Spiritual Leadership in Post-Modern America

An essay on local church leadership by Joshua Hickman.

Spiritual Leadership in Post-Modern America

Spiritual Leadership in Post-Modern America 150 150 Joshua Hickman

          I’ve titled this essay, Spiritual Leadership in Post-Modern America, in order to highlight my target church organization. My thoughts and opinions in this essay are pertaining to a leadership style governance unique to American church organizations existing in our post-modern period. All cultures have their own cultural idiosyncrasies and would therefore require adjusted methods of implementation. It is my belief that the Church has been and will continue to be undergoing a maturation process that will only be final once Jesus causes Heaven & Earth to collide into an observably integrated reality. To summarize, this essay is addressing Post-Modern American churches within my cultural and historical context. I could say it this way as well: shepherds in Scotland do not shepherd the same way that shepherds in China shepherd, and that is good. For this essay, I read fifteen books, articles, essays, and viewed several lectures about leadership. I also started a small “think-tank” at our local church to glean opinions from people in our congregation, and have enrolled in a Nonprofit Management course through the University of Texas at Austin. However, the book I found to be the most comprehensive, and most educational, was Understanding Leadership, by Tom Marshall. It’s probably the most comprehensively pragmatic leadership study I have read so far. It’s quite a difficult task to summarize all of Marshall’s thoughts within the confines of this essay, so rather than trying to do so, I will simply summarize the thoughts that I find to be most useful to me.

Understanding Leadership“, by Tom Marshall.

          His insight regarding foresight, timing, and goals all pertain to the ultimate subject of vision, and how to communicate that, Vision. For me, this is a crucial quality a spiritual leader must cultivate and grow in. Vision is everything when leading people. A person may have solid character, incredible personality, and tremendous skill, but without the ability to communicate a strong vision that applies to the people they are desiring to lead, no one will follow. Without a vision, you are not walking toward anything and if people do not know where you are going, they will not follow. If no one is following you, you are not leading anyone. Therefore, one is not a leader without a communicable vision. Second, Marshall brings to light the subjects of Power & Authority within the context of leadership. In summary of his multi-chapter deep dive into these subjects, there is a difference between power and authority. Jesus gives authority because He alone has all authority, and authority is like having a police officer’s badge. With a badge, you may have legal permission to accomplish a task or tell people what to do, but without power (represented by a police officer’s gun) you cannot tell people what to do or accomplish tasks as a leader. Power comes from communion with the Holy Spirit and a person’s capacity to be led by Him. We can state it this way as well- A leader must possess both Power & Authority, which are only given by the God-Head. Marshall also brings to our attention several incredible topics regarding leadership, such as the core value of Honor, valuing all people, strategy for change (found in the book of Nehemiah), and behaviors and principles a leader must develop in order to maintain personal health. Marshall’s analogy of the city as a comparison of how a corporation can run and influence a community is highly beneficial as well. Third, Marshall talks about how to become a servant leader by pulling the reader to Philippians 2 and highlighting the fact that Jesus first “emptied Himself” or humbled Himself. The way to lead is to understand the fact that leaders exist to serve people. Sometimes service looks like washing the dung off people’s feet, other times it may equip people with sound doctrine through lecture and discussion. Either way, the heart attitude of the leader must be that of a servant. Now, regarding my beliefs on leadership style and how it pertains to local church government, I’ll be drawing from multiple resources.

How Americans view the local church.

          How we view the local church directly affects how we lead the local church. It’s honestly a huge point of confusion for many leaders and believers alike. There is a common mantra that is used in communities that want to emphasize the relational reality of the church, and that is, “Church is not a business!” or, “The Church is an organism, not an organization!” I have even said this years ago, and I heard this almost my entire life as a believer. Over the years, as I’ve changed my view of the local church, I have developed a quick and short response to this, “I understand what you are saying, however, I have never seen an organism that wasn’t highly organized, and dependent upon collaborative systems and internal processes in order to maintain continual growth and perpetual health.” The point I’m making is that we should view the local church as “An Organized Organism”. This is yet another effect of dualism in our doctrines and belief systems as believers. Anything spiritual, abstract, or intangible we deem as good, right, and holds priority, while everything pragmatic, earthy, and natural, we deem as evil, immature, or fleshly. Many local churches fail or just struggle for generations because they refuse to organize themselves well. By “well” I mean we must structure all organizations within a certain cultural and historical context in such a way that they can thrive within its economy. Unless you strive to change the culture first, it forces you to operate in a way that is consistent with the social norms of the people with which you wish to operate with or for. To put it bluntly, an American 501C3 religious nonprofit is not a church, it is a business. It is a nonprofit business, and because of this, it has ways in which to operate that will either support its health or its decline. Leaders of local church organizations must learn these good business practices in order to operate successfully within the American economy. I have only made a case for the organization aspect of the local church, though. In addition, it truly is an organism. The local church is a community of people that lives together and helps one another and their community at large. This community of believers is what the bible calls “the church”. A better way to think of the American church is this: The church (people) formed a church (a religious nonprofit organization or association or corporation) in order to accomplish a mission (believed to be from God) within their geographical and cultural context. If leaders lead with nonprofit business practices that are more appropriate to their cultural and historical context than more churches, we stay healthy and on mission for generations.

