Letting others be important – Jesus’ new leadership

Posted: December 10, 2012 by J in Church, Theology


Old style leaders in the church aim to make the most of their gifts, but Jesus’ new leaders maximise other people’s gifts.

27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.   Luke 22

The traditional model of church leadership is shaped like a pyramid. The congregation is at the bottom, supporting the ministry structure; lay leadership is in the middle, and at the top, at the cutting edge of ministry, are the clergy. They are the  key players, the important ones who do most of the ministry. Teaching, ideas and instructions filter down from them to the laity. The laity provide a solid financial base for the whole enterprise. They also provide manpower for occasional whole-church projects which the clergy initiate. At the dining table, in the prominent place, are the leaders. Hovering in the background and providing support, like the table waiters, are the lay people.

Jesus re-definition of power turns the model on its head; he reverses the roles at the meal. The important people are the congregation members. They are the ones at the table, the main characters in the story. Serving their needs are the table waiters, the church leaders.

The pyramid is now upside down. The top-most layer of church life, the ‘coal-face’ of ministry, is the congregation. Their ministries are the ones that ultimately count. Supporting them for their ministry are various leaders, and supporting everyone, serving the whole church, are the pastors.

What does that look like in practice?

Old style leaders go with their strengths. In the church, this means a concern to make the most of their gifts. Going with strengths ensures that the leader appears in the best possible light – capable, efficient, successful. It maximises the leader’s personal job-satisfaction. And it just happens that few leaders are gifted in sweeping the floor – so they leave such things to those whose gifts are more ‘blue collar’.

New leaders value ministry gifts, but they are happy to go with their weaknesses. They don’t mind operating in areas where they do not appear to best advantage. Because they are less concerned about their own gifts, and more about the gifts of the congregation. After all, the congregation are the important ones. It’s their ministries that count. The pastor is just the table-waiter. Like Jesus: the cross didn’t maximise Jesus ministry gifts.

New leaders work up a sweat doing what needs doing so that the congregation can function well. They don’t think too much about job-satisfaction. They are happy to do lowly tasks when the need arises. They are modelling themselves on the man who was ‘among you as one who serves.’ The cross probably didn’t represent job-satisfaction.

Decision-making in the old model was concentrated in the hands of the leadership. In Jesus’ model, of course that is reversed. The people at the coal-face, the ones sitting at the table, they are the ones who get the say. They are the ones gifted and authorised for gospel ministries by the Holy Spirit. Since when does the servant tell the important people what to do? Does he imagine he’s the boss? The servant can serve by providing the nourishment of the gospel word. He can encourage, equip, advise when asked to – but the decisions are generally going to be made by the important people, the congregation members. That’s as it should be.

This is the new leader’s approach to using his (considerable) power. He uses it to make others powerful.

27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.   


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