This is a long post I know; hope you persevere with it.
The issues of leadership, in particular whether people ought to work full time for the church has provoked some wide debate on this blog before. [ see posts and comments here and here ] It's something that I've been thinking over for a while now. I seriously believe that the issue of leadership - and the style of it that people are intentionally going to make decisions about - is perhaps the most crucial one that the Emerging Church has to face. If we get the leadership issue wrong, then I believe that the movement will not mature into the radically new model that it currently promises; I have to admit to some concerns already.
To set out my stall again:
I believe that if churches are going to be effective organ(isation)s - incarnating the gospel in the places they are, speaking in the forms that the culture they are immersed in understand, - then they are going to have to learn to be 'self-organizing.' Self-organizing systems are ones that can grow and adapt organically to changes in their environment. With their boundaries being porous, they can sense the environment around them, and adapt themselves to it quickly.
I also believe that this model of organization is one that is initiated by Jesus in the establishment of the early church. The 'viral network of the Spirit' and the emphasis on everyone being part of the body (not machine) of Christ suggest to me that self-organization is not only sociologically, but theologically a better model of church than the top-down, hierarchical, client-server model of the Temple that Jesus critiqued so heavily.
The question then comes: how does leadership operate in a self-organizing, bottom-up system? Is there such a thing as leadership in these systems, or is it an anarchy?
The first part of my answer would be, yes, there is such a thing as leadership in such systems. But the model and style of leadership is so radically different to that which a) 'leaders' are used to using and b) 'followers' are used to experiencing that it is enormously tempting to quickly revert to old models of leadership where 'leaders' feel in control and the 'followers' can abdicate responsibility for their spiritual journey to them and just jump on the bandwagon.
Hence, there needs to be a real decision on both sides to make the new model work: leaders need to stop organizing everything and followers need to start taking more responsibility. (As an aside, it's because of this need that I feel that full-time paid leadership is a massive hinderance to the establishment of self-organizing systems.)
In order to get into some of the detail of this, I'm going to be posting some thoughts around Douglas Griffin's book The Emergence of Leadership - Linking Self-Organization and Ethics, which is part of the Routledge series on Complexity and Emergence in Organizations. [Hence the new category of Leadership.] Thanks to Jon for generously putting me on to it.
Some initial thoughts then from the introduction:
Griffin initially invites us to consider the semantics of organ-izations, corp-orations etc and see that they refer to 'bodies'. There is a paradox here. In corporate scandals we refer to corporations 'as if' they were entities in themselves, when in fact they are really groups of individual people:
"This designation of a 'body' to a group of people is purely hypothetical, 'as if'. Forgetting this 'as if' and attributing direct agency to these groups has become a habit of thought leading us to think and talk about groups as objects, as things...
Griffin reflects that it is the confusion of the 'as if' that is causing us problems: we forget that they are only like single entities in certain situations, but are actually groups of individuals. What we have done to overcome the paradox is to forget the 'as if' with the result that:
"we locate ethical responsibility in both the 'system', simply taking it for granted that a 'system' can be ethically responsible, and in a few individuals. In doing this we adopt a particular view of leadership in which it is individual leaders who are blamed and punished when things go wrong, or praised when they go right. The rest of us are allocated to passive roles as victims of the system and of manipulative leaders, and our salvation lies in the actions of heroic leaders. In thinking in this way, we are obscuring how we are all together involved..."
I think we can immediately recognize a lot of parallels with the church as organ-ization. Firstly, we hear people complaining about 'the church', as if it were a monolithic entity, arguing that they have been abused by 'the church'. And in some senses, we are one. But, rather than locating ethical responsibility in 'the church', we also need to see that we are very much a group of individuals, and the ethics of the whole lies with the ethics of each individual. Secondly, we allow ourselves to take passive roles, and give over our salvation to the actions of heroic leaders.
Griffin concludes this section with a key point: "As soon as we think differently about ethics, we must think differently about leadership." Allow me to paraphrase this for our situation: as soon as we think differently about church as an emerging, self-organizing spirituality, we must think differently about leadership.
I'm not sure that we have done so yet. Still too many 'heroes'. Still too much passivity. Still too easy to see the EC 'as if'...