rethinking the leaders meeting

I had a recent conversation and subsequent email exchange with a friend about having a “leaders” gathering for a couple days sometime in the coming months. The friend is someone I respect, someone who is like us and gathers regularly in a natural, simple way in homes. I’ve mocked up the email exchange a bit to remove unnecessary and personal detail, but kept it true to what transpired between us. I welcome your interaction on this:

Friend: Dear Page, I believe it’s God’s leading to gather “leaders” of the simple church concept in the area together to meet for a couple days. These would be people who demonstrate an “apostolic” gifting, with influence on more than one group in this geographical area. It would be to get better acquainted and come to a place where we can really love and trust one another. The gathering would be a time to get our hearts more together – fellowship, sharing, prayer, worship, etc.

I recognize that you and some others have emphasized wanting to expand the invite to a broader representation of those currently meeting in groups in the area, but after more thought and prayer, I still feel that the Lord has clearly said “leaders.” So my thought is that we start with a leaders meeting for a couple days, and then this would be followed by a couple days with the broader group of those actually meeting in groups now.

Please give it some thought and prayer and let me know your thoughts.

Page: Dear friend, I hope you wont take offense, but as you’ll see, I am not in favor of going forward with the ideas as proposed. This whole subject of “leaders” has been central to the the very intentional detoxing out of old wineskins, if you will, that we’ve been actively doing for many years now.

For your thoughts:

  • How is your use of the title “leaders” any different from what the Lord said not to do in Matt 23:8+? He knew how our flesh loves to be stroked, and I would sugget that it’s impossible for people in such a gathering to NOT feel that flesh stroking sensation which comes from being included.
  • Do you see any examples in scripture of the thinking and activity that you are suggesting?
  • What would be the anticipated outcome of such a meeting of so-called “leaders”? Personally, as I consider any conceivable, desired, outcome of a broader group of the saints (mutual encouragement, building trust/rapport/relationship among the saints – the main tracks that God’s kingdom here on earth should be running on, clarity in hearing the Lord together, recognizing and fanning into flames that which the Lord is doing among us, the various ministries of the Holy Spirit to and through us, worshipping and ministering to the Lord because he is so worthy, gaining vision for what he is doing in the bigger picture than where we each live, on and on), all of them are better served, and consistent with the new wineskins God is bringing us into, if we gather the whole body.
  • You have emphasized that the Lord has given you this guidance, and it would appear that this is at least part of the justification for why you’d like us to be agreeable. If you think this through, in it’s simplest form, that boils down to “I’ve heard from the Lord, so follow me in this” – which is from the old wineskin that the Lord is moving us out of, and which I know you don’t want to perpetuate. So I observe a mixed message.
  • I believe that how the Lord leads our lives is part-and-parcel with his gifting in us and purposes for us. We’re not uninvolved, robotic obeyers, but are coming into the fulfillment of his purposes for us as we obey his promptings – it’s all one combined purpose. (I’m sure you’d agree with this) But we always see in part, and it’s designed that we be in the context of the body to know the whole story. Thus, we in our gathering over the years, are learning to come into God’s purposes for us – be they apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral, teaching, etc. – in the context of the loving, collaborative environment of the body of Christ. I believe that God is redefining how the whole concept of leadership is worked out among the church. Who’s leading this? He is. It’s hard not to fill pages with all the ways to say it, but what you’ve suggested – cherry picking a few people from the area to give them special place, pulling them out of the context of the body that knows them best, and suggesting that the kingdom of God is advanced among us this way – is inconsistent with what he’s been showing us.
  • I would suggest a fluid understanding of how the Lord raises up his gifts among a group of saints to accomplish his purposes. Any available servant can exemplify any of the gifts, and if one won’t, then he’ll move on to another. And it’s usually several who are moving in an area of gifting, some perhaps more than others, at any given time. Also, the manifestation of the gifting will look different in each, and man may not always recognize it as such till eyes are opened. While some may always demonstrate certain strengths, I’ve observed that the gift mix demonstrated in people can change over time – either as greater healing and wholeness happens to us, or perhaps the Lord’s purposes in us individually and corporately takes new turns. For example, some people who never saw themselves as pioneers are becoming such out of necessity. As we all grow up together in the context of healthy body-life, our eyes are getting opened and people are constantly discovering new ways God wants to heal them, minister to them, mature them and use them for his purposes. New vision and passion is awakened, old promises and desires start to be fulfilled, impartations from the Lord happen among us – all this is the beautiful way the Holy Spirit grows us up together, giving us abundant lives, and accomplishing the work of his kingdom on earth. But this whole picture unravels when man attempts to take the helm by doing the humanly-natural things, such as calling out certain people over others, giving them special place and purpose (from man, not from God), and all those things that are critical for accomplishing earthly purposes (eg, worldly businesses and governments), but confuse matters greatly when mixed with the work of God’s kingdom. It’s my opinion that there is massive blindness among the church in this area, and much of it rooted in “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life.” But something like scales is falling from the collective eyes of the church, and we’re starting to see.
  • Another word about gifts – there’s no indication that we have a complete list in the scriptures. There’s no two places where the same ones are listed, no attempt to bound that list, and Jesus clearly indicated that when he left earth and the Holy Spirit came he would take the church on into more of him. While some generalities can be made about what certain gifts look like, each person is a unique work of God, a mixture of various gifts, and constantly being matured into more of their calling. Thus, each person becomes a new definition of a “gift of God.” And it’s my sense that we’re in a time when it’s very helpful to the body if we actively seek removal of boundaries not ordained by God, which is that spirit of freedom that Jesus took everywhere he went, and seek him for the stirring up of all the gifts for the sake of his purposes. In the same way, let’s let go of the old and familiar where God has not clearly instructed us. I’m finding a fresh look at the life and times of the new testament church is quite revealing.

