Barnabas Network International | Online Resources for Churches

The Chain or the Circle?  

 

One of my sons was in the Royal Australian Air Force for about 14 years. He began as a Pilot Officer and was a Squadron Leader by the time he concluded his service. As I followed the development of his career, I became increasingly aware of the leadership structure in the Military - usually referred to as the 'Chain of Command'.  

 

As one who also has been involved in leadership for something like 40 years, I cannot help but note the similarities and differences between the kind of leadership my son was required to exercise in the Military and that which I was called to exercise in the Church.  

 

Recently I came across an article that seemed to helpfully label those two styles of leadership. The article referred to a 'chain of command' and a 'circle of relationships'. As I pondered those two concepts, it seemed to me that each was appropriate in its own setting.  

 

More than once Pete has said to me words like, "In many ways my kind of leadership is easier than yours. I issue the order or command and whether they like it or not, my subordinates must obey that directive. Whether they like me or not, they have no choice".   While Pete is very relational in his lifestyle and in his career, he knows that the Military cannot function without a command structure. In that setting, authority comes with rank, not relationship. Of course, to also have the respect of those under one's authority may make leadership easier. But superior rank requires obedience regardless of relational factors.  

 

I can't imagine the chaos and mayhem that would occur in the Military if commands and orders were treated as suggestions or requests. The Centurion mentioned in Matthew 8/5-13 understood how the chain of command worked. He somehow knew that when it came to the arena of sickness and demons, Jesus was in command and the inhabitants of that realm recognized the chain of command and they had to obey.  

 

But Jesus did not teach, endorse or practice "chain of command" leadership among His disciples. On the contrary, He taught that leaders were to be servants. What Jesus taught and modeled within the intimate circle of His followers was a "circle of relationships". Within that model of leadership, authority came with respect that was birthed within a relationship. It did not come from rank, title, status or position.  

 

"You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."(Mark 10:42-45 NIV)  

 

"Not so with you".  And with those four words Jesus overturned forever the "chain of command" style of leadership among his followers and in His Church.   "I am the Senior Pastor and you will respect me and my role by submitting to my leadership". Those words (or their equivalent) mark both the abuse and demise of true leadership. The leader who has to command respect is not a leader in the Kingdom of God.  

 

While I recognize that there are different styles of leadership and that each may be legitimate in specific settings from time to time, chain-of-command leadership in the Church in general is far less productive than circle-of-relationships leadership.

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