This week I’ve been writing about the concept of “skin in the game” and how it relates to the Kingdom of God.
Today, I want to look at one of the most crucial areas for believers to have skin in the game: leaders.
Leaders are a funny thing in the body of Christ. Some people get angry that I acknowledge that they exist. Others get mad when I say that not everyone who calls themselves a leader is one. The truth comes down to skin in the game.
Yes, leaders exist. But not everyone who calls themselves a leader is one. Neither is everyone who is called a pastor, bishop, elder, or apostle a leader. Leadership is determined not by who has a title, but who is leading. The critical element to understand about leading is that it’s not primarily a title or a position. Leading is a verb.
Leading happens when people do something that others haven’t. Leaders are those who pave the way for others, allowing them to do what they couldn’t on their own. Because of this, only the people who have skin in the game are truly leading. It’s impossible to lead people in teaching the Bible if you have a weak understanding of what the Bible says. Only people with skin in the game can truly lead.
I could give a million examples of this, but let me start with one outside of the body of Christ.
Silicon Valley has been in the forefront of developing the technology that powers our smart phones, tablets, and the rest of our internet-connected world. These changes to society have particularly affected our children. However, when you poll those who are leading these changes to society and ask them whether they allow their children to have access to the technologies they develop, the answer is a resounding “no.” While these leaders profit from people being in front of “screens,” they know the harm that screens have on the development of children, and in a very real sense, they don’t have their “skin in the game.”
The opposite is true of every real leader in the body of Christ. In any way that a leader wants to make progress in the church, he or she must allow that work to be done in him or her prior to leading others. This costly process is the definition of skin in the game.
Christian leadership material abounds with admonitions to leaders that they must model the change they want to see. Leaders who want to see a group of people reach the lost must model the evangelistic heart they want to see others adopt. Pastors who teach submission to the body of Christ, must themselves submit, not just to a bishop or board, but to the body of Christ. Leaders cannot just tell the rest of body to serve. They need to serve and as they do, the body of Christ will respond and follow in their example of service.
Leaders can’t ask the body of Christ to do what they’re not willing to do themselves. Leaders can’t lead through slick speeches. That’s not leadership, it’s dictatorship. It lacks skin in the game. Skin in the game takes time, patience, and faith, and for those reasons, many make the mistake of pursuing other ways to lead. When they do, they step outside of God’s plan for His Kingdom.
Brothers and sisters, I leave this series the same way I started it:
“Have skin in the game.
Partner with others who have skin in the game.
Don’t waste a lot of time and energy on those who don’t.”
[Editor’s Note: If you’re just joining us, we are in the middle of reading through “The Starfish and the Spider” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. Each Monday and Thursday I’ll summarize a few important principles from a chapter in the book. Each Tuesday and Friday, I’ll apply those principles to the starfish-shaped church I believe the Lord is building in the Earth.]
Yesterday we spent some time looking at peer to peer (P2P) file sharing networks and how they were able to not just take on but thrive under opposition from large corporations like MGM. The secret, as Brafman and Beckstrom point out, can be found in the decentralized nature of the movement. They learned this from learning the history of Apache’s long fight against the Spaniards, who were a larger, more centralized army. The key to remember here is that decentralized movements, when attacked by larger and more centralized opponents, spread further and grow stronger.
So…how does this apply to the church?
First, the church of Jesus Christ is a peer to peer network. What does that mean? It means that Jesus encouraged us to look at each other as never being above another. He calls us in Scripture to mutual edification, mutual submission, and mutual sharing in ministry (1 Thessalonians 5:11, Ephesians 5:19-22,1 Corinthians 14:26). Jesus Himself told us that we should see ourselves as equals, not superior to each other (Matthew 23:8). Paul wrote the book of Romans to a group of believers who needed to hear his message, but also hoped to grow by receiving from their spiritual gifts (Romans 1:11-12).
