

Anonymous said...

I am not qualified to argue religious theology and I speak only from my own experience. Furthermore, I am not a current member of any church or any 12-step program, although I have been a member of both in the past. I just want to talk about my experience. In the 12-step rooms, I found comfort in the loving company of some of the worst sinners around, including myself. The level of honesty, humilty, and acceptance was like nothing I had ever experienced before. People openly admitted their worst sins ever, including their current wrong doings and imperfections. The problem for me in church was that I could only openly talk about things just under the surface due to fear of judgement. 12-step rooms were the only place that I could open up about my deepest darkest sins. I'm not saying that people in the church are not openly honest about their sins. Maybe they are just better people than me and don't commit as many or as dark of sins as me. If that is true, that's great that there are so many good people in the churches. It's just hard for me to relate to someone that is "better" than me.

The ironic thing is that, technically, this experience did take place in a several churches actually...of many different denominations. There were never any religious debates, although there were diverse religious beliefs. No one spent time debating to prove someone else wrong, despite the extreme diversity of people and beliefs. I believe that is a miracle in itself.

Steven Ganz said...

Thanks for your comments. May we all learn to love. AA has done this very well it seems. May the churches, as Jesus prayed, learn to so love that they get a reputation for being the people to see when you want to know what loving God and loving people is all about. Until this happens, the churches are coming up short. After all, we are to for the fame (glory) of God.

Stephen's recent posts in his Promises blog are done in part in the hope that the churches will learn what AA has learned about love and earn the reputation for being a loving people. In this I am in whole hearted agreement with his aims.

barefootmeg said...

"Absolutely are comparing apples with space shuttles, or apples with nuclear physics." - Keith K.

If I compare apples to barns, and my goal is to explore the color red as it is expressed in these two different objects, the then comparison is reasonable to make. I see no problem with Steve's comparison of church to AA. It is similar to comparing the church to a body or comparing the church to a family -- both of which are Biblical comparisons. If I see something that seems to work particularly well in one venue, and it is something that I'd like to see just as well in another venue, then I think it's entirely fair to explain why I believe there could be some helpful overlap.

"If you are reacting against the word 'rule' maybe we can find another word." -- Steven Ganz

I was thinking about that word "rule" as well in reading Steve's posts and his reply here. I'd love to explore more what people see in the word "rule" before talking about whether it should be in the church or not. In my opinion, it might be more helpful to differentiate between "ruling over" (which is what I think Steve is really getting at) and "governing" which I think is appropriate in the church and I'd love to kick our elders in the butt a bit over this. (In fact, they're coming over on Saturday and I probably need to prepare myself to not go over the top on that issue, but, to be honest, it's a real hot button with me right now. How are we supposed to go anywhere if our leaders are not only not leading, but they're not even following the pastor's lead?!!! Grrrr.)

I think in large part the question isn't "should there be those who govern?" but "how should they govern?" And that's what I've tried to focus on when reading Steve's posts even if the vocabulary has gotten a little muddy.

Steven Ganz said...

Barefootmeg, I think you have hit the nail squarely on the head. With so many people reacting to words like authority, ruling, governing, it is difficult to have a discussion about whether or not such things should be in the church. So many people have been abused by those "in authority" that this kind of discussion brings so much extra baggage. I would like to see people healed of these hurts without blocking leaders in the church from leading and guiding. But when someone is very sore and you just look like you might touch that painful area brings a reaction. it is going to take true and expert anointed leadership to guide the church through this mess.

Maybe there is an upside to all this. Here is an opportunity and need for such godly leadership. Let's pray that such leaders grow in this environment.

mamma said...

Dear Anonymous:
Interesting thoughts, it made me think that perhaps your experience in the church was the result of people being taught to be ashamed of their sin, so it is extremely uncomfortable to admit or discuss it. I'm not sure I want to discuss the details of my sin, but I am happy to admit without embarrassment that I am a sinner and deeply need Jesus and the Holy Spirit to save, renew and guide me.