“I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” – Brene Brown
Institutional religion has successfully redefined and recreated leadership in its own image. 2,000 years of institutional religion has given us the CEO version of leaders and leadership where a leader is someone in charge who is to be submitted to and obeyed and failure to submit and obey is met with punishments in various forms such as public shaming, shunning, and excommunication, etc. In this type of institutional top-down authority structure, power flows down while money flows up and conformity to the pre-set rules is met with rewards while non-conformity is met with punishments. The institution must survive regardless of who gets hurt along the way. We’ve come to call this good and acceptable leadership. We’re wrong.
There are a couple of passages in Hebrews 13 that those within institutional settings often quote to us as proof texts for submitting to leaders and obeying leaders because (it is reasoned) the leader is in a power position and the one(s) in charge who must be submitted to. The passages in question are Hebrews 13:7.
This is part 2 of a multi-part series I’ve called Rethinking Religion. To see all the posts so far, click the Rethinking Religion category in the sidebar.
We talked last time about how in his zeal to detour divisions in the church, Ignatius set in place a false structure of authoritative leadership designed to dole out punishments for non-compliance and rewards for compliance. This hierarchy of authority that Ignatius implemented, centered around pastors and in particular, the one pastor model, was firmly in place by the mid-third century and is still with us in most institutional churches today, where there is a top-down authority structure in place and one person at the top, steering the ship. There are certain functions within the assembly that Ignatius arbitrarily decided can only be performed by the church’s sole lead pastor which is why he could say,
“Let no one do anything in the church apart from the bishop. Holy communion is valid when celebrated by the bishop or someone the bishop authorizes. Where the bishop is present, there let the congregation gather, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the church.” Letter to Smyrna (ca. AD 110)
But this idea is foreign to the New Testament, man-made, and comes to us via tradition alone. There is no biblical reason for such thinking. Note Jesus’ words that we alluded to at the end of Part One in this series: