Conferences are organized for ‘pastors and leaders.’ But in the church Jesus leads all are followers and all are kings and priests in their sphere. In the New Testament God is His own mediator and His Name is Jesus. It is Jesus in people who leads a church in which all believers are called to mediate His indwelling Presence to each other and the un-believing world.
‘Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ Matt 20.25-28 NIV.
Jesus specifically referred to hierarchy, ‘levels’ and the culture of leaders and followers with the words, ‘It shall not be so among you.’ Today, people are meant to lead in their spheres because Christ manifests through them. But as Leonard Sweet shows, people lead in their spheres when they are primarily FOLLOWERS OF JESUS.
Jesus said, “I will build My Church.” The church is Jesus because His Body is the realization of Himself in His People. One weakness of many house churches at present is that there is no leadership. This arises from the assumption that all are leaders. They are, but in the sphere in which they make Jesus complete. Some serve as teachers of the world and some serve at tables.
The result of no leadership is that the group gropes along according to the lowest common denominator. Another weakness is an attachment the old hierarchy and pastor as the hub model. This has been imported consciously or unconsciously into the house church. Not surprisingly this is all many of us know, and despite our best efforts it is a lens embedded in us that conditions what we think is ‘church.’ But as living stones all are meant to lead in their sphere.
Since our identity and purpose is found in Jesus this implies that we live our lives individually and collectively in Jesus and His Lordship. We need to live out of Jesus and not out of the construct of ‘church.’ To be in Christ is to lead from who we are as well as refraining from leading from who we are not. This means not attempting to be a Watchman or teacher of the word when the Lord has created us to minister at tables or in the market place. The Lord’s calling on us is as subtle as our personal uniqueness.
An embedded attachment to the hub model of leaders and followers will have us drawing invisible lines between ‘leaders’ and ‘led.’ It will produce in us the need to make a name and have a following. But if we discipline ourselves to be hidden in Jesus we will emerge as who we are. We will be a door to many and we will enter our ‘glory’ through the means of Christ in us.
Leonard Sweet asserts, all are called to be followers of Jesus and permit Him to lead through all of the people. Sweet’s book, I am a Follower exposes the weaknesses of an emphasis on ‘leadership’ and reveals the Kingdom strength that is available to ‘followers’ of Jesus. I include the following quotes for your enjoyment and edification.
1. All are priests.
Many Protestant denominations like to tout the Reformation concept of the “priesthood of all believers.” But that reality is blocked in many of those very congregations by leadership that suggests, despite its protestations to the contrary, that only those anointed with money (paid staff) and credentials (ordained clergy) are the leaders.
Twice in one chapter within his first epistle, the apostle Peter calls the people of God a priesthood. This is the one and only reference to priesthood acknowledged by any of the New Testament writers, and it refers to a priesthood of plain folk, least disciples-followers of Jesus, the one and only High Priest.
2. Genuine community and discipleship depends on the abandonment of an us and them mentality. Canadian journalist and family therapist Len Hjalmarson writes, ‘There exists the unspoken assumption that leaders have more to give than others, and that those who “follow” need us more than we need them. In reality, the strong offer one gift, and the weak another. Until we die to the idea that we are somehow “ahead of’ or “above” the community of faith around us, we will continue to be frustrated in our attempts to have an authentic community that combines real relationships with real discipleship.’
3. Jesus can lead by Himself!
The disciples were instructed to feed the sheep, not lead them. Christ will lead them. Jesus is the Shepherd. We are the sheep. All of us. The idea of being a follower and being a sheep has been devalued and despised. Who wants to think of himself or herself as a sheep?
But this is exactly what Jesus said true followers are. We are all sheep, being led by the Good Shepherd to our pastures as well. The ideology of leaders as shepherds does not let God be God. It is based on the notion that Jesus can’t possibly lead by himself, so someone has to do it for him.
4. Excuse me, your title is undone.
Nothing is more telling in a leadership structure than the professionalism of naming. That is, the granting of titles. Whereas names are personal and shared identities, titles are impersonal, individualized entities. Titles reveal entitlement, and they serve as dividers. Titles are dividers.
Even the mere labeling of some as “leaders” creates a false dichotomy between leader and follower. Titles always distinguish one person or group from the other. They create boundaries, fences, and locked doors that require permission or privilege for entry. Titles change the entire dynamic of a relationship, creating a new set of rules and limits for expression, openness, and authenticity. As soon as a title is applied to one person, the implied title of ‘less than this’ is pinned to the other.