Recently there have been a number of conversations floating around the internet and blogosphere regarding the issue of leadership vs discipleship. It isn’t always couched as a competition...sometimes its just about whether or not leadership is Biblical at all.
The points are well made (for the most part) and highlight the dangers of taking on the dominant culture’s understanding of power and leadership. I get that. However, I remain thoroughly unconvinced that we should do away with the concept of leadership. The following was my response to one of the more healthy of these conversations. Surprise, surprise, my response ended up being too long to post in the comments section...
John Perkins says that the response to bad leadership isn’t NO leadership, its good leadership. I tend to agree. For Perkins, good leadership is characterized by following Christ well (healthy discipleship) in the midst of community (check out Follow Me to Freedom, which he coauthored with Shane Claiborne).
This posture of leadership allows us to remain alongside others as we follow Christ together, but also recognizes that some people have an apostolic calling: they take risks and step out on faith while others are waiting for someone else to step first. I know the answer we often give is that Jesus took the first step. That’s true, and for most of us in this conversation, who have that apostolic gift, it seems simple enough. Trust God. Follow Jesus. See the good you’re called to and go do it.
But not everyone has that same risk-taker personality, and not everyone has that prophetic imagination. That isn’t to say they’re less committed, less called or less anything. But those with the gift of prophetic imagination are called to help others begin to picture what life could look like if get swept up in God’s advancing Kingdom. This doesn’t have to be the top down, power driven leadership we see in corporate America. I’ve read the conversations you mentioned above and I appreciate the critique of putting a Jesus t-shirt on the business model and calling it Christian leadership.
However, I’m concerned about where we end up when we completely eschew leadership. In a sense, it is its own form of elitism because it basically makes Christianity something that only the risk takers and self-starters can participate in. That’s a bit overstated, I know, but I don’t think we need to get into an either/or battle with leadership and discipleship. Both are necessary. Without discipleship, as has been pointed out, we have another business organization replete with power dynamics, coercion, manipulation and a continued favoring of the wealthy over the poor and insignificant. This is bad. We must not allow this to continue.
Without leadership though, we may end up with a loosely connected group of individuals, some of whom are involved in great discipleship experiences while others are wondering what happens next. We may miss out on the synergy and cohesion of a truly vibrant community of faith held together by a shared mission (communitas).
I agree, good leadership should be marked by person(s) who have been discipled well and are currently engaged in discipling others. Good leadership should also include the willingness to step out in faith and ignite the imagination of others to do the same. When we have no leadership our discipleship risks becoming increasingly individualized. The role of a good leader includes helping the group continue moving together.
Leadership can never serve as a replacement for disciple-making. But unless we want to declare the church useless, as some have chosen to do, leadership is still an important part of our group dynamic. It helps us function as a community of disciples who are joined together by a larger mission. A mission that is much larger than our personal salvation, larger even than our personal discipleship experiences.
We’ve seen bad leadership often enough that many of us want to distance ourselves from it. I COMPLETELY understand. But when we abdicate our calling to lead others we can (I’m speaking from experience) begin to resent them for not responding to that leadership vacuum by stepping up and leading themselves. In other words, we resent them for being themselves, rather than being us. Not only is that not fair, its incredibly arrogant.
I appreciate this conversation and I realize I’m responding to way more than what has been said here. I hope we can continue wrestling through these issues. I appreciate your leadership in the conversation ;)