Saturday, 17 April 2010

Positions, Platforms & Profiles

I’ve been pondering some issues of leadership recently and I want to write about just one today, that’s the issue of position.  Many years ago when I was tentatively coming back to a relationship with Jesus, after a good few years being very determinedly away from him, we went along to a newish church in Manchester near where we lived and one thing that impressed me greatly was that I couldn’t tell who the leaders were.  They sat with their families during the meeting, in amongst the congregation, and only when they had something to contribute did they get up and go to the front.  It was several weeks before we knew who was ‘in charge’.  I don’t know if they still do that or even if it was a conscious policy on their part, after a few months we moved to the Wirral and threw our lot in with our current fellowship and so we lost touch with them.  Over the years I’ve been to all sorts of gatherings, meetings, churches and organizations but one thing seems fairly constant no matter how staid and formal or wild and free it is and that is the ‘reserved seating’!  Often this is in the form of a row of comfy or impressive chairs facing the main congregation on a raised platform where the elders or leaders sit, sometimes it’s just some hand-made A4 ‘reserved for…’ sheets placed on the front row, but whichever it is we seem obsessed with our leaders being given or, even more sadly - them wanting, a special place to sit.  Are our meetings regularly so jam-packed that if we didn’t reserve them a seat on the front row then they might end up standing at the back or sitting on the floor?  Do we frown upon the Catholic & Anglican churches for their priests and vicars dressing up in outlandish costumes and being considered separate from the laity but then utterly fail to notice the plank in our own eye that ensures our leaders, guest speakers or worship-musicians dress up in their smart clothes, get their hair done, ‘look the part’ and are seated on a raised platform away from the ‘proles’! I’m not putting all the blame on those in leadership or saying they all want this kind of recognition or status, I’m sure many do not.  However I think we often want them to be put up on a pedestal.  We want to know who’s in charge and to believe there are some ‘special’ people controlling the meeting – for one thing it allows us to settle into the familiar role of being a ‘consumer’ rather than the much scarier and  less familiar role of being a ‘contributor’ to the proceedings.  Also it gives us something to aspire to, “One day I will be up there on that platform and then I’ll have made it.”  I’m sure we wouldn’t put it as crudely or bluntly as that, but is that how we sometimes think; we develop a better understanding of scripture, work on our ‘ministry’, share our new revelations and it earn us status and recognition?  The worldly hierarchical organizational structure is so deeply ingrained in the western mind-set perhaps we don’t even notice when the church is riddled with it.

Jesus’ one and only appearance as the centre of attention along with the recognized ‘leaders’ of his society was when he was being put on trial, brutally beaten and then crucified.  The vast majority of his ministry was on the margins, in the out-of-the-way places, the villages, the countryside, the lake shore and at the sinner’s dining tables.  We all know the ‘correct’ definition of a leader is that (s)he is a servant but it’s surprising how much ‘serving’ in the modern church requires a collection of smart suits, access to an exclusive ‘green room’, an executive hotel suite, first class travel and a hefty fee. 

I’m regularly inspired by a man I know with an international ministry who doesn’t have a set fee that you must meet to get him to come…he carries his ministry very lightly, he isn’t precious about his status and knows that God is his provider; he gives his all for a room with ten people in it just as he does for a hall holding thousands.  Maybe if more of our leaders were like this, were more anonymous and part of the crowd we wouldn’t listen to them or take note of the wisdom, revelation and teaching they have to impart, if so then I guess we’ve got the situation we deserve.