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March 21, 2007

NT inclusive leadership

Filed under CoG Potpourri

As we approach Passover with its renewal of our commitment to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, I am reminded of the type of leadership Jesus inspired in the early New Testament church.

Specifically, was the leadership style of the early NT church reflected by inclusive or exclusive decision-making?

Inclusive leadership: Decisions affecting the entire church are broad-based, with a large group – sometimes even the entire church – involved in making the decision.

Exclusive leadership: Decisions affecting the entire church are made by a small group.

The NT provides interesting insight into how some major decisions were made that affected the entire church. Obviously the NT spans only a relatively short period of time, so we don’t have many details. However, the examples provided for us make interesting reading.

When God inspired Peter to recognize that Judas needed to be replaced as an apostle, who picked Matthias as successor? "God did," some might say, since lots were cast. Correct – in part. But let’s look at the details. After the disciples (addressed as "men and brethren" by Peter in Acts 1:16 and numbering some 120) heard the parameters given by Peter (verses 21-22), "they" selected two candidates (verse 23). "They", in context, refers to "men and brethren" – the general "membership" of the church rather than just the apostles or Peter himself. So the "membership" narrowed the choice down to two candidates and, by casting lots, asked God to select Judas’ successor.

What if Peter had employed the Gentile exclusive leadership style and said, "I’m the apostle to the circumcision, this is my call"?

Or, Peter could have called James and John over and said, "Hey, Jesus showed only the 3 of us His transfiguration, so we are special – we need to make this decision, since the others just aren’t as knowledgeable or capable of doing so."

Instead of being asked to support a decision made by a small group of its leaders, in this case the entire church was involved in a major decision affecting its future. We see that this "inclusive leadership" style was present even before the holy spirit was poured out on Pentecost.

In Acts 6 we have another historic major decision. When the number of believers (including wives and children) possibly numbered as many as 20,000 people and the number of widows needing daily ministration was likely larger than most UCG congregations today, how were the first deacons selected? The need became evident in the first place because complaints were received that the apostles were carrying out this needed function of physical service inadequately. The apostles accepted the criticism, and after giving the thousands of brethren some parameters, the general membership selected the first deacons in church history.

What if the apostles had just withdrawn for a while from the brethren, made a decision and then announced it to everyone, saying "We decided this, and you should accept it or else you have a bad (or non-supportive) attitude"?

Instead of being asked to support a decision made by a small group of leaders, in this case again the entire membership was involved in the decision-making process.

A few years later there was a third example of yet another major decision. Again, let’s look at the details. When circumcision became an issue in Antioch that needed to be decided, how was the decision reached? "They" (Acts 15:2, i. e., "the brethren" in Antioch, cf. verse 1) sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem. Upon their arrival in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas apparently initially gave a report to the entire congregation (verse 4).

Since it was a doctrinal matter, it was a decision for the elders. So the apostles and elders – apparently all of them – had a meeting to decide this important question (verse 6). From the wording of verses 22 ("with the whole church") and 23 ("and brethren"), though, it appears that the local members may also have been present while all the apostles and elders were deliberating.

What if Paul and Barnabas had traveled secretly to Jerusalem and met with only Peter, or Peter, James and John in a secluded wayside inn to render a decision? What if they had then first announced their decision to the brethren in Antioch and later informed the rest of the elders about it and asked them to support it? Can you even imagine the problems that no doubt would have resulted? Would the decision have been accepted?

The "inclusive" leadership style displayed in these examples had positive results:

"And the saying pleased the whole multitude. . ." (Acts 6:5).

"Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church. . ." (Acts 15:22).

The NT leadership style in these examples of inclusive decision-making gave people ownership. This leadership style gets people on board, since they participate in making the decision instead of just being asked to support a decision that has already been made. By being involved in the decision-making process, it then becomes their decision, too.

The NT inclusive leadership style generates more genuine support – since a broad range of input is given and considered and decisions aren’t made in a corner by a small group or just one man. Getting people on board by involving them in the decision-making process lessens suspicion, since people know their input is welcomed, considered and appreciated. People are always more willing to support and even sacrifice when they have ownership. This approach does take time, though.

On the other hand, the Gentile exclusive leadership style of a small group or just one man deciding and then expecting acceptance and obedience is obviously easier and takes far less time.

The contrast in these two leadership styles is striking:

Exclusive decision-making: Only the leadership decides, others must accept and follow (or else they have a "bad attitude").

Inclusive decision-making: All are involved in the decisions from the beginning.

In subscribing to "Inc." magazine (directed at small businesses and their owners), I have been amazed to see the success, including more than one remarkable turnaround, in various small companies that implemented an inclusive leadership style. Having all employees participate in decisions affecting the company took / takes longer, but then everyone is committed to the decision once it is made, instead of the often adversarial management vs. labor scenario.

As I reflect on these things prior to the Passover, I am impressed – again – by the emphasis Jesus placed shortly before His death on not doing things the way the Gentiles do.

Let us not forget that UCG’s start-up was hastened by the WCG rejecting the NT inclusive leadership style for major decisions. When the leadership in Pasadena rejected a proposal for an Acts 15 style conference to discuss major doctrinal changes affecting the entire church, what implications did that have for many elders? It clearly demonstrated that "outside" input wasn’t wanted, needed or appreciated – nor were the elders who desired to have input. Then shortly before Passover 1995, Pasadena effectively isolated any and all elders who were struggling with the situation by communicating directly to the membership that such elders were to be avoided, creating a schism between members and elders.

What conclusions did we reach back then? "Leaders" who reject the NT model of inclusive leadership are not worthy of trust or respect.

What was the immediate result of that wrong leadership style? The 1995 [UCG] Indianapolis conference.

That experience from our own history reinforces the admonition about wrong leadership Jesus gave prior to His death and, by contrast, the positive leadership style that was evident in the early NT church. As we approach this Passover, may we learn from and appreciate such lessons from history.

[This post appeared originally on the United Church of God "Elders Forum" on March 15, 2007.]

Comment from Ralph Levy:

I have two questions:

1. Are you suggesting that some or all on the Council and/or the administration of UCG are "not worthy of trust or respect?"
2. Would you not say that a decision to be taken by some 450 elders is inclusive?

Answer from Paul Kieffer:

Re: No. 1: I did not say this.

My EF post is a brief study on a subject that I have thought a lot about in the last 12 years: NT concensus building as a style of management. I was presenting a biblical and historical perspective on decision-making styles and methods and I hope that my fellow elders find the material interesting. I believe all elders – regardless of their role in the organization – should consider this subject carefully.

Having said that, allow me a comment on a tangent to what you apparently read into my post. No human organization this side of the resurrection will ever be immune to dissension. The WCG certainly wasn’t, and with UCG having 2 former CoE members, 1 former transitional board member and 2 former operation managers now in competing organizations, neither is UCG.

Re: No 2: I believe that any decision reached in the manner I tried to describe in my post would be inclusive.

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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