Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Circle of Biblical Leadership

A few weeks ago I wrote about why many church leaderships struggle to make decisions: a committee structure; a polite, democratic process, the one-person veto vote and aversion to risk. There’s a more global reason as well. We seem to have failed to recognize and practice the full circle of biblical leadership.

God’s intent for church leadership as described in Ephesians 4:11 is to gift the church with a robust leadership structure. Alan Hirsch calls Ephesians 4 a five-fold—APEPT—structure of leadership. While recognizing different kinds of leaders, Hirsch falls short of providing an integrated leadership model. There is a way to model biblical leadership that may help us break through our current stalemate.

Look at the illustration above. The model begins with two axis lines representing orientations or directions of leader attention. The horizontal axis line shows attention focused either external or internal to the church. Leaders on the right side value the relation of the church to its environment. Leaders on the left side value the relationships among those inside the church.

The vertical axis line represents the focus of attention toward either change or stability. Leaders on the lower end of this line value the solidarity of the group. Leaders on the upper side end of the line value the adaptability of the group and its members to one another and the world at large.

Around these two axes is the circle of biblical leadership. Each quadrant of the circle is identified by a biblical leader role. These leadership roles serve as analogies for actions leaders in these quadrants use for the benefit of the church. These roles are not meant to directly correspond to the biblical leader for which each is named. Each role has value orientation and two primary leadership functions that the leader role fulfills to provide a robust, healthy leadership structure for the church.

Leader as Prophet
Prophets scan the environment in which the church exists and look for trends or patterns for the future. The prophetic leader’s primary value is for relevance. The prophet’s two functions are to identify the future and clarify vision. Using the analogy of a car, the prophet provides the church with headlights to illuminate what is coming and a steering wheel for guidance.

Leader as King
Kings are action-oriented builders. They build systems and organize people for action. The kingly leader’s primary value is to grow and consolidate. The king’s two functions are to give direction and develop structure. In the car analogy, the king is the gas pedal. Let the king start pushing the pedal and the church will go!

Leader as Priest
Priests are system and relationship caretakers. They keep things operating smoothly and help repair ruptures that occur in life. The priest’s primary value is to protect that which exists. The priestly functions are to support the smooth operation of the church’s systems and to maintain the integrity of the internal relationships of it’s members. Going back to the car analogy, the priest acts as the car’s onboard computer that monitors its performance and adjusts its operation to keep everything running smoothly.

Leader as Shepherd
Shepherds are people developers. They provide teaching and mentoring that helps people mature in Jesus. The shepherd’s primary value is to nurture and mature the flock. The two shepherding functions are to promote relational development and to mentor for personal growth. Shepherds would be the signal and minor lights of the car, they keep themselves and other cars safe.

When all four leader roles are represented in a church, and if they have learned to work together, taking advantage of each others strengths and covering each others weaknesses, the church will have a robust, healthy leadership system. When one or more roles are minimized, missing or malfunctioning the church has got a flat tire, or maybe is missing a tire all together!

The circle of biblical leadership has two vital results for the church. One, it eliminates the idea of a leadership hierarchy. Ask most any church member to start listing the types of leaders at their church and the hierarchy begins with a senior pastor, elders or some other dominant leader role. We see the top-down leadership line. But in a circle there is no line! The idea of hierarchy disappears and the mutual importance and respect for each role is self-evident.

Two, the circle of biblical leadership allows for the idea of personal giftedness among the members. Robert J. Clinton in Leadership Emergence Theory describes giftedness in terms of natural personality, learned skill or God-supplied ability. If Ephesians 4 is describing God’s leadership giftings to the church, the circle of biblical leadership provides a context in which they all can operate.

If you want to see the natural inclination of leadership in your church, fellowship or denomination, draw the two axes on a piece of paper.

Which half of the horizontal axis receives the most attention by your leaders, what is happening (or not happening) external to the church or internal to the church? Shade that half.

Which half of the vertical, change or stability, axis is most comfortable for your leaders, change or stability? Shade that half.

Now you will have one quadrant that is doubly shaded, two quadrants that are singly shaded, and one quadrant that is not shaded at all. This is the quadrant with which your church will struggle the most. If it’s the Prophetic quadrant you struggle with clarity and vision. If it is the Kingly quadrant you struggle to grow and develop constructive systems. If it is the Priestly quadrant that is empty you feel tensions and lack of relationship between people. If it is the Shepherding quadrant that is empty your people will be stagnant and maturity will be minimal.

How does this model of the Circle of Biblical Leadership help you understand your church’s leadership system and your strengths and weaknesses as a leader?

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