There are certain time periods when change is inescapable. Take the Industrial Revolution, for example. Virtually overnight, the structure of society was shifted when people flooded from rural industry into cities and factories. Institutions, governance and culture had to transform in order to meet the needs of a very different societal landscape.
In his new book, “Creating A Missional Culture“, J.R. Woodward points out that we are entering the Digital Age, a time period with unique challenges and opportunities. He describes some of the ways churches need to respond to the broad cultural changes of this new era. One of the gifts Woodward gives us is the call to polycentric leadership in the church. He urges the church to move beyond hierarchical leadership models – which don’t sit well with the digital generation, who are sceptical of centralised power structures. Instead, he encourages the church to nurture and release the five kinds of equippers to act as cultural architects, developing a culture which empowers and activates all of God’s people to be involved in ministry. He goes on to describe how Jesus embodies each of the different ministry roles; apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher.
My husband and I have had a chance to see polycentric leadership in action – occurring quite spontaneously and naturally within an interactive, participatory church setting. After six years as lead pastor, Kevin-Neil grew tired of positioning God’s people to sit in rows as a passive audience. He now runs church as a facilitated learning community – a place where everyone interacts and participates, and where the leader is a facilitator, not a performer.
Each week at Fresh Start Community, we see people empowered to discover and use their God-given ministry gifts. They don’t even realise they are doing it. If you come and sit alongside me next week, you’ll be able to work out who’s who. You’ll recognise the prophet when he speaks words which hit deep in your heart, and leaves you with something profound to think about and work through. You’ll see the evangelist coming into the room, surrounded by any number of newcomers – always making everyone feel welcome and connected. You’ll work out who the shepherd is – she’s the one who notices the tear in another’s eye, and slips out of her seat to come alongside them to offer support. You’ll know who the teacher is when she speaks up and clarifies a concept that baffles the rest of the group. My favourite one to watch is the apostle – the one who empowers the others to find their gifts and use their voice to build each other up. None of these people are paid to take these roles. Not many of them have formal qualifications. They’re just using their natural gifts, because the environment releases them to do so.
God never intended the burden of ministry to rest upon one individual. He created each of us with different skills, abilities and gifts. Church should become an environment which recognises and nurtures our ministry gifts, and empowers us to use them to minister to each other and to a world in need.