In the church family, every follower of Jesus is a member, every member is a minister and every minister is a leader.

The problem with my definition of functional leadership is that it cuts across the grain of common sense. We all know the old idiom, “too many chefs in the kitchen spoil the pot.” Or some may be familiar with the less politically correct adage, “too many chiefs and not enough Indians.” But does this sentiment really apply to the church? I would guess that most people think it does apply.  I got this comment a few years back from one of my readers named Tyler. Tyler wrote:

I agree that every believer in a member and minister, but everyone a leader? Sure, every believer could become a leader – but you seem to be misusing the term “leader”. By its simplest meaning – in a group, the”leader” is the ONE person who is leading – out in front with both the authority and the responsibility of decision. The others are “followers”. Without this distinction, then no one is really the leader and the group goes nowhere. See “committee.”

Unfortunately in our Western culture, we prefer to think of leadership as referring to the one person making decisions, calling the shots and telling others what to do.

Mike Breen from 3DM makes this same observation in his post entitled,  “Why the Leadership Movement is Leaving Your Church Leaderless

Why wouldn’t most pastors want more leaders in their church communities?

I think there are probably many answers to this question (don’t know how to train them, afraid of releasing and relinquishing some control, unsure how to manage resources against their person agenda, etc). But I suspect the big answer is this: At the end of the day, what most pastors want (and have been trained to want!) is minions to execute the most important vision of all. Their own. In doing this, they effectively kill people’s ability to get a vision of their own.

Nevermind that this approach is antithetical to the Gospel.

Christian leadership is about listening for vision from God within community and then being given the authority and power to execute that vision — to take new Kingdom ground. That’s the birthright of every Christian…to hear the voice of their Father. But in the way we do leadership, suddenly it’s like we are pre-Reformation where only the select and the elite who are given this privilege. And let’s be clear: Our ego has a lot to do with this.

I think, however, Jesus saw leadership as something deeper. Biblical leaders serve, sacrifice, and lead by example rather than force.

Leaders of a Different Kind

The goal of making every follower a leader in the church, does not mean all leaders have the same authority or the same purpose. A leader is…

…a teenager who influences their peer group at school

…a gal who takes initiative and leads a women’s Bible study

…the couple who hosts a home group and models hospitality

…the teenager who organizes others to serve in the community

…a woman who demonstrates integrity at her workplace

…an older man instructing a younger man in the ways of Jesus

…my 7 year old son who gives leadership to his younger brothers

…and yes, a leader is even the Elder who teaches and oversees the Body as a leader among leaders.

Leaders for a Different Time

Leadership is not a permanent job status. A mature Christian can step in and out of a leadership role depending on the situation. A leader can lead for a season and follow in another season of life. According to the book of Acts, Barnabus began the First Missionary Journey as the leader-prophet, but eventually Paul became the leader-teacher of the mission.

I know some men who have served as pastors for years and now they have moved out of pastoral ministry into other areas of leadership. They no longer have the “up-front role”  yet they are still great leaders in different ways.

Diversity of Leaders for a Diversity of Groups

Leadership happens in different spheres of influence. I can lead my church as an elder but if I go on a missions project that someone else puts together I don’t step in and take control. According to God’s design, I allow the other person to be the leader, to set the agenda, to give direction, to speak, etc… Ultimately, even as an elder, I am still just one brother among the many and can accept direction, honor others, be a servant, and foster the leadership of others.

The church can never have too many leaders because biblical leadership is not the job description of a CEO; it is not the idea of “one man commands and everyone listens.”  Biblical leadership is a character trait of a mature disciple. The role each one plays within the Body is very different, but in the Spirit-gifted church, every follower is a leader.

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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