Thinking out loud about leadership (2) Shape and Structure

So, having got the confession and the negative out in the open in where I’ve not been my best as a leader, I want to begin sharing how I see leadership. I will start by stating that I’m saying this in response to how I see things taking shape in the world around us and the ways in which I, as a ‘leader’ need to respond and adjust appropriately. I don’t, however, have the full picture. There will be some folks who will see different sides. And, indeed, there will be people in different contexts for whom what I am saying will be a challenge and almost impossible due to the ways we have constructed how we do ‘church’ in our movement.

First, let me begin with two pictures. The first image is the one you can see on the left at the top, here. Its just a random clip art image from google images of a typical organisational structure. It would be very easy, using a chart similar to this, to plot our the chain of command in The Salvation Army (or any company with a CEO, for that matter, or any other church by and large). You’ll know too that this chain of command was adopted early on in the movement in our days as a mission. Even before the ‘Army thing’ came along, Booth was in command and there was something of a structure under him. This was the absolute best way of getting things done in Booths days. All the conquering armies, governments and organisations led by this model.

In fact, there were little other models available apart from the ones which relied on countless committees. I can understand why Booth wanted to minimise these. Booth, utilising this model, charged the Army through the world. It was effective, however I guess its fair to say there were more than the fair share of casualties (especially amongst his children) for those who wouldn’t fall in line. This is the war model. Makes sense for a Salvation Army. OK….I think you get all that. Let me turn to my next picture.

I couldn’t really find one to adequately describe what I’ve picked out from a reading of the New Testament so I pulled this rough picture together on a simple program. Let me explain.

Imagine each larger circle as a group of believers in a location with Jesus at the centre. The smaller circles are individuals joined together. Jesus is the head of the body, each part of the body relates to him and receives instruction from him and responds together just like our natural bodies receove instructions from our brains. In that sense, Jesus as the head of the body is the leader to whom everone else responds. In the group, led by Jesus, there are different individuals with different giftings. Some gifted build the body up by teaching, pastoring, evangelising, and maybe a soul with a prophetic ministry…everyone working to build up each other. We also see from the new testament those who are among the church, ‘overseers’ and ‘elders,’ who are to “keep watch [looking out] over your souls” (Heb 13:17). They are scanning the skies looking for incoming missiles (heresy, false teaching) at the same time looking for ways forward. They are looking out for, not ‘lording over.’ There is nothing in the scripture to suggest that these functions were heirarchical in nature, just the body functioning together under the head, Jesus.

You will see the white dots floating yet linked to the smaller groups. These are itenerant apostles. The groups look to one or two of these…they may have had a hand in planting the group, will have spent time ‘laying the foundation as an expert builder’ before moving on. When they come along side the groups, inspite of their apostolic ministry, they don’t come alongside as one over and above, but alongside. Some of the churches may have had an apostolic worker left behind by the apostle to continue the building work in some settings until the church is ready to be left alone. Some churches will have apostolic workers (as opposed to apostles) in them for a season in advance of the apostle arriving to lay the foundation ‘properly.’ (See Paul’s relationship to Precilla and Aquilla and then Apollos). The apostle basically establishes the DNA of the body amongst a group gathered around Jesus which is then replicated at each point.

Now, the second is what I am advocating. Firstly because it bears closer resemblance to scripture and secondly, because there is something important about it that people are only starting to realise today.

Decentralised organisations are expanding at a tremendous rate. They tend to be bound together by common values and purpose. They are closer knit and when attacked, they spread out further and become stronger, making it difficult to quash them. The are fluid and mobile. The picture you can use to contrast these models is that of the starfish and the spider.

There is a book which explains this principle better than I can, but here it is in brief. The Spider has a head and 8 legs. If you cut off a spiders leg, providing he doesn’t lose too much fluid, he will eventually grow back a leg which is attached to his body & head. If, however, you stand on his head, the whole thing is dead and suffers badly. The first picture about is the spider model.

The starfish, however, is different altogether. There is no head and each ‘leg’ has the same organs in each, the same parts. When you separate one part, you actually get two starfish because it has everything it needs to be a full entity. I will come back to this in another blog, but the point I am making here is that each leg of the starfish contains all the dna and information needed to be a starfish where as the spiders leg is just a leg with no heart.

I’ve heard it said that we need the command (spider) structure in the first picture because we are at war so that there is a clear chain of command. However, I don’t think that is as potent as it may first seem. Rather than point to a modern example of Al Qaeda terrorist cells, let me share another story I picked up from ‘The Starfish and the Spider.’

Take the Spanish Army of the 16th century. They conquer the Incas and the Aztecs by marching in, cutting off the big cities and capturing and killing the leaders, Atahuallpa and Montezuma respectively. They take down the civilisations in two years.

Then take their assault on the Apache indians (their next target). Apaches weren’t structured the same as the other civilisations. They weren’t centralised, didn’t build towns and even if they did, they were such that if you took it down, they would just move out and settle somewhere else. They also had a shared political government. The only ‘leaders’ identifiable were what were called ‘Nant’ans’ who were cultural and spiritual leaders (Geronimo was one). As soon as the Spanish tried to kill these, others just rose up. They were important to inspire the people, but not indispensible because others could carry the story (the history of the people). if the Apaches decided to attack a Spanish settlement, they only had to talk about it in one place, spread the idea around, and you’d get local initiative acting spontaneously. The Spanish couldn’t beat it.

The Apache’s held out 200 years against the Spanish and were only conquered when the Spanish gave them cattle and farms. This automatically created a heirarchical structure and they they started to fight among themselves which led to their own destruction. Therein lies a tale.

When you consider the early church, we see the effects of this decentralisation. Persecution send the church out, sent them deep. You couldn’t kill it, it just grew like virus. Every person carried the story, the virus. The underground church in China is the same. Its outlawed and largely leaderless in the conventional sense yet inspite of that it grows because Jesus is Lord, the body function together and ‘pastors’ are working in apostolic roles, encouraging the small cells of believers.

Another picture. The institutional structure is like a train travelling on a set of tracks previously laid down but perhaps going a place where no-one wants to go or needs to go, all at great speed. The relational network structure is like a group of people out for a walk. They are ultimately slower, but they are more able to respond to the nuances of the terrain and able to go where the train can’t. Picture Jesus wandering around Gallile with a band of twelve! The point is that you gain flexibility and fluidity.

As Christendom crumbles, when the money isn’t there to pile into the massive stuctures we have set up around us (including paid ‘clergy’, buildings, programmes etc etc), we run the risk of collapse and we see this in our Army. If you take lack of money, increasing lack of heirarchical leaders (read officers) the whole structure begins to crack. The way to deal with this is not to stick our heads in the stand and hope that post-Christendom blows over (because it won’t). We need to re-evaluate and realign ourselves with a sustainable model which just so happens to find more root in New Testament as opposed to the Christendom clergy model.

The Army needs to be a leaner and meaner movement if it us to navigate the future. Corps need leaders who can help navigate the people through these changes at the level appropriate to the corps. For those of us in situations like mine (almost starting again from scratch), we need to adopt a new model from the start, and build these qualities into the nucleus for effective expansion. We need to prepare for the future now…but can we? More than that, will we?


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