Full Time Christian Leadership?

On a slightly behind the scenes UK Emerging Church discussion forum, the issue of leadership/ordination/vocation has reared its ugly head.

I’ve posted on this fairly extensively before (post here / Self-Organizing Leadership series here), and I’ve a fuller article coming out on the subject in Relevant Leader shortly but wanted to just re-iterate some key thoughts:

1. I’m a very strong believer in the ‘ministry of all believers’ model. Some would claim it to be idealistic in a modern world of busy professionals. I think precisely the opposite. Why? Because…

2. Full-time paid leaders very much risk creating a situation where the busy congregation with their ‘real’ jobs out there say “Hey, we pay you, so we expect you to lead us in return”… In other words, we too easily abdicate our spiritual journeys to someone else.

3. So what is required? Firstly, I strongly believe many full-time leaders ought to step down to part-time. This will ease the huge resourcing pressures people feel to pay them. And secondly,

4. ‘Followers’ need to step up and stop being so passive.

5. I think Jesus’ critique of the Temple system left us with a radical model where ‘we all have access to God’ and where no Christian needs another to mediate God to them. That’s the curtain you can hear ripping.

6. But, ironically, I think it’s Paul’s letters where we have drawn most of our model, and in Paul we have a ‘Pharisee of Pharisees’ who would naturally have found it very difficult to shake off that style of leadership. I don’t think he ever quite did, and we’ve been left worrying over the interpretation of his various hangovers ever since.


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17 responses to “Full Time Christian Leadership?”

  1. But even in Paul’s letters we see leadership divided among two groups of people, the overseers and deacons, both used in plural form. The Greek word for “Pastor” is only used once in the entire new testament, in Ephesians 4:11, where it is listed as a gift, not an office. Yet, we exalt this position more than any other. I don’t think the problem is Paul. The problem is we don’t want to follow the biblical mandate of church leadership, and we exalt a gift, and person, that Paul himself only mentions once.

  2. ummm not really sure what Jesus’ critique of the temple system has to do with leadership/priesthood/ministry in the way you are using it. Surely if he was abandoning this sort of model his immediate followers would not have continued to attend the temple, and subsequent early synagogues? All evidence points to the fact that they did not do this – we see this in Acts, as well as other early 1-3rd century documents.
    I am also not really sure you have really understood the significance of the temple curtain ripping in two. Again it seems that the early church had leaders who did mediate God in some way – they were responsible for overseeing “congregations” and carrying out baptisms (as reflected in most of Paul’s letters), and certainly by the end of the 1st century presiding at the eucharist – we see this in the writings of Justin Martyr, Ignaius of Antioch and Iranaeus of Lyon (c. 2nd century).
    You seem to be making the mistake of trying to read the gospels in a nice, postmodern, radical way, bypassing the early church historical documents (not to mention most writings up until this last century) that we have that counter your arguments. I think we need to wrestle with both, and recognise that it was probably those who immediately followed Christ that understood him best – this does not preclude our explorations of scripture but we always follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before, and we ignore their witness at our peril.

  3. “I think we need to […] recognise that it was probably those who immediately followed Christ that understood him best”
    Totally disagree. They likely had little idea of his divinity, or at least what the Trinity meant. Peter thought it was only for Jews, most thought Jesus would return very soon…
    It would be a huge mistake to try to base our churches on the early church, and not bring our emerging understanding of theology to the issue. In fact, it’s precisely this simplistic approach that a) I wonder if Paul took with regard to leadership with his Pharisaic background and b) has skewed church models and leadership ever since.

  4. Full time or not full time my present thoughts on the theme of leadership is the danger that we ‘idolise’ the concept of leadership instead of asking the question ‘to where’. That is I understand leadership less as an ‘office’ and more of a function (to be sure for which some might be gifted) – the function of which is to enable a Christian community to be that which it is seeking to be. Have recently, a bit late I know, been reading Colossians Re-Mixed – and in one place they suggest that Christian communities should seek to practice ‘inefficient and unprofitable kindness’- accordingly the task of leadership is not so much to ‘be a leader’ – but to help the community achieve this goal in their life together which in turn will impact the nature and style of leadership required. No?

