In response to my observation on a blog that leadership in the church is an art rather than a science, my friend Stephen Currie made this comment: “I’m beginning to wonder what ‘leading’ even means for Jesus’ followers. Jesus told us that the Gentile leaders rule by lording over their subjects, but for his followers, this should not be. He who leads will be ‘the slave of all’. There are many of us who feel lost in the church if we are not ‘leading’ in some way. So yeah, I think leading-by-serving is an art. The people who have modeled this best for me were not men and women of learning . . . they just did it for the love of serving as Jesus did.”
Stephen makes a good point. For one thing, his comments remind us that “leadership” is more than a role or a title. Every group of human beings will have leadership of some type, but it is conferred in many different ways. Leadership may be assumed, usurped, negotiated, or bestowed, but it is there. Leadership in the church is different because it is governed by the way God made us.
In most organizations we find two primary types of leadership. We can call them different things, but basically there are leaders with titles and leaders without titles. Simply putting someone in a leadership role does not make that person a leader. Just ask the young pastor who has been called to what is commonly called a “family-sized congregation.” The pastor may assume that he or she is the “leader” of that church, but church members really know who the leader is—a matriarch or patriarch who has been around for a while and is related to most of the church members in some way.
In the early church, leadership seems to have been more of a function than a title. In reading about the church at Jerusalem, we learn that a number of people who were “servants” of the church—such as Stephen and Philip—also became gifted spokespersons for the Christian faith. Barnabas was first recognized for his generosity and sense of caring before he was delegated the job of envoy to the church at Antioch. While there, other gifts of leadership became evident and led to his role as a missionary.
The early church had a charismatic leadership characterized by a gifting from God for the various functions it needed. Function was more important than title. As Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 12, there are different functions in the body, but all are necessary and none is more important than any other.
Perhaps we define “leadership” too narrowly. Any person who exercises his or her gifts as a servant of the church is a leader─the greeter as well as the Sunday school teacher; the children’s worker as well as the pastor; the custodian as well as the administrator. In the final evaluation, the title or the role is not as important as faithfulness to God and God’s people in exercising our gifts. This is servant leadership.
(Excerpted from For Such a Time as This: Aligning Church and Leadership for Missional Ministry by Ircel Harrison available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon)