Savvy business leaders need to know “what’s going on under the hood?” Like: what’s happening down at the lower levels of the company, among the middle-management folk, and, more importantly among the rank and file of the company’s employees? What’s on their minds as the drink coffee together and discuss the company? Where are the glitches that make their work experience frustrating, or less than fulfilling? To this end, in the healthy and growing companies, management devises all kinds of ways to break out of their executive suites and communicate with the grass-roots, i.e. “under the hood.” Another description of this quest is for leadership to know “the big data” that is determining the course of their market and the inner-working of their own corporate structure.

This is a principle too often overlooked in larger church institutions. In a recent blog, I referred to the frequent articles in journals about folk abandoning the institutional churches. It’s not that those institutions are not rather impressive, or it’s not because their professional leadership is not well-trained academically, … but it is because that leadership too often takes on a clergy persona and becomes isolated from what is going on under the hood, or the big data that is determining the cultural setting in which they operate, … and this is ever undergoing change.

I’ve often remarked in these blogs, that the growing-edge of the church in the world today is in house churches, which means that there is some kind of energy, some kind of mutual understanding of what’s going on under the hood, some kind of common awareness of the big data that is determining their lives and society, … and a freedom to engage these realities. If you read the few passages in the New Testament that refer to church leadership, you find presbyters (elders), or episcopoi (overseers) who seem to be those in the small colonies who were the most mature and respected because of their knowledge, their maturity and wisdom, and because they are models of the faith. This means that the authentic church leaders were those who were in dynamic communication with those committed to their charge.

Even such an awesome and unique figure as the apostle Paul was formed by significant engagement with the people he was dealing with, as a teacher, as a model, as a fellow artisan (tent-maker) or prisoner, … and so who could say with complete artlessness: “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ.” Paul lived in the homes of many of the people with whom he worked. He spent many months with those few believers originally in Ephesus, forming them, sharing their lives, … so that ultimately they could move out into Asia Minor with the word of Christ.

Such awareness on the part of church leadership means that in its ministry to those committed to them, that their times together are transformational, relevant to their lives, mutually caring, and mutually energizing. Isolated church leadership (too many ‘clergy’) fail to provide this kind of ministry.

One of my mentors described the ministry of disciple-making (which belongs to all believers) as that of spending such significant time with others that you reproduce yourself in them (assuming that you are formed in the image of Christ). When such a knowledgeable and transformational relationship exists, church leadership certainly knows what is going on under the hood. (And … please note … you don’t learn that discipline by attaining an academic degree in theology, … but by patient engagement in the realities of those with whom you are engaged in Christ.) So, what’s going on under the hood of your colony of believers?

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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