We are continuing our journey into leadership and authority in a New Testament style community.
As I’ve been part of an organic church community the last several years, one of the most frequent questions I encounter relates to who presides over the group as leader, guru, “pastor”, expert, etc.
How can a group of people come together and do anything productive without someone being “in charge”?
While I have experienced just such a meeting of believers, it is very rare, and when it does happen, it doesn’t “just happen”.
If you have participated with or visited a group that functions without a designated person in charge, you’re likely seeing a group that has worked hard to get to that point. And part of getting there may have included a season of being equipped as a group by a church worker.
Which brings me to my first point: leadership is seasonal. Leadership in the body may look different at different phases in the body’s life together. There may be times of planting, crisis, transition, or renewal where a person (or a few) kind of take the reigns for a bit to guide the body into their next season with Christ and equip the saints to walk it out.
An important note is that this is done in cooperation with the body. Whether the help is from an outside source or from someone within the body, it should still be entered into through a consensus among the body.
That’s all kind of a side note to my main point, but I don’t want to exclude the transitional nature of leadership in the body of Christ. Leadership can adapt to suit the need of the body.
However, when an organic church is operating under normal conditions (not the situations mentioned above), if that body has been properly equipped, they may be able to function without designating anyone specifically as the leader of the group.
In this case, leadership is more fluid as all of the members listen to the life of Christ within and express Him to each other. If you visited a group operating this way, you probably wouldn’t be able to pinpoint any specific person as the leader.
The NT puts a lot more focus on believers submitting to each other in love, serving each other to fulfill the “one anothers” of caring for each other, than it does on any particular believer usurping authority over others.
Instead, I believe the NT reveals spiritual authority as mutual submission to the living Christ in each other. The institutional church practice of hierarchical, controlling authority is absent in the NT ekklesia. Instead, it is deeply relational.
Spiritual authority is certainly present, but in a very different form than that of the institutional church flavor. But due to the overwhelming emphasis on leadership in Christian circles, it is hard for those indoctrinated in that world to imagine anything else. In my experience, seeing is believing. Therefore, I’d like to give some examples of how this can actually work.
A sister in our group wrote a letter to all the brothers about something the brothers were doing that was hurtful to the sisters. The brothers read the letter together and were convicted by the Spirit and agreed that this sister had spoken truth about the matter and revealed the heart of Christ. So we repented, apologized and stopped.
This sister exercised leadership and spiritual authority by observing something in the ekklesia that was not of Christ, lovingly pointing it out, and trusting Jesus to work out the rest. The brothers recognized the Spirit of Christ in her words and submitted to the sisters, and thereby submitted to Christ.
Our group frequently is required to make decisions together. We seek the mind of Christ individually and together, each sharing what the Lord has impressed on them. As we share together, we either discern a unified direction, or we discern that there is not yet unity among us and so postpone making any final decision. We each recognize the spiritual authority inherent in each other when we speak the mind of Christ to the body. We mutually submit to Christ in each other. No brother or sister can be dismissed. Each is heard and weighed. This spiritual authority is corporate; it is present in the assembled body as we submit to Christ as the Head of the body and Christ in each member.
Our group typically spends time singing together when we meet. However, we do not have a “worship leader”. We have a simple, homemade songbook. Anyone can call out a song for the group to sing. The first few songs may be somewhat random, but as singing goes on, the songs begin to develop a consistent theme as we sense what the Spirit wants to do. In the end, no one person, other than Jesus, was ever in charge. Amid the singing, there may be prayers or declarations, or just brothers and sisters calling on the name of Jesus and talking to Him. No two times of singing ever look the same.
Spiritual authority resides in the body because each believer has spiritual authority to speak the mind of Christ. We recognize this authority in each other as it reflects Christ, and we mutually submit to that authority. It is motivated by love and a heart to serve each other. Some in the body may have weightier authority than others because of their maturity and because they have demonstrated that maturity in ekklesia life. Their character has been proven, and so the body especially listens to their input.
Leadership and authority are situational, seasonal, and fluid. It often happens when someone steps forward to point the body towards Christ – and that can be anyone in the body.
Follow the Life!