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The Dangerous Myth of Christian Leadership

In both cases, you were leading.

If you’ve ever given direction to someone and they’ve heeded it, you were leading.

If you’ve ever corrected someone, and they received it, you were leading.

If you’ve ever led (brought) someone to Jesus Christ, you were leading.

If you’ve ever written a blog post, article, or book, and you influenced someone to take an action or adopt a viewpoint, then you were leading them.

If you’ve ever persuaded another human being to do anything, be it your spouse, child, parent, friend, co-worker, employee, etc., then you were leading them.

This makes all Christians leaders.

I lead every time I post a blog post, write a book, counsel someone, speak in front of an audience, or release a podcast message. And so do you (if you write or speak).

Leadership can be good, or it can be bad. It can be helpful or harmful. It can be effective or weak. And of course, some people influence more people than others based on the size of their “platform.”

“Great leaders” are people who by virtue of their lifestyle and wisdom have many followers who safely trust their guidance.

But the fact that they have large followings doesn’t entitle them to wield the special title of “leader” to the exclusion of everyone else. Unfortunately, many Christians obsess over being a “leader” today. Some to the point of frenzy.

Leadership exists, period.

And we all lead in various and sundry ways and arenas. We just differ in the kinds of things into which we lead others.

That said, here are 10 things to consider about “leadership” and why the common idea that some Christians are leaders and others aren’t is a myth in my view (note that an entire book can be written to expand each point):

1. The New Testament never uses the term “leader.

In some translations, you’ll find the word “leader” only in a few texts. Hebrews 13:17 and Romans 12:8, namely. But these are questionable translations of the Greek words. Those words are better translated as “guard,” “give care,” or “guide.” It’s the verb, not the noun. These texts almost certainly have in view the more spiritually mature overseers and elders. Overseers/elders are not “the” leaders of a local church. They simply lead in a specific capacity that’s different from the other members of the church. For details, see Reimagining Church, Chapter 9-10.

2. Overseers (also called elders and shepherds in the New Testament) are part of the DNA of the church, but we have misunderstood these functions as “offices” that have inherent authority over other believers.

Overseers/elders/shepherds certainly lead, but so do prophets, apostles, evangelists, teachers, exhorters, those who have gifts of mercy, helps, and every other function in the body of Christ. Christians have authority only in so far as they are revealing the mind of Christ as the authority. Again, all Christians lead according to their specific gifting. That’s the argument of 1 Corinthians 12.

3. Jesus Christ turned the common idea of leadership on its head.

He did this in two ways. He took dead aim at the positional/titular view of leadership that was common among the Jews (Matt. 23:8-13). And He took dead aim at the hierarchical/top-down view of leadership that was common among the Gentiles (Matt. 20:25-28; Luke 22:25-26). For details, see Reimagining Church, Chapter 8.

4. Many Christians and churches have adopted and baptized the business model of leadership over/against the New Testament vision of leadership.

Properly conceived and functioning, the ekklesia is a spiritual organism whose source is divine life. It’s not a human-constructed institution. Once this is fully understood, our understanding of leadership changes dramatically.

5. The New Testament doesn’t emphasize leadership.

It emphasizes following Jesus (who is now in the Spirit) and living as a servant of Christ and a servant to others. According to the New Testament, all are gifted, all are servants (“ministers”), all are priests, and all have ministry as members of the body. In addition, all are called to be examples of Jesus.