To sum it up, what you’ve proposed does not align well with the path that we, along with several other families in the area, have been on in recent years. In a previous “leaders” meeting that I participated in – while it was a delight to meet the folks – I couldn’t help feeling like we would come to know people better, and have a more meaningful time among us, if people were in the context of the body of Christ around them who know them.

In our gatherings here, we do not find ourselves using the term “leaders” or setting any gifted persons apart from others. We are finding we all grow into our callings as we do it together, in a setting of loving, supportive relationships. And as we consider next steps, the clearest seems to be reaching out more broadly to those around us and inviting all to come together for mutual encouragements, ministry of the Spirit, hearing the Lord together, prayer, worship, etc. – much like you have proposed, but all inclusive of the body.

For example, what about each area simply expanding to do local gatherings of the churches among those gathering near them? Reach out to all we can find in each of our respective areas. These could be done on a regular basis, and word will start to get out, and it could become a very meaningful venue. Include people who are seeking so that they may get connected with existing groups near them, have a place to talk about it all and ask questions, and get inspired to start their own groups. This seems like the kind of thing that would lead to expanding the kingdom right around us. Afterwards we could send around the good report of all that God did and revealed in the experience. As we do this in gradually larger groupings, the Lord will bring wisdom and maturity to know how best to do the larger areas.

Friend: Dear Page, thanks for your thoughts. Regarding the whole subject of “leaders” I don’t have any problem with not using that word, but I have never seen a group of people that in time did not have “leaders” – those with that gifting arise to the surface. The early church didn’t seem to have a problem with terms like “elders” and “apostles” – Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23, etc. Perhaps we are over-reacting to our time in the institutional church.

I still believe strongly that those of apostolic influence in the area need to come together for some time to get better acquainted and become more accountable to one another. That is not to say what you or others might choose to be part of. In my heart I consider you free to follow the Lord – and I know you have the same thought toward us. And I am also open to some type of gathering of “representatives” of groups as we discussed. Or maybe by regions as you have mentioned – that actually sounds quite good to me.

Page: Dear Friend, I agree that we want all to be free to follow what they believe the Lord has called them to do. Only then is our hearing and obeying perfected. The balance is that we must always be free to share our thoughts among us collectively, with no silencing of true-heart voices. He gave the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to the collective “you” of the body – Eph 1:17. I see no problem here among us, which is great.

I think it would be revealing to look further into how and when elders in the NT played a role. I believe it’s nothing like what today’s religious systems do, and therefore what most of us likely have burned into our unspoken assumptions. Gene Edwards and Frank Viola have probably written on the subject, maybe you’ve read them. Either way, we need to let the Lord birth again the essence of what he wants to do in every age and location, and trust him to show us not just the “what to do” but “how to do it.” I’m sure you’d agree.

You’ve raised a few value points for a proposed “leaders” meeting such as getting acquainted, accountability, and growing to love and trust each other. In my response to this, I’m likely to read more into it than you meant, but it touches on something I think God’s finger is really on right now, and is very central to our story of detoxing from the traditional church ways.

