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Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A great comment on hierarchy:

I know I promised that I would be posting on Kingdom and Cross, and I will. But I first just wanted to post a comment by my friend and fellow-leader, Trevor Shotter. This was a comment he made in a conversation prompted by my last post against hierarchy here. He put is so well, I wanted to make sure that my readers didn't miss it. He puts is so well, I wish I had written it.So here it is:

It strikes me that in a hierarchy someone has leadership as a result of structure; they may have obtained that position by gifting and anointing but the structure then ‘solidifies’ that arrangement. In this model I defer to you because you are positioned higher than me in the structure. It speaks of something rigid, static, set in concrete.

In the dance you have the honour of leading, again, because you are gifted and anointed to do so. But there is movement; we move together. I contribute to the dance but yield to your leadership not because I must but because I know that when you lead the dance is beautiful and purposeful. Nothing is rigid, quite the opposite, it is dynamic.

The dance is not a variation of hierarchy even though someone leads; the nature of the relationship between those who lead and those who are led is fundamentally different.

Isn’t it in our human nature to want to schematise? A hierarchical system is easy to understand, I can see the diagram, I can see where I am and I can see where everyone else is; I know my place. In a dance, however, there is fluidity and changing positions; I don’t necessarily know or understand what everyone else in the dance is doing but as we all move to the same ‘Music’ the overall effect is amazing.

Really well put!

I promise I will post on Kingdom and Cross tomorrow.


  1. I recall this quote I came across some time ago about hierarchy.
    "In hierarchical structures, the underlying fear is “people cannot be trusted” and therefore they must be supervised very closely. The more loyal and trusted one is within the organisation, the more status one gets in the hierarchy." But love, it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (don't you hate that!) So I only need a hierarchy if fear is the governing value. In a culture that has love at it's core, there's no need for hierarchy, it only gets in the way.

    1. That's a great way of looking at it John. Let's follow the way of love. As we're learning this dance, if we just keep loving each other it will be so much easier!

  2. I couldn't help thinking about this discussion whilst dropping off to sleep last night, and had some thoughts to add.

    This is all about how authority works within churches, isn't it, and how it should operate. So my first question is what difference it would make if we were to add the word father into the discussion. It seems to me that an elder needs to be a father, and there need to be a number of fathers and mothers in churches. That doesn't seem to me to be a hierarchical role, but it does carry some relational authority and influence.

    I think in the past we have seen authority as almost a positional thing, rather than a relational thing. We almost took the view that God appointed elders have God given authority over the flock, in much the same way as a hierachical structure would do - e.g. within the police force, a school or a the civil service. The post carried authority over others. The difference being that this authority could be exercised not just in how someone discharged their job, but their personal life as well, their character, their behaviour. It has even been preached this way. So lets be clear - that would mean that a leader had the right to "speak into" someone's life or rebuke them whether they liked it or not. And if the person didn't respond well they were probably "independent", "insubmissive" etc.

    Its a bit like someone walking into your house uninvited and starting to rearrange your furniture. It is fundamentally disrespectful of the person who is being "spoken into".

    Whilst I think that model was more widespread in the 80s I still get the feeling when I meet some leaders today that they still have something of this model in their assumptions, and they scare me, frankly.

    The way I see authority is more much relational than positional. So in other words, the only authority you have over my life is the authority I give you. So if you want to come in and rearrange the furniture in my house you need to first knock on the door and ask permission to come. You need to be invited.

    I think to be invited you have to be trusted, and confident that that person has your best interests absolutely at heart.

    And it comes down to the question of who a leader thinks they are dealing with. If the leader thinks they are dealing with sinners they will be disrespectful. If they think they are dealing with saints who may need some help to live out who they are then their approach will be fundamentally more honouring,(fathers).

    In some extreme cases a leader has to intervene without permission - e.g. deliberate sin in the church. I think it is notable though that even Paul intervened in a way that was honouring and about the ultimate restoration of the sinner when he did this.

    1. Deane, I couldn't possibly have those kind of thoughts while drifting off to sleep!! They'd keep me awake all night! Great, though.
      One of the things that we have been learning and exploring in the church here in Huddersfield is about seeing leadership through the lens of parenthood. And recognising and honouring the fathers and mothers in the church. These are not just the elders, though those we refer to as elders should be spiritual fathers (or mothers??!!) in the church.

  3. To me there are certain bedrock truths in the Bible that need to be borne in mind. We *all* follow Jesus (or at least should do) but still fall into the, "I follow Apollos etc." trap which can cause such strife. The curtain was torn so that we can *all* have access to God and obtain gifts to strengthen the body. And *all* our fellow believers are "another man's servant" therefore out of our jurisdiction (though we can choose not to associate with anyone in deliberate sin).

    1. Not quite sure what you mean by your last sentence. But I agree there is a balance between our freedom, and our submission to others. If we are imbalanced toward the former (freedom), we become independent. If we are imbalanced toward the latter (submission), we become deferential yes-men, co-dependent and unable to take responsibility and initiative for ourselves.

  4. The comments above are helping me, thank you. There seems to be some agreement that there has been or is a change in how leadership is understood and practiced, I guess it depends where you are on the journey. It leaves me with the question, how do we encourage people to respond to leadership differently as surely the new culture welcomes / offers the opportunity for a different response? Do we need to unlearn how we respond to leadership?

    1. Good question, Jon. In a way it is about discovering what exactly honour (recognising and responding to the grace-gifting in another) practically look like in relationship to leaders; and when balanced with being free and powerful (taking personal responsibility to be all that we are called to be) and what that looks like in practice. Lots to learn!