Simple Organic Leadership Synthesis

As the Spirit shapes the Simple Church, the primary task of leadership is not so much to lead as it is to “build a foundation—a place for the walls to rest.” Leadership in the organic paradigm facilitates the Spirit’s work of formation, and therefore it is crucial that it pattern itself after the style and function of the Holy Spirit.

Given the crucial nature of leadership and its potential for kingdom impact, either negative or positive, it is important that it be a leadership that empowers rather than exploits. The fivefold ministry of Ephesians 4:1-16 is the relevant leadership model for Simple Organic Church forms. This includes apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, which Alan Hirsch and Micheal Frost have termed an APEPT team (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher) and recently changed APEST team (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher). Ideally, this is team ministry where missing from this model are strategic planning and organizational charts common with more hierarchical forms.  

The framework for Simple Church leadership starts from a place different than that of traditional church paradigms.

Leadership Paradigm Starting Points

The lens through which one views the essential nature of the Church, is either institutional or organic, leading to divergent ecclesiological conceptions, specifically in regard to leadership. This divergence occurs at the outset by perceiving leadership emerging from two different starting points.  The below chart illustrates these distinct starting points and some of the results of each paradigm.

 Organic/Simple Church   Conventional/Institutional Church

 Starting point: The body of Christ.

 Starting point: Leadership
offices in the church. The true church is found where (a) the Word of God is
rightly proclaimed; (b) the sacraments are rightly administered.

Bottom up: The church’s ministry is
shaped by the gifts and callings distributed by the Holy Spirit to the whole
body of Christ.

 Top-down: The ministry is the province of the ordained offices of the church.

 All ministry is lay ministry lead.

Lay ministry supplements and is
secondary to ordained ministry.               

Conclusion: One people/one ministry.

Conclusion: Two people (clergy/laity)   [1]

Howard Snyder defines ‘hierarchical’ at its essential level as “a vertical structure of at least thee levels. Primary authority resides at the top, and each descending level is under the authority of the higher levels. Position in the hierarchy corresponds to rank within the whole.” [2]  From an organic perspective, the people of God are one people and, therefore, one ministry level.

In the organic or ecological realm is not hierarchical, because the principle of self-organization dominates leadership structures, not a vertical graduation, but one that evolves from a horizontal level. “An organic view of ministry begins with the people of God as the place where ministry resides, and it conceives of leadership from within the body.”  The image is not that of a vertical line, but a circle, not a pyramid, but a network or a living organism, which is entirely descriptive of an APEST team.

In contrast, an institutional view of leadership places ministry within the confines of an ordained clergy and attempts to add on the role of lay ministry. APEST leadership is understood to be non-hierarchical in structure, or using another term, in an “heirarchical” [3] arrangement. This term is taken from Paul’s words to the Romans, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”    If we are co-heirs with Christ, would it not be appropriate to assume that we are also heirs with other members of the Church?

Jesus alone is head of his Church. With Jesus as the head of his church, the modern clergy/laity distinctions are understood to be unnecessary. Jesus teaches against hierarchy at the last supper. He uses the last hours of his earthly ministry to teach something opposite—servant leadership:

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-4)

From Luke’s perspective, Jesus speaks to the issue of titles and servant leadership as the main feature for all who desire to lead.

The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. (Luke 22:25-26)

Jesus contradicted all other models of influence and self-importance. “The one who makes the towel his or her badge is not the one who maneuvers for a place in the power structures of life.” [4]

Jesus’ intention was to impart a particular leadership model to his Church which could be implemented only through service. The leadership issue for Christ’s Church is one of servanthood, which is not mirrored in secular society. In God’s kingdom, the call is for an entirely new model, not merely a new definition.

The Early Church understood this dynamic. R. Paul Stevens, Associate Professor of Applied Theology at Regent College, states:

The Church in the New Testament has no “lay people” in the usual sense of that word, and is full of “clergy” in the true sense of that word. A biblical theology of the laity must communicate this. The church as a whole is the true ministerium, a community of prophets, priests, and princes/princesses serving God through Jesus in the power of the Spirit seven days a week. All are clergy in the sense of being appointed by God to service and dignified as God’s inheritance. All are laity in the sense of having their identity rooted in the people of God. All give ministry. All receive ministry. That is the constitution of the church. Not surprising, few business people, for example, think of themselves as full-time ministers in the marketplace. Fewer still are encouraged in this by their churches. Hardly anyone gets commissioned to their service in the world. Christians in the first century would have found such a state of affairs anachronistic—a throw-back to the situation before Christ came when only a few in Israel knew the Lord, when only one tribe was named as priests, when only a select few heard the call of God on their lives. Nothing but a Copernican revolution of the mind and heart can change this heretical state of affairs. The New Testament pattern of leadership allows for no institutional distinction between clergy and laity. The people of God comprise all Christians exercising their spiritual gifts in the work of ministry. To be biblical, all Christians are lay people—God’s people—and all are ministers.[4]

It is time we practiced leadership within the body of Christ as Jesus has instructed within the context of an heirarchical APEST team. 

 [1] Greg Ogden, Unfinished Business:Returning Ministry to the People of God, revised edition (Grand Rapids:Zondervan, 2003), 76.

[2]Howard Snyder, Decoding the Church, 107. 

[3[ This term “heirarchical” has been coined by Dan Mayhew, who oversees Summit Fellowships, a Simple Church network in Portland, Oregon; italics are mineDel Birkey, The House Church: A Model for Renewing the Church (Scottsdale: Herald Press, 1998), 87.

[3] Del Birkey, The House Church: A Model for Renewing the Church (Scottsdale: Herald Press, 1998), 87.      

[4] R. Paul Stevens, Associate Professor of Applied Theology, Vocation, Work & Ministry Resource Binder, An Educational Initiatives Publication (Vancouver, B.C.: Regent College, 1996), 11-12.


One Response

  1. Another fine post Rob.

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