Position or Submission?

Thoughts on Leadershipking on throne

“…Jesus called them to Himself, and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.’” (Matt. 20: 25-27). With these words Jesus forever changed the paradigm of leadership in the body of Christ, or at least it should be so. If authority is not to be understood as the right to control others, what is it? It is the right to build up those who are willing to follow in ways that will enable them to become all God wants them to be so that they may accomplish all that He wants them to accomplish in the time they have on this earth.

Speaking of his God-given authority for the church in Corinth, Paul says that such authority was given to build them up and not to tear them down (2 Cor. 10: 8). Jesus made it clear that “all authority in heaven and earth” belongs to Him. This means that no legitimate authority exists outside of Christ. That is a thought with profound implications.

If Christian leaders use their position to influence others to do things that are not ordered by Jesus Himself, the source of their authority is illegitimate. In a very real sense, a leader who does not understand submission will never truly understand authority. All true authority begins with submission to the one True Authority. If you do not know how to submit, then you do not know how to lead. This is because all the authority resides with Christ, not in any position or chain of command.

In the church, the extent to which you are in submission is the extent you have access to the authority of Christ. The truth is that when Christ died and rose again to secure our forgiveness and provide us with eternal life, He also set us free to live no longer for our own will but for the will of God. As Rick Warren says in the opening line of The Purpose-Driven Life, “It’s not all about you.” I believe that this message is obscured when the extremes we go to in order to attract listeners scream, “It’s all about you.” Because of this, many, Christians are lulled into the habit of participating only in those Christian activities that are comfortable or enjoyable for them. They willingly acquiesce to the idea that their part in the expansion of the kingdom of God is to attend the church’s programs and give financially to support them. All this serves to further the misconception that the people in authority do the work and everyone else is there to provide support.

I believe that every believer has a special role to play in the furtherance of God’s rule on this planet. If the majority of them are lulled into believing that their role is minimal, the whole of the body of Christ will suffer for it. Every believer needs to be taught to follow Jesus and then be released to do exactly that. Believers in Christ, indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, are the most powerful beings on the planet, yet Christian leaders continually underestimate this reality and settle for churches in which these glorious beings remain stabled. They must be built up to understand their place in the cosmos and the kingdom. A leader who understands that he or she has been given the authority to do just that will do well.

Because humans are created as free moral agents, following Jesus is a choice. So even though Christ has been given “all authority in heaven and earth,” not all people follow. God could insist, but He doesn’t. This should tell us something. If Almighty God allows His creatures to resist His will, who are we to do otherwise? Christ has given us an example to follow. He chooses to woo His followers into obedience. He provides them with everything they need through His never-ending grace. As leaders, we must do everything in our power to help all believers reach their full potential as children of God.

My friend, Neil Cole, remembers having a conversation with one of his mentors, Carol Davis, about some calendar dates. Twice in the conversation our CMA leadership meetings interfered with what they were trying to plan. Carol asked him how often our leadership board met and he said, “Every month.” She paused, looked back at him with sad eyes and said, “Oh you poor thing.” he responded, “No, it’s not like that, not at all! We like meeting; our times together are usually the highlight of our month.” In fact, at that time two of our team flew to LA for the meetings every month at their own expense! Imagine having meetings that people will pay to be a part of!

We have learned in Church Multiplication Associates to meet regularly without an agenda or a leader. We actually believe that the Head of the church has an agenda that we can discover if we listen. It has become our practice to meet and pray and wait until the Lord gives us direction. When the Lord does give direction, all of us are in agreement about what that direction is because we discovered it together. Our leadership team comes together on the basis of submission, not strategy. This will not work well if the people in the room all come with a personal interest in how things turn out that dominates their own thoughts. When leaders meet, they need to lay aside their own agenda, reputation, and ambition and practice mutual submission under the Head who has all the authority. When that happens you may have a meeting that will blow you away.

Typically, a business meeting with a stacked agenda does not accomplish as much. Why not schedule a retreat, alone or with other leaders, to seek the Lord’s direction. Spend time in prayer, and don’t be afraid of silence. Listen for the still small voice of God, and begin to make the changes He asks for. Every journey begins with a first step.

As for the church, constantly remind people of who they are in Christ. Encourage them to pray for guidance and listen for answers. Teach them to trust the direction they receive and take their own steps in obedience to their master. Jesus is, in fact, the Head of His body, the church. Let’s lay aside our own position, acknowledge His, and let Him lead.

From me to you…

December 17, 2012Permalink 2 Comments

Kingdom or Cosmos?

