De-Emphasized Leadership Part 1

In Postmodernity there is a fascination with deconstructing art, culture and institutions, among other things.*  Deconstructing has even been a favorite pastime of the emerging church.  This tearing apart of old sacred cows, broken altars and impotent idols is not always counter productive to growth and maturity.  But what is counter productive, is deconstruction simply for the sake of deconstruction. For deconstruction to be valuable and helpful there has to be a time when the deconstruction stops and the reconstruction begins. We can only deconstruct for so long before run into what cannot be deconstructed, the most basic building blocks of life.  When we get here we have to exercise humility to recognize the brute facts and truths that are inherent and built-in to the fabric and nature of our world, societies and our own humanity.

One of the targets of deconstruction over the years has been leadership in the church.  There has been backlash to the idea of hierarchical structures; abuses of power and the consolidation of authority. The attempts to deconstruct leadership have focused on dismantling the single, all powerful, usually white, educated, male leader. Some of the experiments have tried to totally jettison all hints of  hierarchical leadership, have reimagined the leader as unconventional (women, un-ordained, without a seminary degree, etc.), spread leadership among a plurality of individuals or reworded titles, like “Integrated Soul Visioneer” for pastor.

Having tried some of these experiments myself, I think what needs to be addressed is not the concept of leadership but the exploitations of leadership. Clearly, we are not going to ever get rid of those who hold leadership positions, let them be someone else or ourselves. It does not matter if they are government officials, bosses or teachers/professors. We are always going to have and need leadership. This reality is part of the “furniture of the universe” and therefore is not deconstructable.  No matter how we deconstruct leadership we will always hit the truth that people need and want leaders. So the problem is not with having leaders, but with the structure and its misapplication.

What would it look like if the church were to read Ephesians 4:11 as spiritual gifts and not as offices, titles or appointments? What if we read this passage not through the lens of leadership but through a lens of community? What if we saw the distribution of abilities and responsibilities not as limited but general. Not unique but universal. Not special but expected?

“Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,” Paul says for the equipping of the saints and the building up of the body (church), until we are unified and mature.  It’s not as if a church has to seek out and hire one of each or should have one of each working within its walls. What if the the church saw every believer as gifted in one of these five areas? This would radically deconstruct the present structure of church leadership and likewise radically reconstruct it too. No longer is the ‘Pastor’ solely responsible for the care of the community, but he or she joins with those who share the pastoral gift. The responsibility for teaching and educating the community does not fall to one person but to those whom God has called to teach.

Let’s be honest, not everyone is called to be or do everything within the church.  No one leader can do it all by themselves, nor should they be expected to. Certainly Paul didn’t. But the question becomes how does the church create an environment where no one person is left to equip and unify the community and where no one is left out from the same. An environment where everyone is expected to shoulder the weight of unifying the community and bring it to full maturity in Christ?


*To analyze (a text or a linguistic or conceptual system) by deconstruction, typically in order to expose its hidden internal assumptions and contradictions and subvert its apparent significance or unity.

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