Service over self-interest

Spiritual leadership in a Christian democracy

Rex D. Edwards, D.Div., is director for continuing education at the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

The call to serve a church in any capacity is a call to serve people as a leader. Leadership in the church raises several questions. Is it possible for a pastor's leadership to be out of harmony with the Christian ethic even though the objectives are spiritual and the arena of operation is within the church? Is it possible to treat people as things rather than as persons? Is choosing a leadership role a moral choice? Is the leadership exerted to produce certain external numerical results or to help people grow in Christlikeness, or both? Is there a conflict between growth of organizations and spiritual growth of persons?

Leadership types

Church leaders have varying concepts of their status and authority. Many borrow their ideas of leadership from the military, from business, or from some former pastor who has become their ideal and example. Henry Lindgren says, "We have all been made conscious at times of the vast differences that exist among the various kinds of people who guide, direct, or supervise our activities. Some of them are likeable and incur little hostility; others are disliked.... Whether a leader is liked or disliked depends partly on the kind of person he is, but it also depends on the pattern of leadership he follows."1

Leadership falls into three general pat terns: autocratic, laissez-faire, and democratic.

Autocratic leadership. James Lundy describes the autocratic leader as one who "makes decisions on his or her own, directs others to implement them, criticizes quickly and perhaps harshly, and influences by intimidation." 2 Autocratic leaders take few people into confidence and generally keep authority and responsibility highly centralized in themselves. Frequently such leaders confess faith in a democracy, but insist that they be the democrats who will run it! They are willing to delegate responsibility, but refuse to share authority. Their subordinates are given little or no part in making the decisions or formulating the policies that they are expected to carry out. Weldon Grassland describes the autocratic leader as "a kind of one-man army of the Lord. He is commander in chief, master sergeant, corporal, and private. He is the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral."3 Usu ally such leaders lack faith in people and in themselves. They feel insecure. They avoid sharing responsibility and developing others as leaders, fearing it might raise up rivals for their positions.

Laissez-fare leadership. Michael J. Anthony describes this type of leader as one who "likes to maintain the status quo and prefers not to make a scene about anything. It may not be the best way of doing some thing, but as long as it works, why try to change it? This person's motto is 'If it isn't broken, don't fix it.'... They prefer to work alone in their office, far removed from the action. . . . They are 'non-confrontive' and 'go with the flow.'... These people are seen more as kindhearted chaplains than commanders of the troops."4 Such a leader develops an immunity to most of the administrative work of the church, as well as its organizations, and says: "I always leave everything to my laypersons." The fact that the church work suffers does not seem to trouble them, nor do they sense that they are denying their encouragement, experience, and inspiration to their officers, who often desperately need it. They are democratic leaders in neutral.

Democratic leadership. Democratic leaders see themselves as guides and counselors. They help the group to define and achieve its mutually visioned and negotiated objectives. They help the group plan its program and develop its method. They seek to get their followers to work with them, not for them. They believe that democracy is dynamic, developmental, and creative, in that it calls for the participation of many and places great importance on people and how they fare. "Democracy," says Ordway Tead, "has high in its constituent elements the aim of conserving and enhancing the personality of all individuals, the idea of respect for the integrity of the person and of the primary value of developing persons as worthy and worthful ends in themselves. This includes the discovery and use of unique talents, the fullest possible expression of creative powers, the responsible assumption of a share in shaping the conditions which are formed to make growth in the quality of personal living possible."5

We all have worked with church leaders who, while giving lip service to the democratic process, actually deny it in practice. Such leaders will frequently "arrange" to staff their team or elect subordinates who will "go along" with their ideas and pro grams. They are dictators disguised as democrats. Their philosophy is that the end justifies the means. Engstrom elaborates, "He uses people and rides their aspirations to increase his authority. He often gets their consent for decisions, but this is done by manipulation, hiding the true facts, and through the means of control and threat."6

Thus the style of leadership we adopt is a moral choice with moral implications involved. We choose whether we will respect human personality as Jesus respected it or whether we will treat persons as things. It is a moral choice, for it can lead people either to become free or to become slaves.

What kind of leadership is needed in the church today?

Leadership for a spiritual community

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a spiritual democracy, with each member holding equal rights with every other member. E. Y. Mullins argues, "Democracy in church government is an inevitable corollary of the general doctrine of the soul's competency in religion.... Man's capacity for self-government in religion is nothing more than the authority of Christ exerted in and through the inner life of believers, with the understanding always, of course, that He regulates that inner life in accordance with His revealed Word. . . . The priesthood of all believers is but the expression of the soul's competency on the Godward, as democracy is its expression on the ecclesiastical side of its religious life."7

The members of the New Testament church were equal in rank and privilege. The offices of pastors and elders were ordained for service, not for dictation; for leadership, not for lordship. Office in the church was an appointment to service for the common cause. Distinctions dictated by the gifts of the Spirit highlight various spheres of service, not authoritative position; of function, not of status. Christ's own teaching on the subject is unmistakable: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant" (Matt. 20:25-27, NIV). John R. W. Stott remarks, "Autocratic clericalism is destructive of the church, defiant to the Holy Spirit, and disobedient to Christ."8

Those who were selected as spiritual leaders in biblical times did possess qualities similar to those who function in business and civic organizations. But there was a difference. They had the power of the Holy Spirit that enabled them to be servants of the faith community, providing care, concern, and compassion, and reflecting the direction and purposes God has for that community.

