In our class on The Emerging Church, we spend a good amount of time talking about what leadership looks like, and what it doesn’t because these questions tend to be pretty pressing for seminary students planning on going into the ministry upon graduation. The missional and emerging churches, along with an assortment of anabaptist, radical catholic groups and Quaker meetings stress a non-hierarchical leadership role. While missional and emerging churches are pretty young and are jumping on board this non-hierarchical, often non-pastoral, style of leading (or sometimes bi-vocational) the idea itself is far from new.
George Fox and the early Friends made it a point to not have hired pastors leading congregations taking seriously the idea of the Light of Christ and the priesthood of all believers. But still, even though it’s not a new question, it’s still an important one. Especially when in our society everything tells us that to be a successful member of capitalism is to produce and be paid, and paid well! With that in mind, what does this emerging leadership look like? Well, it’s kind of fuzzy.
There Is No Name on That Marquee
You’ve seen the church with the marquee standing overhead announcing the name of the church, times of their service and the name of Rev. Dr. Pastor so and so. It’s as if to say, “come, hear Rev. Dr. Pastor so and so work his magic (yes it’s usually a him).” This image points to an old, hopefully fading, style of church leadership where the main attraction, and the governing structure of the church, is built around a huge personality. It wouldn’t be hard to name all the really famous names who do this, but it’s true of the smaller churches as well – you know who the leader is by who has their name on the sign. There is no question about who’s in charge (or at least who’s the public figure head).
But in these alternative communities things are much more fuzzy than all that. There is no name on the sign, in fact there’s no sign at all. We don’t need a sign to let you know we’re a church, hopefully you know that when you meet us. And you can find out what time we meet by asking one of the people who invited you, or by visiting a blog, website, or our myspace. In this perspective a couple things are at work. We’ve learned that people typically don’t see a sign and decide to come into that church building – people join faith communities because they know someone, they’ve been invited, and they already feel welcome before the go.
Secondly, people don’t want to go where it’s a one MAN show. Names don’t matter if I don’t know you and you don’t live what you preach. It’s also important to point out living what you preach requires more than just one person, it requires an entire community of people expressing faith in real ways. Yes, we can all see through those communities that fake it.
So the sign gets taken down, there are no names, no important time to expect the main event, because church is a “community” of priests, it happens daily wherever we go, we are empowered by the Spirit and lead in the ways we’re gifted. The organizer, the artist, the blogger, the chef, the knitter, the teacher, the biker, the environmentalist, the political philosopher, the theologian, the mystic, the graphic designer, and the list goes on.
A Community of Priests
Often in these communities it’s hard to recognize who the leaders are, if you ask you can probably find out, but it’s not readily apparent. That’s because everyone is involved in leading; everyone shares, creates, worships, prays, and cares for others. Maybe there are three or four people who are understood to be facilitators, organizers or connectors, but they will downplay their role and focus on the fact that others are just as imporant. If we are a people of faith learning to obey God’s guiding Spirit we need more than one person to help us interpret that, and we all have something to give to the larger group.
When I helped to facilitate a small emerging community back in Canton a few years back we had a couple people who helped to organize the meeting times from week to week, but our meeting times we’re the focus of our community, we spent time with each more outside those meetings than we did in the meetings. They would find a person to lead a discussion (we stressed how this was different from “teaching”), let everyone know who’s house it would be at, organize food, find people to lead some kind of worship expression, prayers, ways for the community to do mission, etc. With 25-30 people involved it was always someone different doing these things. You could go week after week without knowing “who’s in charge?” Everyone did their part and honestly it was one of the best communities I’ve ever been a part of for those reasons.
Did He Just Say That?…When People Say Weird Stuff
At least one question that quickly will follow from what I’ve written here is what do you do about ensuring that the wrong things don’t get said? There are at least two responses to this question. First, why does it matter so much to keep up the false pretense of beliefs before the community? Why isn’t it okay to have “wrong” things get said? Is it healthy to always pretend like we have all our stuff together? Is it healthy to pretend like we don’t all say stupid stuff from time to time? If we’re afraid to talk and share in a community of believers, a community motivated by the rule of love, embodying the Spirit of Christ, then where can we talk and share? Why must everything in modernity be so sterile and controlled?
But beyond those probing questions is a much simpler answer; when the weird thing gets said, we all know it. Ryan has used a helpful example here. If you’ve ever read reviews on Amazon of any particular title, you’re likely to see a variety of responses, and you’re also likely to see that one person who has a bone to pick with the book, author or topic. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that that person’s review is more a rant, is off-base, or worse, isn’t credible, in light of all the other reviews that seemed to like the book (you can imagine the reverse as well). Communities of people know when there’s a person who’s still figuring it out, or when they’re misleading, or misunderstanding. we are all aware of the person who says the really awkward thing during “prayer request time” or what have you, and so we take that person for who and where they are, and enjoy their addition to the community. It is also pretty unlikely we’ll write that statement, prayer request or whatever in church bi-laws anytime soon.
Yes, this may all seem a bit fuzzy, difficult or worse — awakward but the church is made up of real people, with real issues. Let’s be honest about that. And while this style of community isn’t the predominate method in our culture, I do believe it lends itself to authentic relationships and discipleship we’ve missed out on in these other models.