Where does hierarchy fit in with authentic Christian community? What role, if any, does leadership have to play? These are questions many of us are struggling with as God continues to lead us out of ‘playing church’ into the day to day reality of Kingdom life. I offer the following two suggestions for consideration in the hope they will positively contribute to our search for genuine Christian community:
1.The absence of hierarchy does not have to mean absence of order; and
2. The presence of leadership does not have to mean hierarchy, domination or control;
When believers consider the Three in One nature of God there is often a vague assumption that the Father is in charge and the Son and the Spirit are second and third respectively. I believe, however, the scripture is clear that there is no hierarchy within Elohyim. (For the sake of brevity I won’t go into my reasons for that belief here but I have written elsewhere about it in Hierarchy, Headship and All That Stuff which is easily accessible on this blogsite.)
The Father, Son and Spirit belong to one another willingly and without reservation in community, yet without the concept of exclusive ownership that we often subconsciously attach to the word ‘belong’. None of the three divine Members of Elohyim seek to rule over the other two Members, yet within this non-hierarchical environment there is perfect order.
Some who have witnessed abusive leadership within organised Christianity subsequently reject any place for human leadership at all within the Body of Christ. But the New Testament speaks both of a gift of leadership, and functional leadership gifts given by Christ to His church¹. Furthermore, Jesus did not rebuke His disciples for seeking to exercise leadership skills; He rebuked them rather for the carnal manner in which they sought to exercise that leadership through the hierarchical model they saw displayed in the world around them². He told them they would need to learn a new and revolutionary form of leadership that they had never witnessed before.
Just as there is authentic and non-authentic community, (see Part Two), so too is there authentic and non-authentic spiritual leadership. Genuine, God-endorsed leadership grows out of a desire to follow God, not a desire to gain followers. We speak frequently about “servant leadership’, but one cannot be a servant of God’s people if one is not first and foremost a surrendered servant of God. True servant style leadership is essentially an act of service and worship, focused God-ward, not man-ward. Hierarchy, on the other hand, is the structure carnal authority builds around itself to maintain some semblance of perceived order and strengthen its power base.
Authentic, God-endorsed leadership doesn’t need the hierarchy on which organised religion is built because genuine spiritual authority does not require a man-made structure in which to operate. That doesn’t mean there are not examples of genuine leadership gifts within organised Christianity, but genuine spiritual authority will be evident regardless of whether or not it has the approval and recognition of an organisation. And often, too often, authentic gifts of leadership are hindered, stifled, and controlled by those who have found a comfortable niche within a hierarchical environment.
Jesus demonstrated a non-hierarchical leadership model that was radical and confronting both to His disciples and the religious leadership of His day. At all times His leadership was evidenced by a genuine spiritual authority that was recognizable to those around Him³. He did not impose His will on people by emphasising that authority, or as we might say today, “throwing His weight around.” Those who recognised His authority He invited to join Him. Some did, some didn’t, but He didn’t rant against those who rejected His authority, labelling them as heretics and rebels.
Jesus never sought to prove His authority, even when faced with death⁴. He knew the level of spiritual authority He walked in and trusted the Father to confirm it. His leadership was an offering, God directed, not man directed. This is the authentic servant leadership He modelled for us.
Within the community of Three in One Elohyim none is less and none is more. Each Member is fully valued, fully functional, fully united in purpose and will, yet different in expression. Each delights in the Others’ fullness. We, in our fallen state, have yet to learn how we are to walk together in this kind of community if we are to be a Bride who reflects Christ on this earth.
There can be no true, fully functioning spiritual community where hierarchy exists. Hierarchical leadership is always dependent on the continual submission of someone other than the ‘perceived’ leader. Mutual submission one to another as we recognise Christ in each other is entirely Biblical. Requiring other individuals or groups to submit to us without reciprocity on an ongoing basis based purely on gender, race, title, position, or seminary training is not.
In Part Two I said the first result of the Fall was broken fellowship between Elohyim and humanity. The second result of the Fall was broken fellowship within the first human community, male and female. This male/female fracture is the oldest human division that exists, older even than racial division. It is entirely possible for us as God’s people to receive and embrace one another free of racial, social, economic and other divisions, yet still be clinging to hierarchy when it comes to gender relationships.
Christian community, to be complete and authentic, must be an inclusive atmosphere where both genders are free to exercise all their potential spiritual giftings and give and receive from one another without restriction, as it was in the beginning. This freedom to function as equals between male and female is foundational to true community, including in marriage, which was the first human community. Until hierarchy, i.e. the need to rule, is no longer an issue in either the home or the church, we will not experience spiritual community as God initiated it and desires it among us, for the broken fellowship between the genders will remain unhealed. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is addressing this injustice within the Body of Christ and many are having their eyes open on this issue.
We have built a religious system in which we have mistakenly equated hierarchy with order, and in doing so we have controlled, quenched and excluded the Holy Spirit who was the only One charged with organising us⁵. We have failed to discern true spiritual authority from false and have too willingly handed leadership to those whose authority is carnal. We have thought to do community by our meetings, our programs, our conferences, our agendas, our doctrines, our law keeping, our endless activities; but we have failed to learn to simply be the living, vibrant extended community of Elohyim to one another.
