Shared leadership

"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”
Acts 2:1

Diversity on the stage, when there’s not diversity in the board room, is usually tokenism. 

This is part two of a series on our new book, Doing Justice Together.

The second pathway of the framework is shared leadership. We anchor our understanding in the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21).

God pours out the Spirit “upon all flesh,” not just a select few anointed ones, but everybody. In this new reality women and men “shall prophesy,” and the normal constraints of age will be transformed. Young people will have visionary foresight and wisdom, and older people will not lose the capacity to dream. Even the economic and social caste systems are flipped, slaves are no longer at the bottom of the invisible pyramid but are equally empowered. The barriers of sexism have also been reversed, “both men and women,” have received this outpouring, and they can supernaturally function in the gifts of the Spirit.

A racialized church has largely failed to continue this shared power dynamic as a diverse community of equals. The multiethnic church movement has made a valiant attempt at cultivating congregations that look like Acts 2, but we have fallen short. We seem to have failed to take into account the structural reality of the invisible pyramid. 

Circles Not Pyramids

The Trinity is a paradigm for shared leadership. Who is the leader in the triune God? The dynamic relational nature of the Father, Son, and Spirit contrasts starkly with the static hierarchies we so often see embedded in the church. In the triune God, we see relational movement and a dance of leadership. The Trinity is not a hierarchy, with one person in authority over the other persons, but an interactive, nonlinear, relational community. 

Perichoresis, the relational dance of mutual indwelling, is not about one person of the Trinity ruling over the others. It is a shared mode, each making room for the other, each taking the lead of the divine dance at different times. 

One of the most harmful elements of the church across the ages is how we conceive and practice leadership. People in positions of power are prone to abuse power. We can look back over the course of church history, recent and modern, and see how power has often not been submitted to Christ in love and how this has played out in destructive ways. 

Leadership is a relational phenomenon that occurs through synergistic interactions between the persons in a community.

The church has used a hierarchal view of leadership in many self-defeating ways. If we take our cues from the relational nature of the Trinity, relationships are not designed to be organized hierarchically. Relationships should be organized in circles, not pyramids. Further, if we study the ministry of the disinherited Jesus, he was often in conflict with the agents at the top of a power hierarchy. He critiqued their use of power, how it excluded and marginalized the very people they were supposed to be caring for (see Matthew 23). 

Structured for Racism 

The United Methodist Social Principles state, “Racism, manifested as sin, plagues and hinders our relationship with Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself. … We commit as the Church to move beyond symbolic expressions and representative models that do not challenge unjust systems of power and access.”[1] We are sure that if you’ve read this far that you can say a big “amen!” to this. But what do we actually do? How do we actually move beyond “symbolic expressions and representative models” and actually challenge unjust systems of power and access? And how do we do this from the setting of our local congregations?

We believe the lack of racial equality regarding shared leadership can be traced back to racist structures and polity. In some ways we are structured for racism. 

The features of structural racism are still embedded in denominations today, witnessed by the disparities in salary, opportunity, and available appointments to healthy churches. Even in congregations that are seeking to embody a multiethnic culture, it’s often white leaders in key positions of power. Those leaders make decisions and act upon the system from a hierarchical vantage point. For instance, it is their vision to have a multicultural church. They are key influencers in the selection of staff, and their termination. They guide the boards or committees to make decisions together, but often those groups serve a perfunctory purpose. The leader’s will is often and ultimately done. 

In these uneven power dynamic scenarios, racial minority staff are expected to perform at levels superior to white counterparts. They are expected to agree with organizational decisions with little feedback into the system. They are often compensated unequally in comparison to their white counterparts. 

Tokenism refers to the practice of making only a symbolic effort to recruit and platform persons of a racial minority to give the illusion of equality. When we beg the question… is there diversity in the boardroom? We mean, are persons of color seated as equals around the table where organizational decisions are made. Are they given a shared opportunity to guide and shape the culture and decisions of the organization?

This requires local churches to do away with pyramids and replace them with round tables. It also takes humility, courage, and high trust in the Holy Spirit.  

There can only truly be multiethnic congregations when there are multiethnic shared power dynamics.

We realize this is hard work that can’t take place overnight. The starting point could be antiracist discipleship that helps people see the invisible pyramid. But then it must empower those same people to deconstruct that pyramid together. 

Can the church offer an alternative vision of communal life apart from atomic individualism? Can we imagine and embody new and deeper modes of connectedness and cooperation? How might we begin to create these communities of shared empowerment?

To order the book, visit here. Bulk order pricing is available for congregations and annual conferences. Access the Doing Justice Together playlist on the new Fresh Expressions Amplify channel. Let’s go on the journey—together. 

[1] Social Principles: The Social Community, 2016.

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