In the church family, every follower of Jesus is a member, every member is a minister and every minister is a leader.
For me, leadership is not a job description, it is a character trait. However, the problem with my definition of functional leadership is that it cuts across the grain of conventional-wisdom and practice in our churches. We all know the old idiom, “too many chefs in the kitchen spoil the pot.” Or some may be familiar with the less politically correct adage, “too many chiefs and not enough Indians.” But does this sentiment really apply to the church? I would guess that most people think it does. A reader on my blog, More Than Cake, when confronted with my definition, wrote me and said,
“Joe, I agree that every believer in a member and minister, but everyone a leader? Sure, every believer could become a leader – but You seem to be miss-using the term “leader.” By its simplest meaning – in a group, the leader is the ONE person who is leading – out in front with both the authority and responsibility of decision. The others are “followers.” Without this distinction, then no one is really the leader and the group goes nowhere. see ‘committee’.”
Unfortunately in our Western culture, we prefer to think of leadership as referring to the “one person” making decisions, calling the shots and telling others what to do. I think, however, Jesus saw leadership as something deeper. Biblical leaders serve, sacrifice, and lead by example rather than force. In a healthy church, there is not “one leader,” but a fellowship of many leaders.
1. Leaders of a Different Kind
The goal of making every follower a leader in the church, does not mean all leaders have the same authority or the same purpose. A leader is…
…a teenager who influences their peer group at school
…a gal who takes initiative and leads a women’s Bible study
…the couple who hosts a home group and models hospitality
…the teenager who organizes others to serve in the community
…a woman who demonstrates integrity at her workplace
…an older man instructing a younger man in the ways of Jesus.
…my 7 year old son who gives leadership to his younger brothers,
…and yes, a leader is even the Elder who teaches and oversees the Body as a leader among leaders.
2. Leaders for a Different Time
Leadership is not a permanent job status. A mature Christian can step in and out of a leadership role depending on the situation. A leader can lead for a season and follow in another season of life. According to the book of Acts, Barnabus began the First Missionary Journey as the leader-prophet, but eventually Paul became the leader-teacher of the mission.
I know some men who have served as pastors for years, and now they have moved out of pastoral ministry into other areas of leadership. They may no longer have the “up-front role”… yet they are still great leaders, just in a different role.
3. Diversity of Leaders for a Diversity of Groups
Leadership happens in different spheres of influence. I can lead my church as an Elder, but if I go on a missions project that someone else puts together, I don’t step in and take control. According to God’s design, I allow the other person to be the leader, to set the agenda, to give direction, to speak, etc… Ultimately, even as an Elder, I am still just one brother among the many and can accept direction, honor others, be a servant, and foster leadership of others.
In summary, the church can never have too many leaders because biblical leadership is not the job description of a CEO, it is not the idea of “one man commands and everyone listens.” Biblical leadership is a character trait of a mature disciple. The role each one plays within the Body is very different, but in Spirit-gifted church, every follower is a leader and every leader is still a follower.
Dr. J.R. Miller is a former planter and now professor in California with his wife and three sons. He is an author and avid blogger. You can reach him at either www.MoreThanCake.org or www.EmergingLife.org.