Breaking Tradition While Working Within the System
(Continuing reflections on Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision by Paul Gupta and Sherwood Lingenfelter)
The clergy-laity distinction is a reality we have to live with. (See previous post.) In many denominations in Africa (and elsewhere) hierarchy is the norm and will not change. So how do we deal with the results of this structure which often reduces most church members to spectator status? And how can we bring about change in the system without modifying the structure? The answer is that the leaders within the hierarchy must bring about a transformation in the way ministry and service is viewed and carried out.
For example, in a seminar where I was teaching about team ministry, I was asked how this could take place within a hierarchical context where leaders are responsible to make decisions. My answer was that instead of making decisions independently they could set up a team of advisers involving members from different levels and backgrounds in the process. The leader would retain the responsibility for the final decision but would not be acting solely on his own.
This is but one small step but what would it accomplish? It would begin to break down the clergy-laity distinction. It would involve members in the direction and ministry of the church. It would model a different type of leadership to the church and the world. In fact it would bring it more into line with the teaching of Jesus on leadership as stated in Mark 10:42-45:
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
What would our hierarchical denominations look like if the church leaders did not lord their positions over each other and the members of their churches? What would happen if Jesus’ words were taken seriously, “Not so with you!” What would happen if servant leadership was seriously practiced?
When Jesus says, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” , who are the all? The answer is “all!” The leaders must serve: the lowest and least educated in the church to the most prestigious person in the congregation. Children. Men. Women. Young and Old. Rich and Poor. From our tribe or another. Church members and non-members. The lovely and the unlovely. The leader is to serve them all. And it is when he serves the church members by equipping and enabling them to serve others that they will move from being passive spectators to spectacular participants in God’s plan!
Sherwood Lingenfelter makes these comments:
Cultural expectations about leaders and leadership, status rivalry among people emotional and economic insecurity, and an inherent human propensity to control rather than empower others all work against the vision for multiplying leaders in the church…
The idea of training others and releasing control of ministry to them, is utterly foreign to most people and cultures…[It] is counter-cultural and counter-emotional–leaders expect to control and oversee, but they rarely expect to release ministry and equip others to do their work.1
It is when the leader refuses to maintain the distinctions and the control that comes with his position and becomes a servant leader that empowers and releases the local leaders to do the work that the traditional clergy-laity divide will be broken even while the hierarchy remains in place.
This calls for a work of the Spirit to deal with the pride of position. prestige and power that is often seen in church leadership. May revival come and sweep through our tradition bound and moribund structures so the people of God may be released to do the good works they were created to do.2
1Paul R. Gupta and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter, Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision, (BMH Books, Winona Lake, Indiana, 2006), p. 96, 97.
2Ephesians 2:10: For we are God’s workmanship,created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.