23 February 2008

New wine - rethinking church leadership

I was excited to hear about this "Anglimergent" gathering. It sounds like it was a good meeting - though it also sounds like 18 people got together and delivered speeches to each other (Phyllis Tickle did her "Great Emergence" talk which I've heard a lot about and would love to actually hear some day, and Fred Burnham did a talk on network theory, etc.), which seems slightly bizarre from an emergent point of view - but not so strange from an Anglican point of view, so there you are. :-) And it seems like they also had informal multi-voice conversations in between, which (I'm guessing) made up the bulk of their time together.

The most promising thing in Steve Knight's summary (linked above), from my perspective, was that they were discussing Burnham's ideas on network theory and "alternative polity structures", because IMHO polity (i.e., church leadership structure) is far and away Anglicanism's (and the mainline in general's) hugest, most immovable obstacle to "emergence". "Sure, we can deconstruct and be experimental when it comes to worship, discipleship, mission, etc. But hierarchical authority and prescribed clergy roles shall never be compromised!"

This somewhat dovetails with the other thing I saw this week on the Emergent Village blog that hugely interested me (actually cross-posted from the Emerging Women blog) - Kathy Escobar's excellent post on church leadership and co-pastoring.

As I said in a comment on Kathy's blog, I would go even further and suggest that the role of “pastor” as currently constructed - solo or shared - has taken a single leadership-oriented spiritual gift among many (four others are listed in Ephesians 4:11, and still more are mentioned elsewhere in scripture) and blown it up into a role where certain Jesus-followers are expected to be professional leaders, possessed of all leadership-oriented gifts, and in the lead role in almost any endeavor a Christian community undertakes - while everybody else is expected to defer to them.

I’m convinced that all of us are spiritually gifted, and all of us have gifts and passions that might enable us to lead, equip, inspire, teach, serve, and/or pastorally care for others, given the right context and the lack of an expectation that it’s somebody else’s job. Or maybe it’s just the community that I’m a part of - where just about everybody ends up in a “leadership” role at one time or another, whether it’s coordinating or creating a Sunday morning worship service, a “service-worship” project blessing our wider communities, a party, a retreat, a pastoral care effort, a technology innovation, an art project, or whatever.

But it’s arguable that I’m just quibbling over semantics - any human enterprise that’s going to move in anything other than a random fashion probably needs somebody(ies) designated to coordinate and facilitate that movement, and Christian communities are no exception. The small community/church I’m a part of tends to shy away from the term “pastor” but has a leadership team of three, and we’ve worked this way since our founding pastor left in 2002, about a year after the church began.

I love working in community this way, for all the reasons Kathy mentions and more. But I also tend to agree with some of the speculation in comments on her blog about community size - we’ve often suggested that if our community ever began to approach 100 core members, we’d probably split into two closely connected communities. Quite honestly, I’m not sure that I think communities above a size where anonymity becomes possible are a very good idea, nor can I think of very good reasons why we’d need them - if the strong peer networks of communities that are beginning to form (and which, perhaps, Fred Burnham was hinting about at the Anglimergent gathering) continue picking up steam. But that’s another topic! :-)

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