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For Nathan (on "leadership")

Hey Nathan,
Thanks for the email (regarding the conversation that was happening on your blog — I hope you don't mind me taking the time to write all this out here, truth be told, I'm curious to hear what others might have to say about all this.
Like you, I was raised in a family and a church that pushed the notion of “leadership” — and pushed it onto me, specifically. I've been encouraged to situate myself in places of “leadership” since way back, and my situation in those places took my through highschool and my undergrad (with, I will admit, a great deal of pride). I imagine that our stories are fairly similar in this regard (although maybe you weren't as arrogant as I was).
However, a number of factors have caused me to rethink and question all this in the last four or five years, as I have pursued alternate models of Christian living (after all, questioning, and rethinking, don't mean much apart from a new form of embodiment or praxis).
In particular, much of the Christian discourse about leadership seems to be flawed, and fatally so, in two regards: (1) in its focus on the individual; and (2) in its understanding of power. This, I think, is largely due to churches looking to outside models when it comes down to issues of polity and structure. By and large, a business paradigm has come to dominate the church (and, I might add, the social services — think of the pervasiveness of the role of the “manager” as that is described in MacIntyre's After Virtue). Consequently, leaders, Christian or otherwise, are understood as powerful and influential individuals who can “get results.” A successful Christian leader is the sort who has a full church, heck, a growing church, and, perhaps most importantly, a tithing church… blah, blah, blah (in social work, a successful Christian leader is the sort who can produce glowing stats and has the connections and voice necessary to bring in abundant donations).
It is interesting to compare this focus on (1) power, (2) influence, and (3) success with Jesus and the prophets. Jesus and the prophets were mostly powerless, mostly insignificant, and mostly failures when judged by the criteria established by the business paradigm.
However, I'm drifting off topic. I should get back to the issues of individualism and power.
Over against, the radical individualism of our culture — that finds particularly strong expression in the discourse on leadership — Christians are called to prioritise the corporate aspect of their identity as members of the people of God. Example: I am not, first and foremost, Dan, the individual; rather, I am, first and foremost, Dan, a member of the body of Christ.
Some time ago on my blog, I asked people to summarise, in one sentence, how they defined themselves (cf. and I then responded by arguing that I (and all of us) should be defined in this way: “I am a Spirit-filled member of the body of Christ and a beloved child of God” (cf. Some of my commentators responded that such a way of defining myself was far too vague (it could be applied to anybody!), but that was precisely my point: let's get beyond defining ourselves over and against everybody else, and let's begin by defining ourselves alongside of everybody else.
Consequently, when we bring this corporate understanding of self to the issue of “leadership” the question shifts from “How am I to lead?” to “How are we, as God's people, to live missionally within God's world?” Note that another shift has also taken place: I have moved from the language of leadership to the language of mission. This, I think, is a crucial shift. After all, as Christians, our goal is, ultimately, not to wield power and influence in order to create the results that we desire; rather, as Christians our goal is to live as a part of a community that is an agent of God's new creation within a world that is groaning under the sway of powers that refuse to acknowledge that they have been defeated (that, after all, is the point of Rev 12: the devil, the dragon, has been defeated and thrown down from heaven. Therefore, the especial violence, and the violence against the saints, that we see now is not because the dragon is so powerful but because the dragon is doomed). Therefore, our model for living missionally is not the model that is found within the business paradigm, it is the model that we find in Jesus.
This, then, leads quite naturally to the issue of power. It is the way in which the discourse on “leadership” is intrinsically linked to a form of power that, more than anything else, leads me to pursue alternate models. As far as I can tell, leadership is inextricably linked to notions of influence and power that are defined by the ability to forcefully impact the bodies, minds, and lives of others. Essentially, the leader is at the peak of a particular hierarchy and power flows from the top down Of course, those who have spoken of “servant leadership” have tried to reverse this flow but, IMHO, they have failed to the extent that they have retained the language of “leadership.” Time after time, I have observed the language of “servant leadership” employed as a mask over fiercely hierarchical, top-down, flows of power.
So, rather than attempting to be servant leaders, I would like to suggest that it is better for us to simply define ourselves as servants. This is, after all, one of the primary ways in which Paul defines the people of God: slaves of Christ (Douloi Christou), and slaves of one another. In this way, we begin to realise the truly “radical” nature of our call to follow Jesus on the road of the cross. Rather than exerting force on others, we are those who are willing to have force exerted upon us. We do this with the hope that, as on the cross, so also in our lives, that force will be exhausted and shattered even as it overwhelms us.
Think, in this regard, of how Paul describes the apostles in 1 Cor 4.8-13:
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings — and that without us! How I wish that you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.
This, I think, is an appropriate Christian response to the contemporary discourse on “leadership.” Mostly the contemporary models of Christian leadership are akin to the model established by the “Super-Apostles” in Corinth (the Super-Apostles who, by the way, were leading the church astray). Like Paul, I think we need to be adamant that our focus should be upon a missional crucifomity and it should not be upon leading with power.
At the end of the day, I think it is best that we focus less on being “teachers” and “lords,” and focus more on washing one another's feet (cf. Jn 13.1-14; notice how, when washing the disciples' feet, Jesus claims the titles “Teacher” and “Lord” and does not suggest that his disciples will also become “teachers” and “lords” [i.e. “servant leaders”] if they go on to wash each other's feet. Rather, he simply tells them that they should follow his example. The disciples remain only “servants”; Jesus alone is the “master”).

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