Leadership, Part One


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about leadership. What does good leadership look like in a simple/organic/home church? The best thinking that I have heard on that subject always stresses the need for organically developed leadership. What does that mean, and what keeps it from happening more often?

First of all, the vast majority of churches have a “program” mentality. I recently read a really good article about developing house churches, and it does a good job of showing what organic growth of house churches could look like, in this case if approached from a traditional church starting point. Towards the end, the article illustrates how growth in the Kingdom of God happens relationally, not programmatically. You don’t start with a plan, then execute it in the same way that you would execute a business plan or a teacher’s lesson plan. Growth in the church has to happen along lines you can’t predict ahead of time. Your plans have to flex constantly, adapting to the changing relationships as they develop.

Individuals develop organically, too, which is why leadership must be as Watchman Nee called spiritual and not official. According to Nee, spiritual authority in the church waxes and wanes according to the activity of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individuals in the church. Official authority sits on a person for life, or at least for a predetermined length of time, regardless of the Lord’s activity in the heart of that individual. Ideally of course, you would like the two kinds of authority to coincide. But it doesn’t always.

Men (or women) with official authority must be followed simply because they have that office, that title, that role. You follow them because they are over you, like in a chain of command. Jesus said leadership would not be like that in his kingdom. That’s how “the Gentiles” do it. They lord it over people. But it’s not to be so among us.

A person exhibiting spiritual authority is followed to the extent that he or she is expressing the will of God at any given moment. To the extent that he/she is speaking by the Spirit, his or her word has weight. But spiritual authority can fade, because people are not that consistent. We stumble sometimes, and the Lord provides other voices to take up the slack. A community that is learning to hear and recognize the voice of the Lord knows this to be true, and they know how to listen out for that voice.

Granted, I believe that mature individuals in the church learn to listen for that voice and respond to it quickly, so that this kind of leadership/influence comes to characterize their lives. That is how it should be. Churches should learn to recognize those individuals and listen to what they have to say (more on that in the next post). But they aren’t always right, and no one should be afforded so much power that they must be always followed, no matter what.

Ironically, Watchman Nee himself went back on this notion from time to time. In direct contradiction to his own words, he had a habit of encouraging believers to submit to older believers as unto the Lord, even if they are wrong. In the Normal Christian Life he told a story in which an older brother was clearly in the wrong, but Nee’s mentor (Sister Barber) told him to submit to the older brother anyway. Under the circumstances, Nee says, submitting to erroneous leadership is justified. The older brother can be wrong, but you are right in submitting to him, so it’s all good.

Dennis McCallum over at Xenos Fellowship suggests that Nee may have picked up this quirk from his own Chinese cultural background:

Confucius taught that parents were never wrong, and that even when they were, one should obey them.

I think he’s right. I would add that the Plymouth Brethren influence on him probably reinforced a “top heavy” view of authority, in direct contradiction to his notion of spiritual vs. official authority. I think maybe his gut told him one thing but his environment told him the opposite. I don’t know.

But this only illustrates my point. Is Watchman Nee an authority on simple/organic/house church leadership? Yes, to whatever extent he is articulating dependence upon the Spirit for that leadership. If his upbringing nudged him away from that notion from time to time, we can overlook it. The idea still rings true, IMHO.

More on this soon…

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7 Responses to “Leadership, Part One”

  1. Bill Says:

    You know, I could never remember. Which one of us is older again? 😉

    Kidding aside, age is easier to determine than moment to moment spirit-attune-ment. Unless of course the whole body is well attuned. But what if it isn’t?

    On reflection, your/Nee’s model seems to work only when the whole body is in tune to the spirit. In that case, the leadership is truly not based in a person, because all can recognize from whence it comes.

    By the same token, it seems your/Nee’s model will not work at times when the body is not functioning spiritually as a body. Which is fitting, frustrating and comforting – all in different ways. Eh?

    Key point, perhaps: I conclude a different model of leadership must be required for situations when one voice is needed to call in those who are currently ‘out of tune’ spiritually. Is that consistent with the terms you’re thinking in, and with what you’re thinking?

    Looking forward to the next posts…

  2. Neil Says:

    Good points, all.

    But “Who will watch the watchmen?”

    To whom will the “one voice” be answerable? There’s the rub.

  3. Bill Says:

    Oh, I’m not suggesting outside workers. Seriously, that wasn’t my point at all. In my head, the thought simply arose by considering a group with no leader, and what would happen if one of them was in touch with the spirit but the group couldn’t sense it.

    My question was not rhetorical. I was actually hoping for a well thought out reply that would give me some new insight. Care to try again?

  4. Neil Says:

    Seems I must have misunderstood your “drift.” Sorry about that.

    If today’s post seems to leave a gaping whole, it’s because there’s more thoughts to come. I’m in the process of saying that I don’t think leaderless groups can work. This post simply attempts to establish that whatever leadership DOES develop has to be organic, or else it will run contrary to the Spirit.

  5. Bill Says:

    So following that thought – perhaps, in a dry spell, if all have lost touch but for one… Perhaps that one should pray more than speak? Perhaps it’s that simple.

    Looking forward to your thoughts next post. Btw, how can I drift when adrift? 😉

  6. Bill Says:

    a gaping whole

    sounds like a freudian sleep

  7. brotherjohnny Says:

    ” whatever leadership DOES develop has to be organic, or else it will run contrary to the Spirit”.

    I agree, and at the same time I believe that ‘organic/spiritual leadership quality’ can develop in more environments than we might imagine.

    I know of an instance where a brother who moved to an organic church already had a certain degree of genuine spiritual wisdom and insight,yet he shelved it so as to learn ‘the ways of organic church life’.

    What he learned instead were the ways madness.
    Not that all ‘organic church scenarios’ are the same, of course.

    Now he is being restored and, of course, the Lord is using it all for good.

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