  5. julie

    i agree stuart – i think part of our difficulty too in the emerging church context is that ‘leader’ has become synonymous with ‘spokesperson’

  6. Quite right Stuart. The trouble is, this ‘not for profit’ is so rarely seen. In fact, more often than not, leaders get into a vicious circle of wanting to be more ‘efficient’, and streamline things. Why? Because they are being paid, and have a nagging guilt about things.
    What is important – and I’m sure you’ll agree Julie – is that we do face this and get it right. Because Emerging Church means almost nothing – any old church with a couple of tea lights can claim to be in on it – there are still some very old school style leaders who are doing the style, but not the substance. It’s tactical, not transformative.
    If we are going to transform things, we really have to get leadership right. And it’s my contention that if we really want to see this revolution in kindness, then we have to sort out right leadership or some bod will stamp on it, or commercialize it.

  7. julie

    i do agree kester yes, and also think that to be a transformative leader you have to be a transformative lover, liver, learner and linguist – none of us knows enough about what that looks like, sounds like, feels like – so part of the process i think will be learning a new language to talk together about things that are really quite unspeakable, unimaginable, uncontainable, indescribable – if we can do that with the sort of scandalously generous kindness you are hinting at, then i think we will begin to get it right

  8. Not sure you have read what I wrote. I was talking about the early church circa 1st-3rd century AD hence the referencing of Martyr et al. It just seems your argument is against Paul (suprise, suprise easy target as he is very easily misunderstood). What do you make of the other arguments I put forth?
    I was also clearly not saying that we should base our ideas about church solely on how the early church did things – I said “we need to wrestle with both” – it is not either or, you place way too much emphasis on the theology of today.
    I really think the emerging church could do with a kick up the church history backside. Most of what I hear is a pastiche which shows a distinct lack of familiarity with the tradition and instead a passing fad for whatever is current (be it emergence theory, wisdom of the crowds etc…) Whilst this is very good and useful it doesn’t really help us much if we don’t even know how our faith has shifted and developed over the last 2000 years. It’s no good claiming to be re-inventors of the tradition when we don’t seem to have the foggiest what we are talking about when it comes to that tradition.

  9. “It’s no good claiming to be re-inventors of the tradition when we don’t seem to have the foggiest what we are talking about when it comes to that tradition.”
    Agreed. But let’s be careful too… Blogs are never comprehensive theses on people’s positions, and often pastiche and polemic are the tone for good reason. Personally, with 2 kids and work etc., it’s usually far more rushed than I’d like. Apologies for the lack of re-drafting from time to time.
    And let’s not forget that we all see through the fog in many ways… No one has ever had, nor ever will have, a crystal clear view. You may disagree with the ‘wisdom of the crowds’, but we need to keep shared viewpoints precisely because no one person or group has the truth. Personally I don’t think emergence theory is a fad – and the fact that I think it’s a long-running and key theme of the Christian story was what I – imperfectly – tried to get across in my book… A book I know academics want to reject as poor theology ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Anyway, to address some points…
    Sorry if I took your meaning to be immediate early church; I think my point still holds: you said that it was “probably those who immediately followed Christ that understood him best” and it was that I disagree with, whether the apostles, or those who came in the centuries afterwards. I just don’t think they had it more right than us, and that their view is some golden age we could get back to.
    It’s for this reason I think that the fact that the apostles went to the Temple after Jesus’ resurrection is evidence that Jesus hadn’t critiqued it. Remember, it took Peter a while to accept that this wasn’t just for the Jews, and it would only be natural for them to continue at Synagogues if that was the case.
    I think Jesus’ critique of the Temple is very important. The Temple represented the means of mediation with God. And one could argue that the very reason Jesus was strung up was because he challenged that system – a system that was, through the ‘wise and powerful’ oppressing the very people it was meant to be ‘saving’.
    Tell me your take on the curtain… For me it’s the final symbol of the separations and hierarchies in that system being nullified.
    And it’s the constant danger of a return to that sort of Phariseeism – the powerful trying to mediate an image of God to the people – that we need to be aware of. I see the EC as lying in a constant line of attempts to push back our very human desire to put hierarchies in place, whether it be translating the bible into common English, or bringing the music of the people into worship.
    During one Vaux meeting – there were only 5 or 6 of us there, including the vicar of the church we used – we had a little communion service. She, the vicar refused to break bread with us. Now I find that utterly offensive. We were all well known to her. Our seriousness of faith was known to her. Why not bread bread with us? To me that’s being a Pharisee. That’s trying to control things. And I just don’t think that Christ meant that.
    PS. Of course Paul is a big target – he wrote most of the New Testament. But I don’t do so cheaply. I simply believe that we have to see him in his own context too, and that by doing so many of the ‘nasty’ things that so many have seen actually begin to make more sense. I’m not a big fan of most postmodern clap-trap, but I do appreciate that any writer writes from a context, and Paul is no different. He wrote letters to particular churches. Good. I’m glad we have those documents. But it’s not Paulianity we’re a part of.

