Marquee: Emerging Approaches to Church Leadership (And The Fading Ones Too)

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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

464365875 Adacba8185 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.

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Marquee | Sterile

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

10 thoughts on “Marquee: Emerging Approaches to Church Leadership (And The Fading Ones Too)”

  1. That’s an interesting take on Church leadership and organization, but there’s one burning question in the back of my mind: where’s scripture and teaching come into play?

    Not all Christians at the same level of growth. Some have just become Christians and some have been Christians for a long while. In that same vein, some know a lot more than others and can lead. That person is probably who you call “Rev. Dr. Pastor”. Is there a problem with a congregation of Believers coming together under teaching and then coming together for worship, prayer, and fellowship?

    Do we have to have a split between the “old ways” and the emerging ways? Do the emerging ways have to completely abandon the old ways in favour of being more attractive to people (in some ways)? And what about Scripture – is it taught correctly in this setting all of the time?

    I guess thats up for you to tell me =D

  2. Hi Jonathan, thanks for the comment. You bring up a great question.

    I totally agree with what you said here,
    “Not all Christians at the same level of growth. Some have just become Christians and some have been Christians for a long while. In that same vein, some know a lot more than others and can lead.”

    What normally happens in tradition leadership style churches is that the main teaching comes from one person, a kind of top down approach. If I want good teaching, I have to go to that person to get it, or the designated people with the proper titles.

    But what I am advocating is much flatter because it recognizes two things. First, in any church there are always going to be a number of people who are “further” along in their spiritual journey, know the scriptures better, are better versed in outreach and mission, etc. Why keep the focus off the 10-20 people who are all really knowledgable of the Spirit of God, the bible and mission and limit who teaches to just one person? When we let many people lead discussion, teach, pray, or what have you we do it inviting these “weighty (As Quakers call them)” people to have a much greater role. In that way we honor their faithfulness.

    But a second reason is that we either believe that all these Christians have the Spirit of God, whether they are really young in the faith or old, or we don’t. The Spirit guides all of us toward Jesus, and faithful living, if we learn how to listen and share what the Spirit means for us to share it doesn’t matter how much Bible school you’ve sat through. When one is lead by the Spirit to share this or that experience then they speak as an expert on that area.

    Finally, the point isn’t to say there is nothing useful in the old method, there is still teaching going on, and yes many of these leaders still get up and deliver a sermon from time to time but the overall method has significantly changed. We’ve discovered that people learn and engage their faith best when they are invested in what they are doing, when they are allowed to ask the crazy questions, when they are allow to give feedback and participate in creating a learning and sharing environment. People retain 20% of what they hear from sermons, lectures and similar methods of teaching, but they retain 80% of what they come in contact with when they do something with it, and make personal connects to the content. By opening the floor to discussion oriented teaching, and by invited everyone to take part I think we actually have a greater opportunity for people to learn and grow from what they hear.

    Does that help to clear up what I mean?

  3. I see your point a lot better now. I’ll whole-heartedly agree with you that one learns better in a situation of interaction. And if this works for churches, great!

    What I’m most concerned for is if methods like this is that the sufficiency of scripture (as seen in 2. Timothy 3:16-17) is lost in the whole kerfluffle of things. Without organized leadership, I can see other things taking over, such as worship. I’m not saying worship is bad by any means, but you can’t just have worship without looking at the word. Can you see where I’m getting at?

    I’m fine with any method of organization as long as there is teaching from the word that’s true to the word. Thats really the most important thing, in my mind, for a church to have!

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Especially the part on “Did he just say that?” I have noticed in my christian circles that everything is censored. I can see where this prevents community and promotes isolation. Thanks for pointing out interesting qualities of all of this.

  5. @Jonathan, I see what you mean. From what I know, and have personally experienced all this is directed to throw the Scriptures directly, and vicariously and always with the intent of following the Jesus who is the Word of God. If anything there is always a sense of giving everything back to God, nothing is too sacred for us to make subject to God’s power. If it’s not rooted in historic Christianity I would wonder who was being worshipped too.

    @Kristen, thanks for the comment. I agree, that there is this strong sense of censorship in our gatherings. It not only often dominates, but can becomes oppressive and harmful to the community and God’s work among them.

  6. Thanks for the post, Wess. I really appreciated the tone and thrust of it. I too enjoyed the part about “Did He Just Say That?” Coming from a tradition with trained clergy, I think I may appreciate ordination more than you, but just because someone is ordained doesn’t mean they’ll always say the right things. And if we are truly communities engaged in each others’ lives, then there will be times when we do or say the wrong things — Luther’s old point that we’re sinners and saints.

    I can appreciate critiquing the attractional assumption of church signs, but I don’t think they’re all that bad. In the past and present, they act as a physical locater informing others that “we meet here.” I don’t see much difference between a church sign on the road and a web site or MySpace page announcing when and where the community will gather. (I’ve actually been really frustrated in getting lost when I have visited some congregations because they didn’t put out a sign.) I think in the past, putting the pastor’s name on the marquee gave a face to the church and that can be critiqued along with the cult of personality mentality found when using the marquee. (I say this as someone whose name has shown up on a marquee.)

    Finally, I think we in the Protestant mold need to explore the difference between pastors and priests. There is a lot of overlap between the two terms, but they aren’t synonymous. I do believe deeply in the priesthood of all believers as it is a central part of my ecclesiology. That is, because Christ is the final high priest, we can all act as mediators for each other, interceding, receiving confession and announcing pardon, etc. I also maintain that a community of faith can ordain people to be pastors — I’m a bit Lutheran in my views of ordination.

  7. What I don’t get, is why is a lack of ‘formal’ structure and organisation required in order to achieve what you’re after? It appears to me that what you’re complaining about with regards to church structure is exactly what the business world discovered along time ago with regards to the management of any secular company.

    Here the evil was originally called bureaucracy and consisted of a supreme ruler who dictacted control over his subordinates and they over their suboridanates and so on. Now, the focus is on a better style of management in which the boss is there to support his subordinates. This is often called turning the triangle upside down where the focus is on empowering, training and supporting those you’re responsible for. The visual I get is of a whole heap of acrobats where you have one strong person at the bottom, with two people standing on his shoulders. They in turn have three people standing on their shoulders, etc, etc.

    Surely this is the model of fatherhood or discipleship that God & Jesus portray? Does God have a problem with being recognised as God? Did Jesus have a problem with people calling him teacher? Did the apostles or fathers in the faith have issues with being identified as such?

    What I think is dangerous is that suddenly people are no longer accountable for what they say or do. If they do say something stupid or out of line, who corrects them? Who stands alongside them like a good father and gently tells them about a better way? Surely it’s not the structure, but the motivation and job description of people in those positions?

  8. How do you view the giftings listed in Ephesians 4 and how do you see them being ‘given’ (ie operating in) to the church? How will this affect leadership?

  9. @Shawn,
    I view the gifts in Ephesians as gifts not only to the individual who possesses them but also to the body of Christ, and thus a gift which is given freely to the body without expectation for return. When Paul wrote that letter we were still a few thousand years out from having CEO modeled church leadership models, and to my knowledge no leaders in Paul’s day received a salary from the body of Christ for a gift given to them by the Holy Spirit (Paul’s bi-vocational nature is a prime example here). I’ve recently written on leadership if you want to dig in a bit further — http://gatheringinlight.com/2007/11/12/an-emerging-profession-sharing-power-in-a-flattened-world/

    Thanks for commenting.

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