Perhaps you saw the news that the founding church of the Vineyard Movement is being sued by some of its former members for leaving that movement. Though the lawsuit is technically about whether the church’s current senior pastors have defrauded its members, Christianity Today has rightly shown that the conflict between what used to be Vineyard Anaheim and its former members (as well as its denomination) is really about leadership.
Charismatic vs. Collaborative Leadership
As Christianity Today has reported, older members of the Vineyard Movement have pushed for what can be best described as a “charismatic” model of leadership. They have preferred to follow men (and sometimes women) who seem to be specially gifted by God to understand the times and to hear God’s voice in the midst of those times.
It is not hard to understand why. Though there is much in Scripture to support a more collaborative vision of leadership (cf., for example, Acts 13:1-3; 15:1-29), much of the leadership that we actually see modeled in Scripture is by individuals who were chosen by God and empowered to take on the challenges of the day (cf., for example, Joshua, David, Jesus, and Paul). For many people—both inside and outside the charismatic movement—it is the only leadership model which makes sense.
By contrast, younger charismatics prefer a more collaborative form of leadership. This impulse has deep roots in Scripture, as we have already pointed out. Indeed, it can be argued the Spirit of God is at its most active and powerful when the people of God are gathered together (cf., for example, Acts 2:1-4). But the impulse also has roots in a sober analysis of contemporary religious history. It has become painfully apparent that leaders who are not accountable can—and often do—destroy the souls and institutions over which they have been given authority.
A Familiar Controversy
The dispute I have sketched out above is not limited to the Vineyard Movement. It plays itself out in Baptist (and other) churches on a regular basis. It stands behind many of the frustrations pastors feel towards the governing structures of their churches, and it animates the arguments that churches have about which structures they ought to employ.
I have been on both sides of these arguments. On more than one occasion, I have thrown my hands up in despair because a church would not submit to my leadership, and, as I look back on those fits of frustration, I cannot say I was wrong. But, more recently, I have encountered circumstances for which I had no answers. I have found comfort in the counsel of fellow leaders, both within and outside my congregation. Indeed, sometimes we have all been wrong in our predictions about the wisest course of action, and it has been beautiful to see how God has orchestrated that uncertainty to leave time and space for His will to be done.
Finding a Better Way
Perhaps the real issue is that we are asking our leaders, especially our pastors, to do the wrong kinds of things. Perhaps we are depending on them for things they were never called to provide. Notice how Paul assumes gifts for leading persons and administrating business are different from the gifts related to preaching and teaching (Romans 12:3-8). Why shouldn’t we assume some Christian leaders will have one set of gifts but not another?
That is not to say pastors don’t have some responsibility for the welfare of the institutions they lead. In his book Canoeing the Mountains, Tod Bolsinger asserts the pastoral practitioner must care for people, care about the texts and traditions of the faith, and care for the organizations that give structure to Christian life. The list of qualities needed by overseers and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 seem to confirm this way of construing the pastoral office.
But at its heart, being a Christian leader is not about building a successful organization. It is not about creating new and effective systems for addressing old problems. Christian leadership is about being the first to follow Jesus. It is about having the credibility to invite others to follow him, and it is about having the maturity (spiritual and emotional) to show people what following Jesus looks like.
Don’t get me wrong. I want my church to grow. I want to manage its facilities and finances well. I want God’s Spirit to guide me when my church faces a practical problem, and when the Spirit obliges, I want the people under my authority to listen to me.
Nevertheless, I am convinced God is far more interested in ridding my soul of those “dungeons” Diane Langberg talked about than He is in stroking my ego or padding my wallet. Frankly, sometimes we desire a dictator who will bring us success and prestige (cf. 1 Samuel 8:1-20) more than we do a crucified Messiah who will call us to take up our own cross. As churches, our job is to fight that urge; it is to demand our pastors imitate Jesus, and it is to work alongside them to ensure the welfare of the body and the health of the people who make it up.