What do Feminism and the Organic Church movement have in common?  They both revile leadership and authority.  To be sure, I am painting with some broad brush strokes here and so there are always going to be exceptions, However, as I observe the landscape of post-modern culture, I am concerned that much of what folks think is a “biblical” reformation of leadership is simply a post-modern reformation.

The Cult of “Power-Leadership”

Roy Goble, at Red Letter Christian, summarizes well what may be considered the cult of leadership that has overtaken the Church in the past 30 years.  He writes;

Sometimes it feels like a cult has formed around leadership. It’s not just a church thing; it’s prevalent in business, government, education, etc. You can see it everywhere. Authors try to come up with the next big leadership book. Speakers give us twelve steps to effective leadership. Seminars focus on the leader within us. Even “team” leadership becomes a buzzword.

The result of this emphasis on leadership is we often neglect other valuable metrics like wisdom, love, and joy.

Goble is right; leadership in much of the church has become simply a code word for power and that is not good.  The problem is that in response to unhealthy leadership (leadership=power), we have turned to more unhealthy leadership models (no leaders=shared power).  But in both cases, leadership is still being defined by its use, or non-use, of “power.” It is not being redefined, as Goble says, by the metrics of wisdom, love, and joy.

The Feminist Response to Authority/Leadership

Look first at a secular feminist response to the abuse of male “leadership.”

  • Have men abused their role as leaders in the marriage relationship? Yes. Therefore, Feminists conclude that all marriage is bad.
  • Have men kept women out of the workplace? Yes. Therefore, Feminists conclude that the “stay-at-home mom” reflects the oppression of a woman.
  • Have men used their leadership role as an excuse to force sex? Yes. Therefore Feminists celebrate the lesbian relationship.
  • Have men done bad stuff? Yes. Therefore, Feminists conclude women are better off without men.

The “Organic” Response to Authority/Leadership

Like the feminist response to men, I fear, the organic/house/emergent church has in some quarters thrown out the good with the bad.

  • Have Pastors abused their role as leaders in the church? Yes. Therefore, Organics conclude that pastors are a destructive force for the church.
  • Has church leadership in the past 100 years taken on too much of the business culture of “leader as ultimate authority”?  Yes. Therefore, Organics conclude there should be no hierarchy of leadership in the church.
  • Have church leaders used buildings to enshrine their own power and authorityYes. Therefore, Organics conclude buildings owned by the church are unbiblical and they should only meet in homes owned by individuals.
  • Have ego-driven leaders done bad stuff? Yes. Therefore, Organics conclude the church is better off without leaders.

But despite these abuses, God’s Church should not be leadersless.  The church needs good leaders (Elders)..  The New Testament Church had leaders and we need leaders today—just not the kind of abusive leaders that dominate the culture.

Let’s work hard to ensure that our efforts to reform the church are rooted in the clear instruction of the Scripture and not an overly-enculturated perception of reality that deprecates the value of real biblical leadership in the church.

On A Personal Note

If I had to put a label on myself, it would definately be Organic over Traditional.  In addition, I have many respected friends in the Organic Church movement who have a healthy view of leadership and church.  I don’t mean to paint these great folks into a corner by using this term “Organic”, but I don’t have a better word right now to describe what I see happening within this movement.. I am open to suggestions that will improve the dialogue.


Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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