Leadership is posture. The way in which leaders position themselves in relation to those they lead largely determines their leadership effectiveness. For example, “leading from out in front” is the normal leadership posture in the corporate world. Leaders gather with a team to formulate big ideas, and then cast those ideas out to the people, promoting buy-in and raising energy. “Out in front” leadership is good, necessary, and must always be done.
A church, though, is a unique entity. Indeed, it is sui generis—no other organization compares. Consider this: in secular business, the CEO (manager, boss, etc) can demand action from employees, because he or she pays their salaries. Subordinates are financially dependent on leaders. In the church, the system reverses. The leaders demand action from members, often exhorting them to do things they resist doing, but the members pay their salaries. The leaders are financially dependent on the members! In churches that maintain a congregational church order, this “upside down” organizational motif expresses itself fully in that the final locus of authority—the final say—is not vested in the pastor, elders, staff, or deacons, but in the will of the congregation itself—in the membership.
The unique nature of the local church requires a leadership culture that goes beyond the “out in front” approach. Church leaders must embrace additional positional directions—two in particular.
First, leaders must “lead from beneath.” Simply put, church members won’t do what leaders want them to do unless they first see the leaders doing it. If leaders want church members to invite friends, reach out to the unchurched, mentor young people, and assist with various ministries, then leaders cannot exempt themselves from any of those activities. Obviously, leaders can’t bear the whole load, but they must be visible and—in some sense—involved in all capacities. So, if church leaders want to see small groups grow or make family ministries work, then they must be visible and active in the efforts. Fundamentally, leading from beneath is a “willing to wash feet” posture.
How have we fallen so far? The issue was once a legitimate ethical challenge—a “gray area” so to speak. When is it proper to end one life in order to save another, particularly when it involves an unborn child? But, forty years ago, the gray spilled out and covered the black and white, with the result that moral ambiguity festered into moral depravity. Abortion is now the most common medical procedure in America. Over 55 million abortions have been performed in the United States since Roe v. Wade—3,300 daily. The number staggers the mind, equaling about one sixth of the current U.S. population.
Over the years, my own feelings on abortion have moved from shock to outrage to grief. I pray that one day we will look back on this age of legal convenience abortion with the same disdain that we present cast upon the era of legal slave trade.
America isn’t the first nation to tread this terrible ground. In Psalm 106, the author recalls God’s anger toward Israel when it, too, perpetrated such an atrocity.
They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood. Thus they became unclean in their acts, and played the whore in their deeds. Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage. Psalm 106:36-40 (ESV)