This equality in Christ creates a peer to peer network that we call the church. As the church lives its life together and meets together for encouragement, giftings emerge that help form the body into the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). This happens on a micro level within individual churches but also on a larger level between churches. Each individual church relates to other existing churches as peers that help each other and encourage each other into the ways of the Kingdom. We see this in Scripture in the way the Antioch church takes up offerings for the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11) or the way in which the Philippians partner with Paul for the advance of the Gospel in other places (Philippians 4:14). All of this can and should happen without a person directing it, but by the leadership of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Am I saying there’s no human initiative or leadership that happens within the church? Absolutely not. However, I think where we see leadership in Scripture, it is much more like the Nant’ans of the Apaches than the CEO of Starbucks or Walmart.
Who were the Nant’ans? They were spiritual and social leaders. They had the respect of those around them for their spiritual lives and for the wise choices they made. Apaches weren’t told what to do by the Nant’ans. Apaches decided to follow Nant’ans based watching their lives and seeing the outcome from it.
Who are the leaders in the body of Christ? It’s not those with a title that tell people what to do. It is those that have a true walk with Christ. They are those who give their lives to serving the body of Christ. Over a (short or long) period of time, the body sees the wise example in their lives and give themselves to following the examples of these believers (see Hebrews 13:7-8, 1 Timothy 3:2-7, 1 Corinthians 11:1).
Why is all of this important? Centralized leadership can cause a society to thrive. It certainly did for the Aztecs and the Incas and to a certain degree, it has worked for the legacy church. But take out a King or an Emporer and often the whole society falls apart. Over-dependence on centralized structures can look like a blessing until it’s not. How many mega churches have been devastated by the fall of their charismatic preacher? How many denominations with bishops and seminaries have fallen into grave heresy?
Most importantly, the testimony of our brothers and sisters in other countries tells us that a decentralized church not only survives under persecution–it thrives. Leaders can and are often jailed or killed. The decentralized nature of the church in those places allows for new leaders to step up into their place immediately. House churches that are split up because the threat of persecution multiply into more house churches and reach more people. They stay small enough to be undetected which means they stay small enough to care for each other like a family. Like a starfish torn in two that becomes two starfish, a church ravaged by persecution often multiplies into more than one house church. It’s why we say the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.
This decentralized nature of the church will take on more importance as we begin to understand the difference between starfish and spider organizations. These two are often at war with each other.
More on that on Monday…
Other Entries in this Series Include:
I regularly encourage people to begin meeting in homes, encouraging each other, witnessing to lost people, and making disciples. I do this because I see it as the apostolic pattern in the New Testament. As I’ve encouraged people to take these steps, I’ve seen two very distinct responses: One group seems to submit more and more to Jesus and biblical truth, the other group throws out the baby with the bathwater.
Having watched people, this transition is hard. Tradition (buildings, sermons, clergy, etc.) rather than the Lordship of Christ has been what has “kept people in line” for most of their lives. This realization that the tradition doesn’t have the support of the New Testament can cause people to throw off all restraints, including God-ordained ones. So not only do they get rid of buildings, sermons, and clergy, but they throw out sound doctrine, Scriptural purity, any kind of spiritual discipline, and commitment to other believers. These are quickly ship-wrecked in their walk with the Lord, because they aren’t just getting rid of traditions, they are getting rid of Christ’s lordship over their lives.
Which brings us to the topic of anarchy. The idea of anarchy is borrowed from the realm of government. It means a society without a government or more specifically a land not ruled by a king. The Church for a long time has submitted to illegitimate heads (think the Pope or abusive evangelical leadership structures) but the cure for the church is not “losing its heads.” The cure isn’t anarchy. The cure for the church is recovering submission to its true head: Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 5:23).
Instead of anarchy, instead of calling believers to throw off all restraint, our task is to call men and women to submit to Christ more fully and express that in ways that grow ever closer to the pattern we see in Scripture. We’re not looking for anarchy. We’re looking for the true headship of Christ expressed in His body. This is more like a reformation, where the very operating system of the church is reformatted and brought closer to it’s original design, than a free-for-all where we can pick and choose what parts of the Gospel we like or not.
So let’s test our previous assumptions. But let’s test them, not in the light of “doing whatever is right in our own eyes,” (Judges 17:6) but in relationship to Christ’s Lordship that we understand through a diligent and faithful study of God’s word. Let’s submit to the Kingship of God and find life and power beyond our understanding. Let’s pursue a reformation of the church and the removal of illegitimate kings, but let’s not throw away the kingship. Let’s just give it to the Man who deserves it: Jesus.