There was once a hunter who wanted to trap a monkey. He placed a peanut in a bottle. The monkey could get its hand through the neck of the bottle, but couldn’t pull its closed fist out again. Even as the hunter approached, the monkey would not let go. Holding onto that nut ultimately cost the monkey its freedom.
As leaders, we are often like that monkey. We are not willing to risk letting go of control, authority and influence, and so we lose out on having a far greater impact for God’s kingdom. We have difficulty letting go of the little things.
Leadership last century was all about being at the top of the organisational chart. Telling people what to do. Wielding power and authority. The CEO model placed people in a pyramid-shaped hierarchy, where authority and influence trickled down from the top, and those highest up the ladder had the most voice, value and impact. It’s a system which really took off after the two world wars, and was closely related to the chain-of-command in the military. And for a long time, it worked, because it lined up with how we did life at school, in the home, and in church.
The cultural ground beneath our feet is shifting. The world is a radically different place from 10 or 20 years ago. The internet has created a communication medium where the people at the bottom of the organisational chart are connected, empowered, and given a voice – and it changes everything. Schools are shifting to student-centred, active learning approaches which value collaboration, creativity and communication over the traditional “3 R’s”. Business groups such as games developer Valve are beginning to experiment with decentralized, flattened structures – often with exciting results.
This egalitarian, empowering, servant approach to leadership makes complete sense in the church. It’s written into our DNA. It’s the approach Jesus embodied when he lifted up the least of these, when he chose the most unlikely leadership candidates and formed them into a worldwide movement, when he led by example rather than from a platform. Think about the potential for the church to transform the world if we empowered every man, woman and child of God to be a “little Jesus” in their family, in their network, in their neighbourhood. We can’t do that by talking at people – we can only do it by listening to them, giving them a voice, and letting them know they have what it takes to live God in front of others, to be leaders in their own right, to change the world.
If you really want to have an impact on God’s people, you might have to let go of something. Maybe you will need to open your tightly closed fist to let go of the traditional ways you meet, and teach. Maybe you will need to let go of control, and certainty, and authority, and status. That could be difficult and scary. But maybe, just maybe, it will be worth the risk. When you give God’s people a voice and a value, you don’t reduce your influence and impact – you multiply it exponentially. It spreads beyond that moment, beyond that venue, into the lives of families, networks and neighbourhoods. When pastors step off the platform and into the circle, empowering God’s people to speak and teach and explore God’s Word for themselves, they open the doors of the church to let the message out beyond the walls, beyond the pews. Let go of the little things, and release the power of the gathered church to impact the world around it.