The objectives of leadership

Vance Packard describes the objective of leadership as "the art of getting others to want to do something that you are convinced should be done."9 If this is true, then church leaders need to ask themselves: "What am I trying to do in and through these people?" "How can I help them develop their full potential?" "What am I trying to accomplish in and through this church?"

Andrew W. Blackwood lists eight major goals of pastoring: "New Testament evangelism, Christian nurture, household religion, church friendliness, community betterment, home missions, universal brotherhood, and world missions." 10 If the church is deeply concerned with persons, then could not all these goals be comprehended in one all-embracing objective, namely, that church leadership ought to be evaluated in terms of their contribution, directly or indirectly, to building Christian character? A pastor's objectives ought to be set in the framework of persons who have been redeemed, reborn, and grouped together voluntarily in a "be loved community." An interest in persons should lead to an interest in the growth of persons. Thus the chief aim of the pastor ought to be an expansion of the opportunities of persons to grow in spiritual values toward maturity (see Eph. 4:13).

The pastor's chief role is to facilitate the development of Christian character and to build a spiritual climate conducive to the growth of a true spiritual community. Pas tors are leaders motivated by love, vision, and compassion. They have faith in people. They believe that people grow through voluntary cooperation. Robert Sheffield writes, "Since being a leader involves inspiration and influence, a leader cannot be dispassionate and be an effective leader. If the leader doesn't care, the followers likely will not care either." 11

One way people grow is by becoming involved in developing and maintaining the policies and programs of the church. Telling people what to do and how to do it stifles individual creativity and produces spiritual dependency. They, like canaries, are content in captivity and will always want to return to the cage when released. "The greatest help that can be given our people," says Ellen White, "is to teach them to work for God, and to depend on Him, not on the ministers." 12 If congregations become dependent upon their leaders, "great spiritual feebleness must result," 13 and the church members "become religious weaklings."14

There is also the danger of pastors unwittingly adopting a secular model of ad ministration in which they see the church as a business with a chain of command and they as the commanders and chiefs who pass orders down the line. Grimes warns, "The danger, then, is that the minister will borrow from the world the concept of the executive and fail to baptize this concept with the more inclusive one of the nature of the church as the body of Christ." 15 The world's wisdom must be transformed to fit the ends and needs of the church.

Spiritual leadership involves viewing the church more as a school faculty, of which the pastor is the supervisor, with various correlated activities of worship, teaching, training, service, evangelization, recruitment, care of membership, public relations, officer and teacher training, organization, and administration. The pastor is the dean, and all the members are colleagues in ministry. So a church leader will avoid arbitrarily superimposing plans or programs on per sons who have had no part in the planning or decisions. Pastors will be supporters of ministry, not controllers. They will avoid the preoccupation of growing an organization while forgetting to help people.

The spiritual leader

Techniques of administration alone do not make a successful leader. What a leader is as a person is of greater importance than the leadership role assumed. A Christian leader is first of all a Christian. With a God directed life empowered by the Holy Spirit, Christian leaders must live what they pro fess. Their lives must be credible. They are God's men and women living out the life of Christ in the midst of His people. They are first and foremost a witness of God's grace. They serve not in order to benefit them selves, but that their congregants may know God, exhibit Christ-likeness, and achieve spiritual maturity.

Church leaders must believe in them selves if they are to accept, believe, and serve others. The Christian leader's life is other-centered, not self-centered. It is rooted in a spiritual source, identified with divine values, and believes in the infinite worth of persons.

Christian leaders would say to God's people, "The love of Christ controls us, be cause we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Cor. 5:14, 15,RSV).

A leadership controlled by the Holy Spirit and directed by God eschews autocracy and models servanthood. The leader will choose "service over self-interest." 16 The leader fol lows the admonition of Peter to "tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2, 3, RSV).

1 Henry Lindgren, Effective Leadership in
Human Relations
(New York: Hermitage House,
1954), p. 119.

2 James Lundy, Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the
Way
(San Diego, Calif.: Pfeiffer and Co., 1993),
p. 92.


3 Weldon Grassland, Better Leader for Your
Church
(NewYork: Abingdon Press, 1955),p. 14.

4 Michael J. Anthony, Effective Church Board
(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993), p. 135.

5 Ordway Tead, Democratic Administration
(New York: Association Press, 1945), pp. 58, 59.

6 Ted W. Engstrom, The Making of a Christian
Leader
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976),
p. 74.

7 E.Y. Mullins, The Axioms of Religion
(Philadelphia: Griffith and Rowland Press, 1908), pp.
55,56.


8 John R. W. Stott, One People (Downers
Grove, 111.: InterVarsity Press, 1971), p. 33.

9 Vance Packard, The Pyramid Climbers (New
York: McGraw-Hill, 1962), p. 170.


10 Andrew W. Blackwood, Pastoral Leadership
(New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1949),
pp. 16-19.


11 Robert Sheffield, "New Trends in Leader
ship Practices," Church Administration 31, No. 4
(January 1989): 18.


12 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn.,
1948), vol. 7, p. 19.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid., p. 18.

15 Howard Grimes, The Church Redemptive
(Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.,
1956), p. 9.

16 Peter Block, Stewardship (San Francisco:
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1993), p. 49.


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Rex D. Edwards, D.Div., is director for continuing education at the Ministerial Association of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

November 1997

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