In Joseph Hellerman’s When the Church Was a Family, his ninth chapter speaks of “Leadership in the Family of God.” Here he goes deeper still into the what and how of modern church renewal in the image of strong-group model. He opens describing a strong-group community which turned out to be deeply cultic, indicating that strong-group communities are easily prey to this danger.
To prevent this disaster from occurring, he suggests two safeguards: plurality of leadership, and a servant-leader culture. He argues for plural leadership both biblically and historically, while easily demonstrating that Yeshua insisted on servant leadership.
He presents four arguments for plural leadership as a benefit to the flock, and two arguments for plural leadership as a benefit to leaders. However, I would enurmerate his remedies slightly differently. Plural leadership is of value because it prevents abuse, and celebrity worship, also unbalanced teaching because every leader has his hobby hourses and his weak areas. But plurality of leadership helps compensate for this. Also, plural leadership promotes moral accountability, models family dynamics of deference and problem-solving, while also forestalling pride and discouragement. He wisely points out a destructive cultural shift from which we are currently suffering: we used to have heroes, we now have celebrities. While people seek to imitate heroes, they seek to live vicariously through celebrities. However, the people of God is a family and not a show, and the nature and quality of relationship are the key metrics of spiritual growth and maturity.
While cult leaders seek to retain and expand power, God’s leaders extend power in acts of service. This brings us to servant leadership, his second broad safeguard against strong-group leader abuse and cultism. Both Yeshua’s teaching and his modeling demand of us that we be servant leaders, as does the example and teaching of Paul. There is no excuse for us to have leadership models where we lord it over people. Yeshua rejected that and so should we.
In the main, Hellerman holds forth Philippians chapter two as a model of the godly leader’s perspective on power. Power is relinquished and used for the benefit of others. What a concept!
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