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Question and Response to a Polycentric Alternative

 A couple of days ago, I posted a video of a presentation I did based on my dissertation. I shared it with some ministry partners and others who are part of the Table on Sunday. On Tuesday, I shared with some people at the Irish Bible Institute. In each session, there was an opportunity for question and response. I wanted […]

by bob

Dec 2, 2022

 A couple of days ago, I posted a video of a presentation I did based on my dissertation. I shared it with some ministry partners and others who are part of the Table on Sunday. On Tuesday, I shared with some people at the Irish Bible Institute.

In each session, there was an opportunity for question and response. I wanted to share some of those questions. I have had some time to reflect on the questions, so hopefully, these responses are more thorough than the initial ones.

My answers here will assume you have at least some idea of what was in the video. 

Also, these are obviously brief responses. If you’d like to dig more into one of the questions, let me know.

And, of course, if you have any other questions, please send them along.

Is this Anabaptist?

First, I don’t believe Jesus’ words about ’lording authority over others” is Anabaptist. That said, three critical sources for my dissertation, David Fitch, Stuart Murray and Alan Kreider, are from that background. And while I have what I’d consider a rich and diverse theological experience that has gone into shaping how I see this, the Anabaptist camp is where I have felt at home (I wrote about this previously).

Is this scalable?

Another way of asking this is would this work for a church of 1000 people?

In my dissertation, I noted that I was not addressing that topic, but I have a couple of thoughts.

First, Jesus was emphatic that hierarchical leadership should not be practised among his followers. He didn’t say, “unless you get big, then you are going to have to”.

So what does this mean for a mega-church? If a person’s primary connection to a church is that they show up for 60 to 90 minutes to a large gathering once per week, I would have difficulty seeing that as a model for what the church should be. One of the key themes in my paper was that there needed to be a communal/family element to the church. The mega-church model does not make this a priority.

(This is likely a larger—no pun intended—conversation, but this is where I land on this).

What is the common good?

How would you transition a church to this model?

The two questions were quite different but receive a similar reply. 

So much of this model is based on the church having deep, trusting relationships. What is the common good for our community? That seems like a crucial conversation for church leaders to have. And I would expect the answer would be different in different places and among different people. 

You and I may not initially agree when we have this conversation, but while having it, we reveal our passions, and we listen to the thoughts, arguments, and deeply held beliefs of others. Through that process, we will come to an idea that more of what the common good is than if we each stake our claim and then vote…or have the person in charge pick what they think.

I believe the same general response fits for a church wanting to transition to this model. This model requires trust, humility and a culture of mutual submission. If a church is not there currently, it will be through conversations, common meals and the building of relationships that the church begins to take these steps.

What about elders and deacons?

The Bible talks about elders and deacons. So doesn’t that mean there was a hierarchy from the start?

Christendom has so impacted us that modern conceptions of leadership often conflate power, authority, and hierarchy, making it difficult to grasp how leadership can occur outside hierarchical structures.  We hear leader and immediately put that person at the top of the organisational chart. We need to break free of that mindset.
Even with the APEST roles, it has been common for some churches to make that a hierarchy. People who go around calling themselves “Apostle” (like the guy in this story…Apostle Tom) and believing this affords them power and privilege, for example.
Hirsch emphasises that these five roles are based on function, not authority.

Also, I would argue that the 5 APEST roles would qualify as elders.

Is Jesus talking about hierarchy in Luke 22, or can you have hierarchy without lording authority over others?

The authors of a well-known business book, The Leadership Challenge, claim, “Status is central to all hierarchies” (Kouzes and Posner 1995, p. 6).  Central to hierarchies are power, privilege and status concentrated at the top. If you have examples of benevolent hierarchies, I’m interested in learning about them.

In scripture, I believe God’s preferred model was polycentric…Judges, prophets, apostles. When the Israelites decided they wanted a king, the ultimate hierarchy, God viewed it as a rejection of his leadership.

Are modern apostles like NT Apostles?

This is something I dealt with in detail in my dissertation. Short answer, NO. The original 12 had a unique, never to be repeated role. Likewise, although Paul was not one of the 12, he also had a unique and not repeatable role.

Luke was quite exclusive in using the term. Besides Paul and Barnabas, he never uses the term other than to describe the 12. Paul, on the other hand, used it more liberally.

Luke does, at one point, limit who can be an apostle to those who had seen the risen Christ. However, it does appear that this restriction applied only to the original 12.

As I mentioned, I dig into this much more in the dissertation.

[I wrote this post as I was getting started on my dissertation 16 months ago. It addresses some of this as well.

What about Bob?

bob

I grew up in Western New York and have started and led missional church planting efforts for a little over 30 years. As you might gather, I have opinions about the church, and I share some of them here.

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