From "The Simple/House Church Revolution" Book. The entire book can still be downloaded here.
REACH DISCIPLE GATHER EMPOWER MULTIPLY
We have discovered how easy it can be for every believer to be involved in the process of reaching, discipling, and gathering. These are not roles given to certain special ministers, but every person in Christ’s body gets to be involved. The role of leadership, then, becomes about empowering people in these processes.
The Kingdom of God is not a Top-Down Hierarchy
Our old paradigms of “leadership” will not do because they come from top-down, hierarchical organizations. This type of structure is not new. It has similarities to all man-made structures such as the military, governments, and community organizations. The basic premise is that someone is over some, who are over others, so that decisions can be made and passed down in an efficient and productive manner. This is, in fact, a necessary form of leadership for most organizations to have in order to survive. It allows for order so that each person knows his or her part to play.
However, this understanding of leadership does not serve the true nature of God’s kingdom. We know this because Jesus stated clearly that this type of leadership, associated with normal organizations, is simply not acceptable. He said it would not do.
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you (emphasis added). Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:25-27 NIV
Jesus is doing more than challenging those who would use their authority abusively; he is describing the typical type of leadership that is used in human organizations where one person, by necessity, exercises authority over another. He says without reservation: “Not so with you.” This is not the type of leadership that will serve the purposes that God has for his people.
Because God’s kingdom is not a top-down, hierarchical organization. It is, instead, a living system. It is an organic network. It is a movement that is alive and led by God’s own Spirit. Jesus was not just dismissing authoritarian leadership; he was making it clear that typical, human-made structures and organizations will not serve God’s purposes. Our understanding of structures and leadership must shift entirely.
The Kingdom of God is a Living, Decentralized Network
Perhaps the best way to describe the alternative to top-down hierarchical organizations is the term “decentralized network.” This is a system that cannot be controlled because it takes on a life of its own. It describes living, organic systems as well as networks that informally and naturally grow and reproduce. Perhaps the best example of such a system is the internet itself. Who is in charge of the internet? Who is the president? Who are the board members? None of these questions fit because it is not a top-down hierarchy. It lacks centralized leadership. It is beyond the control of any one authority because it reproduces itself, grows, and functions like a living system. Yet, it has become the largest communication system in the world.
When Jesus said that we must not exercise authority the way that rulers and governments do, he was saying that, likewise, his kingdom was not to be put under the control of any human-structured organization. It is to be a living system, a decentralized network that could reproduce and grow at will. It is to take on a life of its own with every part involved in growing and reproducing. He was saying that this type of living system requires a completely different type of leadership.
What Type of Leadership Supports a Living, Decentralized System?
Jesus goes on to describe the type of leadership that would support his kingdom: servants who give up themselves to empower others. He is acknowledging that his kingdom, a growing, full-of-life organism, can only be supported by leadership that does not exercise top-down control in any way—by people who willingly give their lives to lift up others, to give authority to others, and to encourage others to grow and reproduce. This type of leadership is in the very DNA of successful, decentralized networks. It allows for the continual lifting up of the next, who lifts up the next, who lifts up the next. It facilitates unlimited, dynamic reproduction.
Shifting from hierarchical leadership to a serving and empowering type of leadership involves real change:
• From my control to trusting the Spirit’s control
• From displaying one's own gifts to revering the gifts of others
• From guiding to making room for the Spirit to guide
• From vision-leading to awakening the visions of others
• From priest to a company of priests
• From trying to be God's mouthpiece to helping others hear from God
• From titles and positions to servants of no repute
• From promoting my own ministry to promoting the ministries of others
Mike Steele describes the heart of leadership this way: "A weeping father crying out for his sons to overtake him."
Letting Go of Control is the Heart of the Matter
Hierarchical organizations, by their nature, require control mechanisms. This is the primary hindrance to God’s church in the world today. By letting go of our human control, and letting go of organizational systems that require this type of control, the body of Christ is released to move into its full potential as a living, reproducing movement.
As Henri Nouwen says:
The way of a Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which the world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross... It is not a leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest.
As we let go of control-type leadership and top-down organizations, we become ready to use leadership gifts in a way that serves and empowers the body of Christ to reach her full potential. Positions are not needed for this. Titles that lift one above another are not necessary. Leaders simply function, in servant-fashion, using their gifts to help others grow into fruitfulness.
A leader is one because he or she reaches, disciples, and gathers others. In this sense, all become leaders to some extent. Some may have a special ability (i.e. apostolic, pastoral, or evantelistic) to reach and gather many disciples. This leader is still in a serving capacity, lifting others. He or she does not need to be in charge of or “over” a ministry. Rather, this person simply functions by building up the body of Christ and reproducing his or her own ministry in others. Everything is given away: spiritual authority, recognition, encouragement, opportunities to minister and serve. This leader empowers others so well that his or her own ministry goes virtually unrecognized.
When properly understood, we can see that God’s purpose is to release a multitude of no-name, gifted leadership that will never be recognized yet who function in concert with God’s purposes to serve and empower others.
Does Letting Go of Control Mean Out of Control?
Somehow, we have lost confidence in God’s ability to lead and guide his church. There is an important role for empowering- servants (leaders) to play: reach out, disciple, gather, and then turn around and empower others to do the same. This is the lifestyle that God has called each of us to. We need empowering servants who flow in every level of giftedness described in Scripture. But we do not need organizational-style leadership, along with titles, status, or human control, for this to take place. The greatest church movements in history have been, seemingly, the most out-of-control. That is exactly where God is able to be the one in control.
Leaders who empower others, to empower others, who empower still others is the essential component needed to see the kingdom of God flourish and reproduce itself throughout the earth. Amazingly, God can lead all of his people as we do nothing more than lay down our lives for him and each other. As we let go of our human controls, Christ is able to be fully manifest through his people.