01 May 2007

Gandhi: Leadership and the Church

I was inspired by Micheal Nagler, professor at Berkley who did a lecture on Gandhi and leadership. I was compelled to consider this as a ministry leader. These are my thoughts that emitted from the lecture.

Gandhi was clearly a leader, but he had a model for leadership to protect himself and his country from the fear of trading the English rule for some Indian rule that would be just as harsh. I think it's universal and even Biblical. These are three criteria for Gandhi:

1. Gandhi was willing to leave. He saw that the vision of a free India was more important than his status, so if the people wanted him to be replaced, he would have willingly done so. He served the people, they didn't serve him.

We should do the same. God gives us (as leaders) vision. People who share our heartbeat come along with us. If they feel the vision would be better achieved with someone else leading, then we should be willing to step aside for the greater vision to be fulfilled. This requires an enormous amount of trust, but the risk is even greater not to. Hold leadership with an open hand, willing to let it go.

2. Gandhi emerged as a leader from a state of crises in his country. In order to organize protests, spread his message, challenge the status quo, etc, a structure had to be put in place. Gandhi's belief was that when India was free, the structure should loosen into something more organic or holistic...a shared vision. This rarely happens however, as those who are in power, desire to stay there.

We should attempt to take the same approach in the church. In times of crises, leaders lead, and people look to leaders to do that. If the first principle holds true, then this second principle should naturally fall in place.

I would argue that on some degree the church is always in a state of crises. We are always living between heaven and earth, and pave the way from darkness to light. If you watch Babylon 5, think of the gray counsel or the rangers (yes, I AM a geek!).
As a result, some form of leadership is always needed. The Apostles were clearly the leaders in the early church. But it was also clearly an organic, subversive, relational movement; it did not have a CEO or political structure. So the leadership model is vastly different but still there.

The problem is that in a hierarchical top down structure (CEO, dictator, modern church, etc) tension has to be created to keep the rigid structure in place. I think it's our humanity. I believe we need to make a intentional effort to not allow that to happen, because the natural result is for it to happen. Once a structure is in place formed from need or crises, it's very hard to let go of it. Not just for the leaders, but for the followers. We've all seen leaders dictate, and we've all seen when there are no leaders, everyone just stares at the floor and nothing happens.

It is the leaders responsibility to create a culture that fosters a shared vision so that most participate and become a part of the overall vision. That is much harder than just taking the ship and steering it yourself. It's messy, it takes time, and it takes a changing of the ethos of a community to make it work. But I think the effort is worth it. Jesus is our leader. He gave His authority to His disciples as a shared leadership role, and that has been passed to us as members of all one body with Jesus as the head.

We literally have to create a culture of shared vision and a priesthood of all believers, all using our different gifts together for one common purpose. That isn't easy, but it's the goal. We should 'lead' ourselves out of job - so to speak.

3. Gandhi had no political or power ambition. He was propelled by great social concern for a people group, and took action. Others merely followed and he 'became' there leader in a natural, organic, relational way. He did not promote himself as a leader, he simply was one by the way he lived his life. Others easily followed, and he readily listened to them.

How true must that be for us. We don't have to proclaim ourselves as leaders, we simply are; and we simply are leaders - if people follow.

Lastly, I would add, that true leadership can only be achieved well if it is born out of true sacrificial love and humility. Gandhi loved India and her people. The people loved Gandhi. There was not selfish ambition or pride, just a shared desire to see a free people.

Why is it that Gandhi is a better model for us as Christian leaders, than many -not all 'Christian leaders'? We must repent, and seek God to change our hearts.

May we be like Gandhi.

May we be like Jesus, our servant king.



paul said...

Good thoughts bro. Although it is a bit different leading a revolution when you have a bigger enemy who you can see to appeal too as a means of unity and papering over difference. Although this is an argumenet adocated by c s lewis and Prof Andrew Walker that christians should unite more in the face of the mission and focus what they have in common rather than where they are seperate.

David said...

I agree Paul. My heart so much is for unity in the body (which doesn't mean uniformity,but at least gives us the understanding that we are all on the same side).
My last few sentences about many Christian Leaders were intended to be provocative in order to get us all to think.
For far too long we've maintained the status quo because we don't know any better. My hope is that we at least start asking some questions...
I personally still have problems with the form, but I realize the function of the form still works for many people and will for some time.
But with our rapidly changing culture in Western Civilization those numbers will continue to fall, and it's imperative we ask tough questions, see the gaps, and open our hearts to God in areas where we have 'missed the mark' and seek His will.
I'm becoming more of a believer in that although the modern church, top down, CEO model of leadership has worked for the past 500 years (or more), and that the Bible is not explicitly clear on what church leadership looks like, a more organic subversive, fluid approach, is closer to the heart of God, and certainly more effective to the post-modern generation.
I should be reminded that our demographic at Revolution is vastly different than what a 40 year old, conservative, middle-class family of five is looking for, and they need Jesus just as much as the pierced, 22 year old, intellectual.
But someday that 22 year old will be the 40 year old and the world will look more post-modern than it ever has.
If the body of Christ in Western Civilization doesn't take a long hard look at that, we'll become less and less relevant and more and more like an inbred social club.
And the change has to start with the leadership.

Wow it's early this morning, I hope that made sense. hehe.

Rupert Ward said...

Great post David. There is something about Ghandi that is inspirational, in a similar way that i find jesus inspirational - i think it is partly as they didn't use any of the ways that many leaders today use to get people to do thier will: violence, fear, initidation, guilt etc.

I love particularly, what you are saying about shared vision.

The other thought i had when reading was how different types of leadership seem to be required in different situations. And that, i find, is the hardest thing. I can't have a hard and fast rule that i always lead like xxx. But i need to be alert to each situation, and how best to serve, love and lead in that situation.

paul said...

i agree with you Dave and indeed rupert - i think the model changes but the nature of characture around god seeking, honest, serving remains... not to mention all their dark sides too :)

David said...

Well, with the 'dark side' you can shoot lightening bolts from your fingers which has a certain appeal...