Friday, January 20, 2012

Leading and Following

A week ago, I sat in a classroom of fellow Doctor of Ministry students, all pastors, all learning more about leadership dynamics in congregations.   Leadership studies are the big thing now in both ministry and business circles, a pairing that is somewhat telling.  It's useful information, though, and good grist for the book project that will come right after I'm done with the next one in the hopper.

My conversation partner in the one-on-one class conversations was a Baptist pastor, a genial African American woman with a gentle smile and a voice like honey-butter on warm bread.  Though we shared about a number of things, one of our moments of reflection still hangs in my memory.

The class was asked to pair up and discuss the assumption, oft repeated in oldline vision statements, that "everyone in the congregation is a minister."  We're all empowered.  We're all living into our gifts, creative and engaged.  The goal of a leader, or so that assumption goes, is to create a congregation that is completely full of folks empowered to be Holy Ghost large and in charge.  We're all equal, all masters of our own Jesus domain.

Our conversation wandered a tiny bit off track, as a question stirred in both of us.  Is it better to have a congregation that thinks of itself as full of leaders, or a congregation that thinks of itself full of followers?  Which of those things should a pastor be most intentional about modeling for a community?

We hate the idea of following.  Followers are weak.  Followers are, in the parlance of blogosphere trollery, "sheeple," the mindless masses who are utterly incapable of thinking for themselves.  In this land of fiercely held individualism, the idea that we'd hand over the keys to our life-direction to another is utterly alien.  

We love the idea of leading.  Leading is strong.  Being the leader means being in front, being empowered, being the captain, being the one behind the wheel.   Being the leader means casting a golden vision of glory before the amazed, or coming up with a product that is so magical that everyone who touches it becomes an instant fanboy/girl.

And yet, as was so delightfully illustrated by Derek Sivers in his TED presentation last year, a movement is ultimately not defined by a leader.  What makes for a movement is followers.  No followers?  No movement.

As churches try to articulate Christ into a culture of radical self-absorption, that's a bit of a challenge.  On the one hand, we're aware that all of us are gifted with the blessings of the Spirit.   All stand equal before our Maker, who is no respecter of persons.  Authentic Christian faith rejects all forms of power over others, and in that is as radically egalitarian as you can get.  Trotsky and Ron Paul ain't got nuthin' on Jesus folk.

On the other hand, we need to ask ourselves which is healthier:  A congregation in which everyone sees themselves as the pastor, or a congregation in which everyone sees themselves as a disciple?