If there’s one thing we need in our churches today, it’s strong leadership. So we are often told. Someone bold, visionary, confident, and ready to do exactly what the church meeting dictates! So isn’t there something of a bizarre tension here? Who is boss? Is it the church meeting, or is it the so called ‘leader’?
Surely we are left between a ‘rock’ and a hard place. The rock is the leader so gifted, that they are able to manipulate the church meeting, to get the body of Christ to endorse their own decisions, initiatives and visions. Such a leader will obviously be blessed with perception, faith and charm – able to enthuse the people with a worthy and life-changing vision. The kind of leadership exemplified brilliantly by the unacknowledged guru of all churchly advocates for strong leadership: Adolf Hitler. So much for the rock.
But then there is always the ‘hard place’. That is, the place where the leader is led by the machinations of the mob. Able to deliver what the people demand: and of course, no member of a Baptist mob expects their leader to be good at everything, nor to do everything. But … if the minister does not do the one (and perhaps only one) thing that interests me, then she is failing in her duties. An attitude which, when multiplied across any congregation, is another way of saying that we expect the minister to do everything. This kind of community is a ‘hard place’ for any minister to serve. Their weekly schedule will be prioritised by the question, ‘who will cause most trouble if I don’t meet their needs’?
But these two scenarios are not two different congregations. They form the Jackle and Hyde of many single communities. We want a strong leader, who will be strong in the way that we require, lead in the way that we want to be led, endorse all that we want to be. But they must leave intact my untouchable conviction that the reason they fulfil my expectations is simply that they are led by none other than Jesus himself.
And in the end, what we demand is a reverend circus monkey. They need not ‘study’ for ministry to become godless theologians. Instead they will ‘train’ for ministry to become godly project managers. They must train, perform, deliver. (How many Baptist ministers cave in, burn out, break down or give up?)
Maybe if more time were devoted to scripture than to projects with scriptural proof texts, we might have a clearer picture of the Jesus Christ revealed in Scripture – who we all agree is our real authority.
A minister’s authority then, is not over a congregation, but arises from the congregation. If God happens to be at work in the local body, then the authority of a minister is to be found in perceiving what God’s Spirit is up to in the real lives of real people. The response may well be to issue appeals, exhortations or even initiatives or rebukes, but all of these are submitted to the church meeting. This frees the minister to exercise discerning leadership, and the congregation to exercise its authority.
I suppose this is exactly what I was taught at college, but it has taken me ten years to learn it. Am I the only one?
(Published in BT, 2008)