Thursday, March 12, 2009

Leading in the 21st Century: Back to the Future


For the last several blogs, I have suggested five characteristics or functions of 21st century leadership—pathfinding, aligning, empowering, coaching, and networking. In this blog, I would like to bring the focus specifically to the work of judicatories or denominational structures in the 21st century and suggest a biblical model for this approach.

When we think of the work of the apostle Paul, we tend to focus on him alone. In reality, Paul was surrounded by a team of gifted individuals that was continually changing. We know the names of some of them—Barnabas, Luke, Timothy, John Mark, even Priscilla and Aquila. At various points, different individuals became part of the apostolic team led by Paul. The composition of the group evolved and changed over the years. Very often members came on board, made their contribution to the work of planting and encouraging churches in an area, and then attached themselves to a particular church or churches to continue their work apart from Paul. Some were already mature and gifted persons when they joined the Pauline team, but others were nurtured by the apostle and the group. How did this team practice the functions we have been discussing?

First, they were certainly pathfinders. From the day that Paul and Barnabas left the church at Antioch, they were on new ground for the Gospel. Sometimes it was fertile, sometimes it was stony, and sometimes it just needed to be cultivated. Throughout Paul’s ministry, he took his team into new and potentially hazardous situations to share the Gospel and establish churches, thus taking the Christian church into new territory.

Second, when it comes to alignment, “herding cats” is easy compared to the task of bringing together Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female, rich and poor in order to focus on the spread of the Gospel. The Pauline team often embodied within itself a cross-cultural element that helped find ways to get everyone going in the same direction.

Third, Paul and his associates were all about empowerment. I would like to think that this is one thing that Paul learned from Barnabas. Paul himself was a pretty rough stone before Barnabas took him under his wing. Paul continued to develop new leaders both within the team and in the churches. The Pauline team was not going to stay in one place very long, so it was necessary to call out, train, and empower indigenous leadership.

Fourth, we know that Paul provided coaching to church leaders and others because we have letters that he wrote (or dictated) to local churches dealing with specific situations and needs. Sometimes this guidance was very directive in nature, but he often challenged those in the church to take responsibility for themselves and deal with issues within their fellowship. Coaching also took place as he sent team members to deal with troubled churches and their leaders.

Fifth, Pauline team members were the “seed carriers” or networkers of their day, going from church to church and sharing news of how the Gospel was making progress in various cities. At one point, Paul developed a network of giving churches to provide assistance for the church at Jerusalem when it was in financial need, but the networking function in seen also in the sharing of letters among churches and the constant visits of Paul and his team.

I am not saying that the Pauline team had a checklist of these five functions, but I am saying that they embraced a relational, organic, and fluid approach to ministry leadership described by these functions that is very appropriate for our day. As we leave behind the mechanistic, bureaucratic leadership models of the 20th century, this approach provides a new mental model for doing ministry.

In a recent article in The Christian Century, mission strategist Ray Bakke said, “Almost 90 percent of the barriers hampering urban ministry are found in the church’s own ecclesial and mission structures.” I don’t know the source of this statistic, but his statement does challenge us to find new models for ministry leadership for churches and judicatories in the 21st century. This more organic approach is one of them.

1 comment:

Davidc said...

Great series, Ircel. Nice insights!