Leadership and Ethics […] 3

To summarize the previous 2 posts:

•    Griffin proposes that we need to think differently about ethics, and this will mean we will think differently about leadership. I have taken this, in our situation, to mean that we must avoid projecting heroes or villains – which is still happening too often in ECs.

• It’s my theological contention that the Church needs to become a ‘self organizing’ system if it is to properly model the holy freedom God has given us post-Incarnation. Griffin would want to call this ‘participative self-organization’ – which clearly emphasizes the participative element of each person.

•    In such an organization, people are recognized as equal, and all as ‘becoming’.

•    As interconnected equals on a journey together to newness – rather than back into tradition – we will need to be interdependent. This will call for distributed leadership in which different people take a lead as their gifting requires. “The eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you.”

What, then, is a leader in such an organization?

In his summary, critiquing some of the literature on complexity and management (such as Leadership and the new Science) Griffin writes that:

Organizations are not things at all, let alone living things, but rather they are processes of communication and joint action. Communication and joint action as such are not alive. It is the human bodies communicating and interacting that are alive…
Leaders enhance communications within and between groups.

I think this is a fantastic summary, and an excellent platform from which to look afresh at leadership within the church.

The first observation I would make from this is that leadership is not communication. It is facilitating communication. This perhaps connects back to the post on preaching. Leaders tend to be those that preach. But in Griffin’s model, this is not going to enhance self-organization. Quite the opposite. The leader who continuously takes a soap-box and preaches his or her vision is setting up a passive congregation. As quoted in the first post:

“We locate ethical responsibility […] in a few individuals. In doing this we adopt a particular view of leadership in which it is individual leaders who are blamed and punished when things go wrong, or praised when they go right. The rest of us are allocated passive roles as victims of the system and of manipulative leaders, and our salvation lies in the actions of heroic leaders.”

If leadership is about facilitating communication, it means the leader acts in the role of, to co-join the language of the church and IT, a server. Hugely important. But nothing but a means for facilitating communication. This is, of course, a metaphor that has limited use. A server can dictate whether any communication can take place if it decides to ‘go down’. Which brings us neatly on to ideas of power, and my second observation:

Leaders have huge power-potential, but, as servants, constantly devolve and distribute it. Because they are communication facilitators, leaders will have the regular opportunity to become invested with information. This information, pooled and centralized, amounts to power-potential. But the emergent leader will always seek to immediately share/open up that information for the public good, or, if sensitive, pass it through to another whose gift it is to minister to that need. This means that the power-potential is quickly minimized and evaporates.

The power question is a huge one. It seems that we’ve existed in a paradigm for too long that says ‘leadership is power’. And, more dangerously, ‘church leadership is power ordained by God.’ We’ve got to ditch that one once and for all. Christ didn’t die on the cross for us to follow after him and assiduously stitch up that rip in the Temple curtain. There is no holy-of-holies. There is no ark. There is no need for another sacrifice. There are no priests. Through Christ, as Paul put it in Eph 2: 18, we all have access to God by one Spirit.

So church leadership carries no power. Enhancing communication within and between groups is a gift. But it is a gift that exists within a gifted and empowered body. One might see the modernist/enlightenment era as being the era of the brain. Rational thought. Je pense, donc je suis. And, to go back to Paul’s writing on the body, it is as if we have bought into that and seen leaders as this powerful brain. Thinking for us. Deciding where we are to go, what we are to do. Being the visionary. In the emergent era we are beginning to see that the brain is not simply the machine that controls the body. Rather, it is the place where senses of all kinds are processed and allowed to interact. The brain is a server.

Leaders in the current model of church have been seen as ‘do it all’ people. Multi-gifted people who can preach, teach, pray, minister, pastor, lead forward, visit sick people, chair meetings, organize services, plan committees, arrange flowers, conduct weddings… And thus have had an easy time arranging an aura of power and authority. Leaders in the new model should be seen as having one gift: the ability to facilitate other people’s gifts… And thus will be dis-interested in power.

Leaders, as Griffin sees it, should not be extolled as something exemplary and set-apart. Rather,

“They are who they are only in the evolving context of local interaction in which they and other participants are continuously recreating their identity as they construct their future in terms of the enabling constraints of the past.”

This may be a hard pill for some leaders to swallow. They will have to step down from pedestals. And we must help them to do that with good grace. But, more than this, we must all take our parts, so that there is not a vacuum into which some hero might step and take responsibility for us. We must begin to participate and take responsibility for our corporate journey together. Unless we are prepared to do this, to become adults in our journey of faith we can have no complaints if we suddenly realize that we are children being taken for a ride.


3 responses to “Leadership and Ethics […] 3”

  1. Ah, the elephant 😉 These are really helpful thoughts k. I like the fact that ‘communication’ is the thing that only brings someone to the hub…because full communication is the process by which we divest ourselves of power. Often too much ‘gnostic knowledge’ in churches which can only be accessed by the ‘man with the key’. Thanks.

  2. David Lindsell

    Wise words Kester. You’re my hero. Tell me more. LOL.

  3. Really good series of posts – much appreciated and interesting – keep up the good work.