Julian Mann questions the current emphasis on ‘growing leaders who can multiply ministries’

The past few years have seen an increase in the number of Reformed Evangelical conferences aimed specifically at growing leaders’ who can ‘multiply ministries’. Arguably, the increase in these leader-targeted conferences can be dated from the United Kingdom tour in early 2003 of the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen.

The Ordinal according to the Book of Common Prayer describes those ordained priest as ‘messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord’ charged with the responsibility ‘to teach and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord’s family; to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for his children in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever.’

Are they leaders?

Remarkably absent from this is any reference to the priest being a leader or ruler of Christ’s Church. Does this mean that Cranmer did not believe that those ordained priest were to be leaders in the sense that the organizers of these Evangelical conferences understand the term?

This would be to over-state the case. Certainly, some kind of leadership role is implied in the way Cranmer describes the office of the priest – it is a pro-active role involving real responsibility, hence later on in the bishop’s exhortation Cranmer describes Christ’s people as being committed to the priest’s ‘charge’.

Certainly, the New Testament speaks of ministers of the Word as having authority. I do not wish to flash my limited knowledge of New Testament Greek but in 1 Thessalonians 5.12, when the church is urged to ‘respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and who admonish you’ [RSV], the word translated ‘over you’ does denote authority.

Indeed both the Ordering of Priests and the Consecration of Bishops in the Ordinal speak of the ‘authority’ given to the priest or bishop by virtue of the fact that they are called to proclaim God’s Word.

So Cranmer as a Bible-believing Christian clearly believed that ministers of Word and Sacrament had a responsibility to lead God’s people, but he does not explicitly call the priest or the bishop a leader or a ruler, because he is giving due weight to the main biblical terms used to describe the pastoral office.

Cranmer thus teaches us that the idea of being a leader or a ruler of God’s people is not to feature too much in the self-understanding of those called to be ministers of Word and Sacrament. If it does, then problems can arise due to our fallen natures.

I wonder about the dynamic of an army of apprentices trailing around after a celebrated Evangelical leader in a mega-church or a church plant. It is surely not only ministers addicted to the hand-holding model of ministry who can be guilty of ministering to their own needs.

Serious work to be done

I also wonder about the dynamic involved in the emphasis on growing leaders’. Unfortunately, in practice the ‘leaders’ being grown are often not leaders at all, but constitute a fan-club and in some cases henchmen for The Leader. This is not to say that training people in local churches for various ministries, including Word ministry, is not important: it is vitally important and we need more of it. But training that promotes egotism is better not done at all.

In questioning this heavy emphasis on leadership, I am not advocating the post-modern notion of consensus management with its endless talk of listening. In practice, ‘consensus’ means he (or just as often she) who shouts loudest gets their way on the church council, or that the lowest common factor is pandered to. This is not good enough for a great God.

But I wonder whether the current emphasis on growing Evangelical leaders’ who will ‘run the church’ and ‘multiply ministries’ as the solution to the weakness of UK Christianity owes a little more to the world than to the Word.