Accountability and Responsibility – how can they work in EC’s?

Following on from the discussion around the previous post, I thought I’d outline some thoughts on how Emerging Churches could build accountability structures within distributed leadership models.

It seems to me that the question behind this one is “who can I trust, and why?”

Within essentially voluntary structures like churches, we choose to place ourselves under their authorities; nobody has the divine right to actually tell us what to do. So the issue of who is wise and trustworthy is an important one.

In the vertical hierarchy system it is basically assumed that those in leadership are inherently more wise and knowledgeable. It is basically a patriarchal, monarchical structure where authority is given from God and trickles down through various males in funny dresses.

I personally think this is becoming an inappropriate system for the society we live in. People are more likely to feel ‘who the hell are you to tell me what I can and cannot do round here.’ In general, external, vertical authority structures are struggling all over the place. But we don’t want anarchy, and we clearly need some way of working out who is ‘speaking the truth’.

By looking at various technologies (I mention Slashdot and Amazon) we can see that there are ways for systems to regulate themselves without having heavy vertical structures. I would like to see some work done exploring how these principles could be used in a community context – perhaps taking the form of part of a rule of life. In such a rule those who regularly prove themselves wise within the community might earn some form of ‘kudos’… The more kudos you have (rather like star-ratings for sellers on Amazon) the more it is likely that your opinion can be trusted.

The end result might actually look pretty similar to the old vertical model – I honestly don’t know – but the difference would be enormous: those we chose to hold ourselves accountable to have not been leased authority by some powerful external agency, they have earned and evolved it by involvement within the community.

So why accountability and responsibility? Well my experience tells me that there’s a lot of people sitting on their butts in churches not taking proper responsibility for their Christian journey, but rather vicariously feeding off what some great leader tells them from the front. I think they need to grow up and, just as they doubtless do in their workplaces and other areas of life, start to think properly for themselves and be pro-actively involved.

Emergent, distributed systems can only work when people are prepared to get stuck in. Hierarchies are the opposite. As Huxley said, “So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.” Too true.

PS, by way of summary of some thinking on this, attached below is a PDF of the ‘Table of Values’ I put in the book which looks at what Rigid, Emergent and Anarchic churches might look like in terms of leadership, meetings etc. Hope it’s helpful.

Table Of Values-2


6 responses to “Accountability and Responsibility – how can they work in EC’s?”

  1. Kester,
    “I personally think this [vertical hierarchy system] is becoming an inappropriate system for the society we live in.”
    The purpose of this first question is only informational. Are you saying that church government is basically culturally relative? That is, if one culture is more comfortable with a hierarchial structure, then they should feel free to do it. Whereas, if a culture is more opposed to this kind of system, they should seek a different kind of church government.
    Second, how do you feel about what some consider to be the three major views of church government? (1) Episcopalianism (Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist) is the rule of the church by monarchial bishops. More of a top down structure of authority. (2) Congregationalism (Baptists) is the rule of the church by every member and the independence of every congregation from all others. Every member has the same authority as every other member (3) Presbyterianism is the rule of the church by multiple, elected elders — not the dictates of one man, nor those of the whole congregation. They try to follow the principle that the people should choose someone from among themselves, or at least willingly choose and submit to those they want to lead to them.
    Would you find yourself at home with any of these views? Parts of them?

  2. Before K gets a chance to answer that one, I just thought I butt in!
    I’ve experienced all 3 of these models and, while all of them are sound in theory, my experience shows me that the end result is often still that the person in charge has the power! This seems to be due to our inherited human outlook on leadership – esp. Chruch leadership – and what EC seeks essentially, I think, is to crush this historical momentuum by encouraging us to evolve into a more interdependent Church, including non-Christian’s! Leader=Power has become so natural to the church that it has taken things like the InterNet, Science and maybe, even Capitalism – (all “unChruchy” to each of us in their own ways) to slap us awake!
    That’s my tuppence worth!

  3. On your first question, yes, I do think there is going to have to be some cultural relativity about church governance, and I think there always has been. The church exists to serve the culture it is hosting, and must therefore, as Christ did in the incarnation, do its level best to incarnate itself in a way that will facilitate that service best… And church governance will be included in this too.
    Secondly, of the 3 you outline above, I think 2 and 3 are probably the closest to my own thinking. However, I would immediately want to caveat that with some concerns about denominationalism in general. I’m fed up with them. I don’t think they help matters much. I really hope Emergent doesn’t become one.
    I honestly think people need to be brave and bold enough to allow forms to evolve from the particular situation they are in. To learn from others and from past experience, yes. But not feel bound by it – and certainly not be bound legally, as it the ridiculous case in the established church. If you’re running a cafe church, you’ll want one system; if you’re running a meditation community or a ‘new monastic’ community you’ll want something else. Two touchstones only: it has to uphold the essential equality and worth of all members, and it has to affirm the Spirit’s viral nature – ie that gifts will be distributed, and so power cannot be centralised or solidified.

  4. At one level it seems so simple. Picture the family.. how do your kids know whether they can trust you or not? And why do they listen and obey.. or not? In a healthy family this all seems so easy.. in a less healthy one it gets very complicated.
    Check out Tim Bednar’s article “The Participatory Church Described” at e-church..

  5. Kester has said the church exists to serve the culture it is hosting, and as the culture changes so also the church government should change. If this is true, I have several questions.
    1. Does this mean the top-down, hierarchical system of church government is not inherently wrong, but that it is no longer appropriate for the culture (because of changes)? Could this mean that varying cultures in certain countries may need to use a hierarchical system if their culture is more suited that way?
    2. Kester writes about the hieracrhical system, “I personally think this is becoming an inappropriate system for the society we live in. People are more likely to feel ‘who the hell are you to tell me what I can and cannot do round here.’” I agree that people are moving more in this direction, but is that a good thing that we should cater to? Is that a biblical response to authority, generally speaking?
    3. If the culture is moving more toward an attitude that says ‘who the hell are you to tell me what I can and cannot do round here,’ then how does this affect the other areas of life such as family government or state government? Should these mold themselves to the culture as well? Or are these things unchangeable, unlike church governemnt?

  6. I justhad a looky at K’s biog on here, and it said this about Complex Christ: “It argues that the move from a hierarchical, top-down society to a more networked, bottom-up one is mirrored in God’s move from the temple-based structures of the Old Testament to the emergent network of the Spirit in the New.”
    Personally, I agree. But then I’m a secondary school teacher increasingly disturbed by its hierarchical structure and it’s inability to deal with people in anything other than a dictatorial/oppressive manner. While I admit that this kind of appraoch in a classroom allows a pupil to learn safely, it naturally inhibits personal response and creativity. I don’t see it being any better in a Church setting!
    PS: While K’s away at GreenBack, sorry Belt, we should take a bottm-up approach and start talking about random stuffs…. I vote for “the socio-political commentary inherent in TV’s The Simpsons, or the revolutionary bottom-up learning and creativity tool, Lego. Any more for any more?