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Village, Not Vicar

One thing each of the recent scandals has in common is power. More specifically, the power of one individual who is a highly talented individual with charisma and the ability to hold a crowd and create cultural momentum.

There are many reasons why this kind of leader has emerged over the past few decades (mostly led by the western church). In direct response to what they saw as the boring, irrelevant and faceless church of inherited catholicism, protestant and evangelical leaders especially started growing new churches. In their purest form they are led by dynamic and faith-filled people who passionately believe that the Church should be at the forefront of society, that creativity and redemption should come to all people through the compassionate work of christians and that faith, though personal, should not be confined to the pulpit, the pews or the confessional. To get this kind of organisation off the ground, you gotta have some kind of pizzaz.

But that kind of pizzaz can easily tip over into an unhealthy expression of control, abuse of power and a belief that this leader is somehow unique, irreplaceable and especially anointed of God. Once these beliefs are commonplace, then questioning them becomes almost impossible.

It is most easily done in churches which were started by an individual, and which have what has become known as a “founders myth”. This term, popularised recently around the Mars Hill scandal with Mark Driscoll, involves God telling an individual to start a church, that individual being courageously faithful and pioneering, success which happens against the odds but through the gifting of that individual, God continues to speak to that new church - but only through that individual…nobody else has the anointing. This person controls the budgets, does all the teaching, hires all the staff, prays for all the sick, counsels all the hurting (in private…don’t worry…they’re safe, they are anointed remember?), seems to control the activity of the Holy Spirit, has directive words and pictures for peoples lives etc etc. Sure, they might break the rules every now and again - but so do all great artists and geniuses right?…it is their willingness to play outside the lines which helped get this show off the ground in the first place.

And. While we are here…let’s be honest. There is a lot of St Marks which could fit this description.

Given that, it becomes important that we (and I) work hard to resist the gravitational pull towards idolatry of the leader.

This is why I have made the VILLAGE the centre of our life as much as possible. Whenever St Marks has been at its strongest, the Village has been at its most active. It is vital that we continue to declare that there is more wisdom in the room than there is in the vicar, that conversation among disciples around tables is where the real learning happens, that the measure of the success of our church is not equated with the charisma of me as its vicar (see next post for more on this). It becomes vital that I try and give away power in as many ways as possible. That’s why I count it as a sign of health that people make jokes at my expense…you don’t do that in cultures where you fear the mighty leader. That’s why if you have ever come to me in need of help, I have probably passed you on to a professional rather than creating a dependancy upon me as healer. That’s why it remains important to remind ourselves that each and every success we have had has been largely or exclusively shaped by someone else.

That’s why I get frustrated when nobody else wants to lead anything…it is not cos I want to shirk responsibility, but because the greatest danger is that I do everything and then everything revolves around me.

I want our kids (I mean all of the St Marks kids, not just mine!) to look back in 30 years and remember LOADS of people from St Marks. They might be able to remember me as one of the people or they might not. Doesn’t matter. If they remember a VILLAGE full of ideas, wisdom, faith, doubt, introverts and extroverts, young and old who all followed Jesus together…then they will be remembering something FAR richer than if they reminisced about an old vicar they once knew who seemed self-important at the time.

There is a popular leadership maxim that “everyone wins when the leader gets better”. There is truth in this. As a nation we have experienced the disasters that can happen when the leader is bad. BUT, I think “everyone wins even more when the village is strongest”.

Maybe, as you reach the end of this post you might be able to pray and consider your place in the village and your active involvement. It’s a team sport. No kidding. We all need you.

About the author

Paul Oxley

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