I am currently working on a research project highlighting the similarities and differences between the early Methodist Episcopal Church and the modern multisite church planting movement. I actually believe the models share a great deal of similarities, but they do have distinct differences. One of the reasons that they both share significant similarities are due to their church polity and governance structures. Multisite churches might have a congregational governance model in terms of denominational connection, but almost all multisite churches have a pseudo-episcopal model withing itself where the senior pastor has a role similar to a bishop. This is sometimes looked at as a negative trait of the multisite church phenomena—and in some cases it is—like Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church in Seattle. But in other cases, this strong leadership structure enables clear vision and effective ministry success in sharing the gospel with more people.
The early Methodist Episcopal Church model was very similar. Francis Asbury was a strong administrative leader of the church—first as a general superintendent and later known as a bishop. But… Asbury’s success was a result of his democratic listening skills. What does that mean? He believed that Methodism was an expression of Christianity for the people: strong lay leadership, localized expressions of worship and preaching, and a system that invited people to not just observe faith, but to actually experience it. This has made me really ponder the question: “What does it mean to be a good leader?” There is this tension between mutuality and authority when talking about leadership. There needs to be a communal voice involved in the process, but at the end of the day, someone still has to make a final decision.
Centuries of debate, thousands of books, and an endless pondering have all revolved around this question and this topic. Many people have advocated: “Let’s get back to the Bible and try to follow Jesus’ model.” The problem with this approach is that every perspective uses Jesus’ ministry to endorse their governance model. While Jesus certainly has absolute authority (he is God), he chose to invite others to be involved in the leadership process. So the answer is: “Both.” You’re probably wondering what I mean by “both.” Well, the answer is simple and complex—Jesus led with authority and mutuality.
So how did he do it? It comes back to the idea of being a servant leader. We can only be good authoritative leaders when we learn to humble ourselves. Jesus’ service and humility positioned him to be a voice that people not only heard, but wanted to listen to. Although some people, like Simon Peter, did not initially care for Jesus’ humility, his approach to leadership would change the face of religious leadership forever.
May we seek to be humble leaders that use our authority in the proper contexts, after having sought mutuality with the people that we lead. It’s a challenging task, but it’s worth it. It means getting down on our knees and washing feet.