Let’s discuss the “Five-Fold Ministry”.

          This is a term coined back in 1824 by Edward Irving in Scotland, formed from the Ephesians 4 passage that talks about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Other teachers refer to this as the “ascension gifts” or “leadership gifts” as well. Within our American charismatic movements, it is most commonly called “Five-Fold Leadership”. I’m good with any of these titles in order to teach the subject. However, I believe we should teach a nuanced view of this teaching. Since the 1820s we have taught this in terms of people or positions to be held (some will even refer to it as an office), but I propose it is much more healthy and helpful to consider these as gifts or functions of the church. Understanding these as spiritual gifts (as the text of Ephesians 4 states) forces us to change our language and thoughts a bit. Think of the gifts named in 1 Corinthians 12 and how we apply (or think to apply) these gifts. The Holy Spirit heals, not the person themselves. Yes, there is a co-laboring dynamic, however, we cannot put more emphasis on the human contribution than we do on the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, and vice versa. What is the point in saying this? We have put more emphasis on the person themselves with the gift of apostle, or evangelist, rather than Jesus, the giver of the gift. God has given us these five leadership gifts in Ephesians 4 for a reason, and that is to equip all people within the Church (a.k.a. “the Saints”). This is a nuance, I know, but it is important. Our churches that find it important to have the five-fold ministry gifts operating within their communities must shift from looking to establish people and start working to partner with Jesus to see these functions in operation. For a local church, this may look like this:

          A man or woman is the senior leader with a pastor gift or a teacher gift, and they hire several other leaders to help him or her. These additional leaders need to have equally recognized and authoritative gifts that may function the way they naturally do through their unique personalities as well. The leadership team should import any other gifts that are not currently organic to their community by curriculum, conferences, and guest speakers who have a relationship formed with the current local leaders. All of this is in order to train and develop new local leaders with the gifting being imported. The intention should be to implement the newly trained into leadership when the timing is right for all parties involved.

            The goal of this is to have a community of people that are receiving from multiple apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Then, what we develop is a fellowship (community partnership) of people who are, as a whole, functioning the way Jesus does. To use Paul’s words, “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13). I believe that any person who is both gifted and has gained learned skills to lead not only the spiritual community but also the business organization can and should lead. This includes men and women. Apostles do not have to be in charge, but the same goes for any of the five gifts named in Ephesians 4. The only thing ultimately required to lead is the ability to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. He alone equips believers with all that is necessary to lead others. In saying that, leaders should be constant learners and they should be humble enough to learn from anyone and everyone. Anything a leader lacks will be supplemented by the Holy Sprit’s equipping and through the drawing in of others to support them. From my understanding right now, the best form of leadership in an American Post-Modern context is an interdependent team of leaders who we expect to function freely in their gifting (natural and supernatural), and all people leading will submit to one another’s strengths. No one person has to possess these leadership qualities that these various authors, leaders, and educators have brought to light. Instead, a wise leader will gather a team of people that can function in ways in which he or she cannot. The spearhead of a local church leadership team should be one individual who submits themself to a team of men and women with diversely contrasting gift mixes. This diversity, interdependence, and mutual submission enable the team to lead a larger, and therefore more diverse range of people. Simply stated- it’s more efficient and effective to accomplish the mission.

Concluding thoughts.

          This hypothetical team should be humble enough to defer to one another. To do so requires a healthy amount of self-awareness and a confident awareness of what the Father has said about each team member. This should be a group of friends, not just business partners. Friends are more apt to “say it like it is” while also being inclined towards compassion and mercy when someone from within their friend group fails. In contrast, business partners are colder and task-centered. If a CEO fails, the board of a corporation is more inclined to reprimand or even fire the CEO. This team of leaders also is loving fathers and mothers who have a generational legacy mindset. Their focus should create an environment, organization, or movement carrying forward and constantly improving from the input and active participation of multiple generations- young and old. Even if a local church only ever grows to 50 people, it’s important to understand and be confident in that calling as a church of 50. Own your calling as a church, and raise up children to continue the work that Jesus has given us until His return!


Check out more thoughts from Joshua by listening to the Not Sunday School Podcast.

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1 comment
  • Andrew Hicks May 28, 2022 at 6:21 am

    Way to go man! So glad you are posting on here now. Keep up the good work. Feel free to blog other things as you see fit. I trust your judgment!

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