Kingdom or Cosmos?

Thoughts on Church Leadership

As I talk to pastors and other church leaders, I find that many are discouraged. They accepted the responsibility with a sense of hope and purpose but are often overwhelmed by the expectations of the position and the consistent lack of progress those they lead are making in the faith. I have experienced many of those same feelings of frustration. That frustration set me on a course to discover what I was doing wrong. In the process, I came to believe that most of what passes for good church leadership is resting on a faulty foundation. In our book, Church Transfusion, Neil Cole and I address a number of shifts that leaders can make to become more effective at the task we’ve been given, helping people become disciples of Jesus. The first shift we address is the shift from Cosmos to Kingdom. I hope you will find these ideas helpful. I’ll be sharing some of the other shifts in the days ahead.

For years the Christian church has looked to the world for effective leadership methods and structures. The result has been a church that more closely resembles a business than a family. It’s time that church leaders measure their current ways of thinking against the Holy Scriptures. A great place to start is with a look at how the original twelve were challenged by Jesus to think differently about leadership and authority. They were steeped in the leadership ideals of their generation. They had visions of fame and power and wanted to secure their position in what they saw as a coming hierarchy. Their desire to be first is seen clearly in the arguments they had over which one of them was greatest. It’s hard to find fault with their perspective since the world around them operated in such a way as to exalt some and put down others. Power was based on position, with those on top wielding it over those beneath them. Sound familiar? The world hasn’t changed much has it?

This system of order is still an ever-present reality. The Bible calls it the cosmos, the system by which the world operates. All of us, like the disciples, have been immersed in it and often find it difficult to imagine an alternative. The difficulty is that this system came into being through the fall of humankind, is dominated and operated by Satan, and by its very nature is opposed to the rule of God. So here is the problem we must face. When we look to this system for answers to the hows and whys of leading the people of God, we find methods and mind-sets that will never yield the results we hope for.

When Jesus began His public ministry, He came preaching the kingdom of God. He made statements like “the kingdom of God is in your midst” and “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He taught His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I believe that there is one day coming a literal, physical kingdom in which Jesus will rule as king. I also believe that God’s kingdom exists right now wherever and whenever an individual or group submits to His will. The kingdom of God implies the rule of God. When we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” we are first and foremost asking that our hearts, minds, and actions be submitted to the will of God in Christ Jesus. Whenever a believer submits to God, the kingdom of God is present. So now in the world there are two opposing systems, the cosmos and the kingdom. For the church to be what it is meant to be in Christ, it must operate on the principles of the kingdom and not the cosmos.

When the disciples were fighting over which one of them was greatest, Jesus said to them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you” (Matt. 20: 25). This phrase “not so among you” should be ringing loudly in our ears. Jesus is telling His disciples in no uncertain terms that leadership in His kingdom is not about the top-down exercise of authority or control. Let me say that again. Leadership is not about top-down command and control. It is a travesty that most books on Christian leadership encourage just that, a system of leadership drawn from the wisdom of the cosmos instead of the wisdom of God’s kingdom.

In the kingdom, our task is to connect people to Christ’s authority and leadership, not expect they submit to our own. There is no chain of command in the kingdom— that is a cosmos idea. Authority is not delegated downward in the kingdom; it is distributed outward. Each person is connected to Christ who holds all the authority, and each person is to connect others to that same Lord.  Jesus is the one to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given. Jesus is with us always and it’s Jesus we must entrust His own people to. In the Kingdom of God, where Christ is ever present and ever working, there is equal access, equal empowerment, and equal status for all His subjects. He is the Head and we are His body. Church leaders should make it their first priority to teach people to hear the voice of Jesus and do what He tells them. Our problem is that we just don’t trust people to make right choices. Why do we trust ourselves to make right choices for them? Is it because we think we know more or because we know Christ is leading us? If it’s because we know He’s leading us, why can’t we trust Him to lead others also?

The truth is this. The Holy Spirit is in each of us and He is more than able to instruct and empower those He indwells. Yes, He does often use one Spirit filled disciple to lead another but we should be very careful about taking authority for ourselves that rightly belongs to our Lord. Approach those you lead with humility and pray that Jesus become as real to them as He is to you. If we continue to operate from a cosmos foundation, we will stunt the growth of those we seek to help. Each of us is “God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which He prepared beforehand for us to do.” If we lead from a command and control perspective, we run the risk that our lack of omniscient wisdom will keep someone from the very work they were created to accomplish.

From me to you…

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