  10. good point kester – thanks for taking the time to engage – am sure kids, wife and allotment all need attention more than this discussion ๐Ÿ˜‰
    will muse and post again shortly.

  11. Gareth – I think this is what the ‘deep church’ stuff is partly trying to do. One aim is to help us understand our history as christians and to see why they did church as they did and that there is a need to be faithful to the christian story as it has been practised through its history. Luke Bretherton has some important stuff to say on this in his chapter in Remembering Our Future. I was reading some good stuff the other day in Rowan Williams ‘Why Stuff the Past?’.

  12. I found it unsurprising but still irritating that the recent ‘Fresh Expressions in the Diocese of London Conference’ was held during the day on a Thursday last month thus preventing the majority of people not in full time christian work from attending.
    There are those who would make the distribution of leadership as difficult as possible!

  13. julie

    i agree mike – one of my observations in this continuing ‘debate?’ about leadership in emerging ministries is that there are a lot of comments flying around about wanting to be more diverse and inclusive and to allow ‘leaders’ of less well formed and unattached groups to tell their stories and make their contributions, but that there are very few opportunities for them to do so – partly i think that is because a lot of the forums are organised within particular demoninational stables or that forums are organised around a particularly intellectual/theological way of speaking that sometimes appears threatening to outsiders not well versed in those denominational perspectives – but also i think it is about the practicalities for people like me who are bi-vocational or like you working during the week – what i am finding hardest about the whole emerging ‘conversation’ is that it has so far excluded the small voices like me that really are doing the stuff in a totally alien context – i am ‘leading’ with no affiliation to a particular denomination, or support from those in ‘full time ministry’ because the germinating groups i keep an eye on exist totally under the radar where nothing makes any sense yet in terms of reference to what we already know or the Christian history that we share – it seems that no one is prepared to legitimize that kind of ’emergent’ gathering until it really becomes ‘something’, or the leadership that facilitates its growth because it is not really ‘proper’ enough yet – i want to push forward in this conversation further than thinking about ’emerging’ only being able to develop as far as ‘the avant guard’ in that it is still trying to define itself by what it’s not any more, or what it’s better than/moved on from/re-imagined

  14. julie

    i don’t really mean ‘demoninational’ – it was an innocent typo, honest !!!

  15. Innocent, but great!
    Thanks for your honesty too Julie – it hits the mark exactly, and people need to hear this, especially, perhaps, those in the ‘Fresh Expressions’ movement.
    Another funny story about the vicar of the place we had Vaux: we’d been doing our thing in this church for about 5 or 6 years, and she’d recently arrived. One of our number happened to go to a conference about ‘alternative worship’ – and who did she find had been invited to speak? Our vicar!
    Actually, I don’t blame her; it’s the surrounding CofE structure that assumes “She’s the incumbent where this is happening; she must be the expert”.
    It was mid-week, of course ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Mike – I’m totally with you on that. Drives me nuts. And being in education, I can’t even take the day off!

  16. Kester your story sounds familiar – our vicar (who although supportive never comes to grace) spoke at the recent conference.

  17. julie

    both you guys just provided perfect examples of how difficult it is to speak into the world of institutional religion that doesn’t know how to listen to our voice (or more cynically maybe doesn’t want to….)but are more than happy to speak on our behalf eh ?!