Community serves a twofold place in the life of the Christian leader:
The healthy leader is built in community.
It is relatively easy to live victoriously when we are all by ourselves. The “spiritual lone ranger” is not tested as deeply as the man who lives in community. It is easy to be patient when no one is irritating us! It is when we come together that we have the opportunity to be patient, kind, forgiving and loving; to walk in servanthood and grace toward one another. As someone said, the Christian life would be easy if it weren’t for the devil and people! In reality, we only really mature and grow as Christians in the context of community.
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Prov. 27:17)
Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col. 3:9-14)
The leader is built in community. Jesus grew in community, subject to His parents and a part of the community around Him (Luke 2:41-52). Paul was built in community in the school of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) and then in the church after he was saved (Acts 9:19, 27). According to church tradition, even the somewhat individualistic John the Baptist matured in community.
The leader leads in the context of community (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-27).
The leader never grows to the point where he no longer needs vital relationships with others around him. Effective Christian leaders lead in a context of community – not as tough “ministry islands” off by themselves. In the body of Christ, no members are independent.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. (1 Cor. 12:12)
Jesus had friends and He needed them. Jesus needed their fellowship and support. He was grieved when they fell asleep in the garden (Matt. 26:36-45).
Paul also had friends, and they nurtured and strengthened him:
You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it. I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also… (1 Cor. 16:15-18)
Significantly, Stephanas was Paul’s own convert! Paul was not too proud to receive nurture and support from his own spiritual son. Onesiphorus also was a friend to Paul and strengthened him in “many ways,” doubtless including emotionally and spiritually (2 Tim. 1:16-18)
Romans 16:1-16 mentions several of Paul’s “dear” friends and even a spiritual “mother” in verse 13!
If Jesus, the Son of God, and Paul, the mighty apostle, needed friends, who are we that we do not? It is not a sign of strength to be by yourself in leadership. It is a mark of weakness. Leaders need friends!
Thus, community serves a twofold place in the life of the leader:
- The healthy leader is built in community.
- The healthy leader leads in community
This does not refer merely to an ideological commitment to “community” but to genuine, committed, nurturing and accountable relationships. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “He who loves community destroys community. He who loves the brothers builds community.”
Biblically, spiritual maturity is a corporate experience:
In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. (Eph. 2:21-22)
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:17-19)
…so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph. 4:12-13)
From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:16)
Healthy leadership does not exist as its own separate entity apart from or above the entire community. Neither should leader development exist as a separate entity apart from the entire church community.
The Entire Community Must Take Responsibility for Leader Development
In most Western organizations today, we love specialization and compartmentalization. Consequently, as we have already mentioned, it is common for us to entirely delegate the task of leader development to some “specialist” person or group – whether inside or outside the church. We identify the emerging leader who needs to be built and then send him to the “experts” to “do it” for us.
However, if it is to be done right, the existing leaders themselves must participate in the teaching and building of emerging leaders. They should not merely delegate this role to others. Leaders must personally act as coaches, role models, teachers and mentors. They must share their lives with those around them – their mistakes as well as their victories. True leaders are builders of leaders. Of course, as part of their general strategy of development, they may send the emerging leaders to a profitable training seminar or give them a good book to read, or receive advice or help from a consultant, etc., but they will not pass off the overall responsibility to anyone else. Leaders are best built by leaders in the context of normal life and ministry.
The ministry of an in-house learning community can be powerful, but it must be coupled with a broad responsibility across the church family to raise leaders.
Communities build leaders. It is not only the individual teaching or mentoring leader who is responsible for building the emerging leader. The entire church contributes to the growth of every new leader. In a variety of ways, a healthy church community works together (albeit not always consciously nor necessarily well) to give the emerging leader the experiences, challenges, learning opportunities, exposure to multiple leaders, role models, relationships, accountability, feedback, support, encouragement, prayer support, exchange of life, etc. that he or she needs.
I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. (Rom. 15:14)
… When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (1 Cor. 14:26)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Col. 3:16)
And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thess. 5:14)
The builder must take steps to establish and maintain the appropriate overall environment for optimal development. Building leaders means working with the entire community, not only with the emerging leaders themselves – during the formal building process and also after the formal process. The process of building leaders is never finished.
The learning community should not attempt to replace the spiritual community in the building process, but the two must work in tandem.
Therefore, the role of the spiritual community in building leaders is twofold:
- During any formal process, the community must take responsibility for and must participate in the process.
- After any formal process, the community must take responsibility for the ongoing (and never-ending) building of the emerging or existing leader.