If Jesus has to be first, I would like to be second (4 myths about church leadership)

Myth #1 / I am the head of Christ’s body

We are becoming obsessed with church leadership. Entire movements and organizations have been built on teaching people how to become better leaders. I got caught up in this culture for a long time. It is one that relies heavily on the sentiment that every local church needs a strong visionary leader at its forefront in order to be successful – a sort of Moses if you will. But Moses never wanted the job in the first place. He didn’t feel qualified and the truth is that He wasn’t. However, that is precisely the point. The people who play the most significant roles in the story are typically those that didn’t really do anything of themselves. Rather, God accomplished things through them that they clearly could have never done on their own strength.

What every local church needs is leaders who are becoming increasingly dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives and who submit to the headship of Jesus. Nearly every church leader would agree with this sentiment but if we would step back and evaluate whether or not we actually believe it, we would find that many of the things we do are functions of our own agenda’s.

It is precisely our longing to be in control that caused all the problems in the universe in the first place and those problems won’t be solved under our leadership. Instead, when we assume control the church becomes a war torn territory, deteriorating under the weight of the decisions our family made many years ago in a garden. There is but one head of the church and His name is not Kevan. This has been hard for me to swallow. God has really opened my eyes to realize that my longing for control screams “I don’t trust God”. Do we really believe Jesus is capable of leading His church into maturity? Do we believe He can fulfill His promise that the gates of hades cannot prevail against it? Or do we trust ourselves to do Jesus’ job as the head?

Myth #2 / Successful companies provide the model for kingdom leadership

Our current church leadership models rely heavily on looking at what successful businesses are doing to “win” and then working to implement the principles/models they use to do so. Yet Jesus very strongly urged us to realize that leadership in the kingdom of God is upside down when compared to leadership in other kingdoms. In the world, Jesus says, people lord it over those they lead. This ought not to be so with us. Instead whoever wants to become the greatest must humbly become the servant of all. This is such an incredibly subversive idea for us and we simply cannot pass over it and pretend like it doesn’t challenge our whole concept of church leadership.

Think about the difficult things Jesus said about ‘leadership’; almost all of them fly in the face of how we think the world works. You want life? Die. You want to be rich? Give everything away. You want to be a great leader? Become the servant of all. These types of things are the keys to kingdom environments. These all get back to the heart of the matter, which is that leadership actually begins and ends with followership.

Your local body already has everything it needs to be an unstoppable movement and it doesn’t have anything to do with the leadership books on your shelf. It has everything to do with stepping aside and letting the Holy Spirit lead.

Myth #3 / Management is a biblical principle

The closest thing we have to management in the scriptures is a group of people called the ‘religious leaders’ in the gospels. These were powerful and influential people that placed heavy weights on the people they led and ensured that everyone played by their rules. Jesus was clearly not a fan of their methodology and they in turn spent a good deal of time plotting how they could kill Him.

Hierarchical organizational structures can easily subvert the organic nature of the kingdom. They allow us to become the governors and managers of the kingdom, regulating and often quenching the movement of God Himself in the name of maintaining a clear vision or direction. James and John actually made a play at hierarchy and made the rest of the disciples angry. They all started arguing about which one of them was the greatest– a conflict that screams “if Jesus has to be first I would like to be second”. Something awful is happening here and it’s easy to miss. Our desire to self-rule is so strong that we end up trying to position ourselves in places that give us authority over people and autonomy from them. In this moment, the kingdom is less about submitting to the King and more about using our relationship to the King to gain something for ourselves.

Management is actually a very new concept in the whole wide scope of things, developed within the industrial revolution as a way to induce compliance. It was introduced as a solution to the challenge of getting large numbers of people to work together for a common goal. Many postmodern companies have even condemned it as a model because it tends to squash and limit people’s potential.

Myth #4 / It is up to us to build God’s kingdom

I used this terminology for a very long time but have recently discovered how flawed it truly is. We were never commissioned to build anything – rather to seek the kingdom in our hearts so that we can recognize and join in His movement around us.

We were never meant to be self-rulers but we crave it anyway. If we step back and look at things objectively, we often believe that there is something better out there that we could obtain without Him. But everything we have built on our own is falling apart in our hands. Just look around. All the things we wish to undo are the same things we once wished to build. Independence was what we set out for, but we became slaves along the way. Every new venture breeds more dysfunction under our own kingship, devastation lies in the wake of our conquests. We have become servants of a dictator that doesn’t know how to lead – he is me, you are him. We are tyrants trying to find our way, engaged in an ongoing war for control. Our hearts have been broken in pieces along the way; our bodies exhausted from searching endlessly to regain some semblance of peace but never finding it.

The beautiful thing about the lives of people like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, etc. is that they didn’t accomplish anything noteworthy – rather they died to their own desires so that God might work in and through them. What would have happened if Abraham didn’t trust God and tried to make God’s promise happen by building it himself? Oh wait… that did happen… and the Middle East has been a warzone between the family of Isaac and Ishmael ever since.

Our responsibility is epic. It is grounded in the belief that God is at work all around us and that He wants to use us to extend His authority into more areas on earth. It is not about building, rather about seeking and joining.

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