It’s my view that real accountability is born out of trusting, honest relationships that only happen from investing significant time together where eventually all aspects of each other’s lives come to bear – family, work, spiritual matters, areas of personal growth, the good/bad/ugly, etc. Hopefully, everyone gets the opportunity in this life to have a group of people where this can happen. I would suggest that a once-in-awhile gathering of some people, picked because of a particular bent or gifting, will not breed this in any significance, and is not something I would even try to accomplish. Until we have more relationship maturity among us, my experience is that these times will often breed more “posing” than realness, even among the best of us. This is another one of those areas where I believe there’s massive blindness in the church. All too often we have spent ourselves – pouring enormous amounts of time, energy, resources – into trying to quickly “manufacture” a resemblance of a desired end, such as the experience of true community. But that which isn’t real is eventually brought into the light, and it crumbles to bits. Instead, we should have been paying the price to see the genuine article come to fruition by the Lord’s ways, in the Lord’s timing. The church has done herself and those around her a great disservice. What the world where we live desperately needs is a people who will take time to let real relationships happen under the shepherding leadership of Jesus Christ. We’re seeing it now, but it’s taking time, and it’s taking all the different gifts in all the different people working it out together. But God is not in a hurry.

What I believe God is after is seeing that true, relational maturity rise up among his followers. This is changing our lives, and it will change all aspects of how the church operates when we gather. Until this has good momentum on the smaller scale, group by group, I’m probably not going to have much energy for the larger gatherings where we come away feeling like we lost ground in this area instead of gained it. In our gathering here, it used to feel like we were a tiny blade of grass in this department, poking it’s head out of the ground, quite vulnerable to being crushed if someone was too reckless. Now it feels like we’re a stronger blade and there’s a couple others nearby (there’s probably a lot more than we know). In time, there will be tons of strong blades and you can play football on them. But I don’t care how long it takes, and I’m quite certain I’ll never see the fullness in my lifetime that I envision. But that’s not the point, is it? The point is that Jesus gets the bride he’s after, and that we each do our part. John 17:4 is a life verse for me. I’d rather let things take the right amount of time and let God grow the grass field rather than waste any more years in the “quick-fix” mentality and have nothing but a dirt lot to show for it at the end.

Friend: Dear Page, Thanks for your thoughts – you have certainly given these matters a lot of thought! I agree that there is a tendency to “hurry” relationships and do programs to produce results in the traditional church. And I agree that there are some things that God is after that take time – much time. And I agree that there are some things that only take place when one is “in community.” I have been in several such environments over the years.

But I do not see that this precludes the good that can come out of some of us getting together for a couple of days, which I believe God has place on my heart. We are really talking about two separate items.

One is a gathering of those (apostolic) who have influence with more than one group in the area – to get better acquainted, come to a place where we can more fully love and trust one another, and be more accountable to one another. (I believe that apostles need to be accountable to other apostles). This is the gathering that I believe God has placed on my heart.

The second is a gathering of house church groups or representatives of groups. I like the suggestion that this might best be done by each area. This is not what God has put on my heart but something you and others may want to follow up on.

Page: Dear Friend, I appreciate your tenacity :-). And while yes, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on these things, I do appreciate the opportunity to articulate the thoughts, which is forcing me to package them up in some way that makes sense to someone else – so thanks for that!

I’m going to differ with you regarding the downside of certain types of gatherings (and activity in general) that are too much of the old wineskin. As mentioned earlier, I do believe that we can actually lose ground this way instead of gain it.

To your last point, my response is to reiterate that people of apostolic gifting, like any other gifting, are best held accountable in the context of the whole body of Christ around them, who know them, and have developed the kinds of relationships where real accountability happens. And I’m unconvinced there’s good from pulling out a “VIP” crowd from the rest of the body. These “leaders meetings” are certainly an old phenomenon, but they just aren’t what we see God doing among us here, and I see mostly trouble in them until God brings more wisdom and revelation to how he’s perfecting his way of leadership among us.

I agree that there’s some kind of larger-area gathering that will happen among the body that will bring great encouragement, and I have longed for this too. But I’m not willing to forsake what we’ve gained at the smaller level, that I believe is critical for the broader body to get to where God is taking us. So I am compelled to stay the course.

Let’s keep the love and relationships going!