What you are going to read is the fruit of my work with leaders in ministry. I've spent over forty years in the grass root ways of leadership, mainly in the local church but for the past twenty years, in providing soul care for leaders who serve in the market place and ministry.
As the world has changed so much and with increasing speed and erosion of some core values, we are all the witnesses to implosions in churches as well as organizations and including politics. It is a systemic disease and what I have called in the past a "cult of leadership" that is converging with other concerning factors about the state of the soul; the state of the church and the state of the world. See that article here!I have spent considerable time in my work with leaders on nearly all of the continents.
One deep concern is that we have exported our disease to others we have deemed less fortunate and less education to infect them with our disease. I believe it is past time to re-think leadership in the local church and in organizations.What follows is my modest proposal. Some food for thought for those who are in positions to impact and influence the thinking of others.
The Bible clarifies humanity’s early beginnings. We were created in the image of God. It doesn’t mean that we necessarily look like God but that human beings were formed in the likeness of God. Since God is relational in their essence, human beings were created as relational beings. We have a god-shaped capacity to experience life giving, helping, and sustaining relationships. This is how we are made. This is who we are. We are more human when we are together. Together, we reflect an image of wholeness, completeness, and unity.
When we lead, we would do well to remember our foundation and try to lead from the God-made. Instead of modeling ourselves in the fashion of a God who exists in Trinity, we so very often violate the model and our sacred imprinting by allowing leaders to lead alone. We elevate them in status, power, and authority enabling one person to do what perhaps they were not really designed to do in the first place. The Scriptures are packed with references to the benefits of shared leadership:
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 12:15
“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22 ESV
“Two are better than one…” 4:9-12
Jesus’ own words help here: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:20
Paul’s example in planting churches: “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Acts 14:23
Peter example among those he led: “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder…” 1 Peter 5:1
The example of the Jerusalem Council, “The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.” Acts 15:6
Nowhere in the New Testament do we find that a single leader led the early church. Every time leaders are addressed in the writings of Paul, Peter, and John, all use the word “leaders” in the plural—never singularly. Every church was led by a multiplicity of leaders. There was never one elder, one deacon, or one pastor. A model of shared leadership within the early church came directly from those who followed, watched, and were appointed by Jesus Himself during his earthly ministry. They knew and understood something that the 21st century church and organizations have drifted from. It is due time to restructure ourselves for a healthier and more sustainable model of leadership where “I’m the CEO” mentality does not permeate the culture of our churches and organizations. Here are three benefits that result through shared leadership:
Collective Wisdom A model with multiple leaders requires people to be and practice team mentality. As we know from leadership seminars, “There is no I in ‘team’”. Team decision making allows different perspectives to view the same issue. A leadership team ensures a paced process of searching for wisdom, discerning the times, and making good decisions that benefit everyone. This process requires listening well to one another, speaking out courageously, and having the conviction to stand still when there is no consensus.
Trust Leaders thrive in a culture of accountability and familial connection. Shared leadership emerges as a trustworthy, highly valued, and a reliable method of knowing that the right decisions have been made. As trust is established, the movement gives more trust to their leaders. They trust both the process and the leaders themselves. And with trust comes a sacred peace and confidence. Like a child who excels under trust in their parents, people who trust their leaders thrive.
Protection John E. E. Dalberg-Action says in his book, Lord Action, that, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely". A model of shared leadership protects the movement from a cult of personality which rises when a gifted, charismatic leader emerges, and all eyes begin to focus on that one person. Sole authority, or at least unbalanced trust, is given to individual leaders who shine in the limelight. This fosters pride in any leader, even a well-meaning leader. And as the wisdom of Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Protection for everyone comes through the wisdom of shared leadership. As Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
Jesus warned his disciples about this as they were seeking to climb their own corporate ladder in those early days of their leadership. Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28
In my experience with hundreds of leaders, I have seen great fallout from those who stood at the top alone. Some are there by choice, others are appointed. Many of these well-meaning warriors receive praises from their people who look to them for deliverance and success. Those who appear to stand strong up there are often on their way down. It’s only a matter of time.
We must learn to lead by “we” rather than “me”. Although Jesus spent time developing all twelve of his disciples, it is clear that He had an “inner circle” of three, Peter, James, and John. I would like to propose a leadership model where, at a minimum, three people on equal status, are working together as overseers. Although one or two might be more visible in the public eye, all of them work together to discern and lead under combined, unified wisdom. It is also important to create space and lead with others who look and have different perspectives in the “inner circle”.
It is so easy to create our own echo-chambers when leading. As humans, we love to be “right” and known and surrounding ourselves with carbon copies of the way we think, act, and look like is the best way to ensure that we will be easily understood and “right”. But we only see in part, and the more and more the leadership becomes homogeneous the less and less we can see the fullness of the Bride and Christ. Moving from “Me” led leadership to “We” led leadership requires a paradigm shift. And one that is likely uncomfortable and requires that we give up power. This shift is also very counter-cultural to the human core. From the beginning, our history is made up of conquering, overpowering, and hierarchy-building stories. But the model Jesus lived shifts “me and them” to “we”. It also requires taking your foot off the gas and perhaps onto the break. It means that “We” led leadership will require talking, listening, amending, compromising, and talking some more.
All of this will take more time than it does in a “Me”-led leadership model. “We” led leadership offers an organization, business, and church more security as it raises trust and confidence rather than diminish it. “We”-led means more Team than personality. It means more people sharing the burden as well as the glory. God’s instruction to Moses is invaluable here: "The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you.17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone." Numbers 11:16-171
There are many burdens of leadership. But one of the hardest and most difficult is the loneliness that most leaders feel and experience. And while no model or human answer will mend the hierarchy that we so love to operate in, “We” led leadership simply helps. In this model, a true community is birthed—a community of “we” where no man is an island and no woman stands alone. As community is nurtured and fostered through shared decision making, joint goal setting, and mutual respect is valued a health emerges that has a system of checks and balances and where shared leadership protects us from our own dark sides.
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