When you realise that hierarchy has no place in God's different kingdom, it's important to know what takes its place for the effective organising and functioning of a church community. Without some appropriate principles in place, we can end up replacing hierarchy with anarchy (everyone doing as they see fit) - with disastrous results! I don't want to live under a dictator or despot, but nor do I want to live in a failed state. I don't want to live in Syria or Somalia!
Over the next few posts I am going to use Romans 12:1-8 as a springboard passage for thinking about the principles that replace hierarchy. This is one of the passages where the New Testament uses the image of the one body with many different parts as a fundamental picture. It is an ideal picture of a family with each member uniquely gifted to play their part, free and empowered to exercise that gift, yet all functioning together in unity. What causes that to happen when it is not a chain of command with clearly delineated roles and ranks, and a culture of command and control?
I think that there are two vitally important principles: humility and honour. In brief, humility means we are able to realise what we haven't got and be secure about that, and honour means we recognise and value what others have got and be able to celebrate that. This encourages the interdependence necessary for a body to function. It stops an eye trying to be an ear, or a foot being jealous of a knee!
A little more on humility. Forget religious ideas of this, or any thoughts of false modesty. Think of it as self-awareness. It actually involves being aware of how God has made you, the way he has wired you and shaped you, and being totally secure about that. Then you have nothing to prove to anyone and you don't have to try to be something that you are not. So actually humility does involve knowing what you have got as well as what you haven't got; but it means your identity doesn't come from your gift, or from what you do. It comes from who you are - a child of God. That's what makes you secure enough to serve with humility. Then when it comes to the exercise of gift, you are free to be how he made you and not try to be more than that. I think that this is what Paul means when he says here: 'Don't think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.' (v.3, NLT). He's not talking about your identity - you can't get any better than being a son of God! He is talking about your gift: and if God has formed you to be a brilliantly functioning knee, don't waste your life trying to be an ankle! Just love and accept how he has made you!!
Next post: more on honour.