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.


  1. Following an invisible leader is so much harder than a visible one who's well dressed and on the front row :)

  2. I agree with Mags. You must be talking about John Scotland (the humble leader). Just a guess, but he is amazingly humble. I saw a video of John Crowder once and just happened to notice J.Scotland off to the side. The video interview never mentions his name at all although other ministers were named.

  3. Hmmm. Well, as an unashamed scruff who generally plays his guitar in front of congregations wearing t-shirts with Godzilla or robots commanding detruction on them, and is usually unshaven too, I've not really encountered this stuff in our local churches. I certainly did when in South Africa. The congregations wanted to honour their leaders with fancy thrones which left me with a bad taste in my mouth, but whatever, not my church and not my job to give account for them either.
    However, we can become just as self righteous about "being invisible" as "LOOK AT ME, I'M THE LEADER!". Funny old thing humility init?
    Give me a road map and I'll be ok being led.

    I listened to Jackie Pullinger once talking about the barriers that a fancy suit and what have you can make to none christians "I can't be a Christian, I don't have shoes" was her phrase in fact. It made such an impression on me that I resolved to be as "normal" in church as I am everywhere else. (I hold normal very loosely, just in case someone jumps in there with a quip.)

    Just a minor comment, but Jesus did also make an appearance on a donkey one time and that was a bit of a big deal for a few folks. and there were those times when big bunches of fellow nutters roamed the countryside after him to hear his words.
    Oh to roam the country listening to those life giving words...
    Good job we can roam anywhere now and hear the same eh?!
    Whoop whoop!!!!

  4. Ian,
    You're right, we have to be careful not to end up being religiously non-religious!
    However about your points at the end obviously I am aware of Jesus' triumphal entry and the huge crowds that came out to see him but in those occasions Jesus was not aligning himself or appearing with the Jewish ruling elite. He took pity on the crowds and preached and fed them, but always slipped off either on his own or with his disciples, especially when they tried to make him king by force!

  5. I wonder also whether once again the 'church' has been infected by the world rather than the other way round. In the world one of the first questions asked is 'what do you do', 'what is your position' which helps to know how to relate to you based on my own perspective of value etc. when being introduced to others... I'm his wife, I'm a teacher/ cleaner/ politician... Do we take this same attitude into the church, 'so what do you do in this church' 'how big is your church' 'who are the leaders' etc. I'm one of the leaders, I'm on the worship team, I'm an intercessor, I'm on the coffee rota, I'm part of the Kids team, I'm 'just' one of the memebers.....this is my label and this is my position in the church....
    Maybe we could respond to being questioned on our 'position'/status whenever asked is I'm a follower of Jesus, a child of the King, I'm here to serve....

  6. I started reading a very good article last night about turning the view point around. It was talking about the attitude of consumerism in church and congregations who come with an expectation of being led to a place where they're happy and satisfied with how the preacher preaches, or the worship group plays, etc. When really the issue facing us, and certainly in my church, what is our response? it's like wading through mud at the moment. I asked them how we could whoop it up on easter sunday and yet the very next week it was back to "mutter mutter whatever" kind of attitude. One of the leaders said "it's not easter sunday". Not it's not, but what difference does that make?! we still live in the revelation of those amazing events. Why does one day have more significance than another? Surely we're called to greater things than a single day of joy once a year.
    So yeah Mags, you are totally right. The church has been infected by the worlds value system rather than kingdom values. We've got a whole load of barnacles on the hull that need cleaning off so we can cut us a smooth line through the waves again.
    Is it history repeating itself again and again? the church gets burdened with tradition and "stuff" until it's so weighed down you need a form of reformation so it can run free again?
    Surely the time is short and we need to be moving moving moving? WAKE UP O CHURCH!!!

    Mags, can you drop me an email as I need to ask you a long winded question. Ta xxx