The Post-Leadership-Church?: a book review

As critical as I am of ‘leadership’ literature, I read a lot of it. I have issues with the way Chrisitian leadership has demeaned the laity and treated them as second-class-Christians but I also think that ‘leadership’ is important. Author Jon Zens thinks we’ve subverted the New Testament by attending churches with paid clergy who are set apart from the laity. The New Testament has something like fifty-eight ‘one another’ passages that encourage us to care for one another, love one another, bear one another’s burdens, etc. By making ‘ministry the responsibility of a paid leader, and setting him (and let’s be honest, it is mostly a ‘him’) in charge, we have absolved the church of their ethical and communal responsibility.

In 58 to 0: How Christ Leads through the One Anothers, Zens  and Graham Woods (editors) make the case that Christian authority is never top down but communal. They also see the clergy/laity divide as the inheritance of a Constantinian settlement. Prior to emperor Constantine, the ecclesiology of the church was flatter and less top down. Zen argues that Constantine imparted a two-tier Christianity where the ‘serious Christians’ were the clergy and the laity were everyone else. Zen and Woods draw on the writings of an impressive list of Christian writers in making their case for a flat ecclesiology. These include: Hans van Campenhausen, Judy Schindler, Bruce Davidson, Darryl Erkel, Hendrik Hart, Russ Ross, Lawrence Burkholder, R.L. Wysong, Norbert Ward, Kat Huff, Stephen Crosby, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, H.L. Mencken, John Howard Yoder, and Frank Viola.  Still most of the chapters in this book come from Zen’s pen. Despite the title and subtitle of this book, this book is more about the nature of church and leadership than it is about exploring the ‘one anothers’ Zens and Woods speak more about the ‘one-anothers’ evocatively than substantively.

I certainly resonate in part with the message of this book. I think that ‘ministry’ is the purview of  the church not the select few. It bothers me when church life is centered around the life of the pastor and he (male pronoun again!) makes the decisions for everyone. Still, as someone who feels called to pastoral work (with a wife also so-called and gifted) I think Clergy has its place. I think Zen’s is a little too dismissive of the role of clergy. In a particular place and with a particular community, having someone dedicated to caring for the community and providing direction is important and helpful. I am grateful for pastors who have been able to dedicate themselves to prayer and nurture of the church.

I think there is a prophetic edge to this book which makes it worth reading. Too often those who proclaim ‘the priesthood of all believers’ do not really believe it. They enshrine a senior pastor and treat his (masculine pronoun again-ouch!) word as gospel-truth. The truth is the church is more characterized by mutuality than hierarchy. Often denominational structures and ‘church structures’ obscure this. For this reason I think that Zen and Woods offer a good corrective. However I still think, that leadership and Clergy have their place. If not as direct ‘authority’ the clergy person is someone able to dedicate themself prayerfully to the spiritual growth of those in the community. I am grateful for pastoral leaders who have been able to give time and attention (through a salary!) to nurturing me and helping me to minister in Jesus name to the wider community. I give this book 3 and a half stars

Notice of Material connection: I received an electronic copy of this book for the purposes of review. I was not asked to write a positive review, just an honest one.

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