Tomorrow’s church – Part 11: One leader, many teachers.

“Christ is the head of His body, the church. Let’s lay aside our position, acknowledge His, and let Him lead”

– Phil Helfer & Neil Cole – “Church Transfusion” Chapter 8  (Leadershifts).

There’s something powerful that happens when a leader steps off the stage, into the circle, and gives everyone a chance to be heard. From the stage, the leader communicates a subtle but strong message that God’s Word is only for the theologically trained and professionally employed. Within the circle, the facilitator symbolically reminds us that we all have something to contribute, that the Holy Spirit can speak to each one of us, and that Jesus is the true leader of the church.

It requires courage for churches and pastors to move away from a monologue model of meeting in rows, to a dialogue model of meeting in circles. Rows are so neat, and orderly, and easy to control. Church in rows is predictable, comfortable, rehearsed and polished. In contrast, church in a circle can be messy, untidy, unpredictable and relational. It can appear foolish and dangerous to give up control and hand it over to the people. But God chose the foolish to shame the wise, he chose the weak to shame the strong. Again and again, Jesus tells us to pay attention to the least of these, to the children, to the disempowered – not to the powerful, influential and eloquent. It’s a huge shift in mindset for many in the church to make.

At Fresh Start Community, we sit in a circle (well, more of a horseshoe shape, usually – and there can be a lot of moving around during the meeting into different formations). We begin each meeting by reminding each other that Jesus is in the centre of the circle – he is the true leader, and that each of us is a teacher, able to have an impact on one another. There is usually one main facilitator who aims to “push the ball” out to others, giving everyone an opportunity to share and interact, but we often see other members of the group spontaneously facilitating and directing the rest of the group – just as you would in any normal human group dynamic. Time and time again, we have seen this interactive, facilitated environment create space for the Holy Spirit to lead the group towards a certain message, or action, or revelation, that simply could not have happened if one person were responsible for preparing and delivering a monologue. We see individuals empowered to problem solve, and learn, and teach one another, creating a synergy and excitement as the group build upon one another’s insights. We literally see Jesus leading His church – not through the pastor, but through the gathered body of God’s people.

I honestly don’t know if what we’re seeing and experiencing will translate easily into your church environment. I can’t tell you exactly how to shift from meeting in rows towards meeting in circles. I can only tell you what we are learning, and continuing to learn – that there is an alternative way of doing church than the one we’ve all grown up with, and that it  comes with many benefits and blessings. I pray that our experiences will encourage you and give you boldness and inspiration to creatively pursue God’s best for your community. Amen!

This is the second last post in my 12 part blog series – “Tomorrow’s church: a new formula for a new era“. Subscribe now or follow me on Facebook so you don’t miss any posts. I’d love you to interact and discuss the ideas in these posts, and share your experiences. The final post will be about the mindshifts needed for the new era we are entering.

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