But God is not finished with us. From the beginning it has been covenant that has been at the heart of true community. Our covenant is first with Christ, and through Christ it is then with every other genuine Christ follower. It is only as we immerse ourselves ever more deeply into covenant relationship with Christ that we will increasingly participate in the community of Elohyim and discover that same mysterious Community present and vibrant among ourselves.
¹Romans 12:8, Eph. 4:8-12
³ Matt. 8:5-10; Mark 1:22, 27; Luke 4:32,36;
⁴ Matt. 26:53
⁵ John 14:16, 26
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2014 Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.
8 thoughts on “Exploring Community Part Three: Hierarchy and Leadership”
“It is only as we immerse ourselves ever more deeply into covenant relationship with Christ that we will increasingly participate in the community of Elohyim and discover that same mysterious Community present and vibrant among ourselves.”
That is the beginning of understanding for all things we may struggle with as God’s children. You’ve mentioned several times how you are trying to let go of your own perceptions about how church should look. I’m reminded of the simple instructions from Jesus; don’t worry about what to eat, what to wear. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Be anxious for nothing. Rest and trust in Him, seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, don’t lean on our own understanding. All of these exhortations are the path to finding peace and confidence through Christ in all circumstances.
It is very difficult to even think about going against the flow of the religious masses. I mean, can that many be wrong? This was certainly my struggle. But Jesus kept drawing and He gave the grace to persevere. I think the greatest evidence for me was that I couldn’t stop struggling with what I was witnessing. No matter how hard I tried to fit in to the religious protocols, the depths of God’s Spirit within continuously stoked the fire of disenchantment.
What does that have to do with community now? What brought me out of false community will bring me into healthy community. But like you said, we really have to let go of what we think that should look like. Otherwise, we will remain disillusioned.
I’ve spilled enough! I thank God for your service and hospitality, Cheryl.
Hi Paul. Agreed, it is in Christ that we come into understanding, He is both the beginning and the end. He leads us out to lead us in. Sometimes things need to be articulated in some way to help us move forward. My purpose in these posts on community has been to possibly put words to some of the questions and puzzlement that people following or visiting Bread for the Bride may be passing through, to encourage them with the knowledge that they are not alone in this, because often it can seem a very lonely experience. I certainly don’t have all the answers, and am aware not everyone will agree with my perspective on things, but I hope these posts have been helpful to people in clarifying a few issues they are wrestling with as they continue the journey. Thankyou for your insightful comments as always!
Hi Cheryl, Thanks for this. I am struggling to understand leadership, and cooperation with leadership, in the context of a non-hierarchical system, in an encouraging community that recognizes the priesthood of believers, but also that not everyone is leadership material. Recently I took my grandkids on a walk in the forest to show them a giant ant hill (well, giant by our standards.) I remembered the verse in Prov. 6 “Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise.” I pointed out to the kids how industrious they were, but then I remembered the next verse which says, “Which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer
and gathers her provision in the harvest.” I need to study the ants more. I know they have roles (the guardian ants quickly found our shoes) but how they communicate and work toward a mutual goal without chiefs, officers, and rulers lording their authority over them may also be a clue towards how community works. You’ve got me thinking.
Hi Charis. Thankyou for the insight on the ants in relation to understanding community and how leadership works within true community. You said:
Yep, I think many of us can identify with that struggle! But at least struggle is a sign of life and is very often the prelude to birth.
Makes me think of Proverbs 25:2: It is the glory of God to conceal a matter but the glory of kings to search out a matter. Keep searching 🙂
Excellent, really helpful. Has helped me to find answers to the question ‘but the bible does endorse leadership, doesn’t it?’ when I try to voice my concerns over ‘doing church the same old way’ and why I have ‘left’ that old religious way of doing things. I don’t want to be a lone sheep, or unsubmitted, or any of those accusations that might be hurled at me (thankfully, if they have been, Jesus has shielded me from them!) I want this mutually submitted, servant hearted community. I long, pray and dream of it. Lord let it come, let it be so!
Lovely to hear from you Wondering Celt. Unfortunately, unfounded accusation does seem to go with the territory for anyone who ‘voices concern’ as you have put it, along with labels like ‘unsubmitted’ etc. If we can help each other along the way, sharing encouragement and insights, it’s a good thing.
What a balanced presentation of the subject, Cheryl. I am currently re-processing this matter of community in my own mind and heart, and how it ‘happens’ under God. I’ll be referring to this material again, for sure, and recommending it to others. You are a blessing to the wider body of Christ, as many others have expressed.
Errol, I’m sure there is much more to this whole ‘community’ thing than I’ve been able to share and it’s an ongoing process for all of us to allow the Lord to work us into it. We have so many preconceived ideas (well, at least I do!) that need to be unlearned, often one brick at a time. I will be interested to see what comes out of your current re-processing! Be blessed!