Lance Ford is another one of those guys that I wish I could hang out with for a while. I've read his blog posts, books and followed how the Spirit has been leading him for quite some time. So, it shouldn't come as a suprise to him or you (for that matter) that when Lance released his latest book, Unleader, that I would pick it up and have some words to say about it. I've reflected before this on the celebrity culture that has been built in "churchworld" here in America. In fact, if you follow THIS LINK to read what I've posted in the past.
I simply don't believe Lance is onto something…I KNOW he is putting his finger on a pulse that, once we "read" it, will bring some discomfort to a plethora of people and insitutional church structures. I grew up in a denomination that didn't necessarily "celebritize" its leaders but definitely had a theological system that put pastoral leaders on an ecclesiastical pedestal. Truth is, I fought the whole "ordination" thing in my own life trying to resolve the inner tension I felt NOT about the process of call and service but the inevitable issues that come along with the pastoral office. In the denomination that I serve there is STILL a wall of or an inherent "cultural" divide between the "clery" and the "laity." In fact, simply using those words brings to bear a definitive separation that eventually deteriorates into an "us vs. them" or a sense that one is better than the other dyamic. The truth is a person can talk about the Body of Christ all day…they can discuss how God has gifted everyone with specific gifts for ministry…they can discuss the economy of God's will in community all they want. Even so, as soon as someone is given a title, a special set of clothes and a task that is exclusive from the rest of the Body, inevitably there are bound to be issues. One of the reasons has to do with pure imagery…again, what we say is contradicted by praxis, that being, action that is rendered the exclusive territory of the ecclesiastical elect. There is a sense alive and well in today's Christian community that the "pastor" is someone that is MORE special in God's eyes, has more of an important call than the average Christ-follower and, in some sense, is looked upon and listened to more by God. If it wasn't so sad I would be tempted to laugh when someone specifically asks me to pray for a situation that they would never, ever share with another person…not because of confidentiality but because they believe I have a "hotline" to God.
Anyway, Lance comes along with this new book, Unleader. I'm about a third of the way through it. To say that there are sections that are truly prophetic would be an understatement. Now, I'm not talking about predictive prophecy when I mentioned the word, "prophetic." What I am saying is that God used prophetic voices to unmask distortions, blind spots and false idols within people's lives while at the same time, calling them to repentance. That's what I feel is Lance's spirit in this book. Many will badmouth him because they might sense he is "out of line." Others will marginalize his words because they have too much at stake to take him seriously. But truthfully, these are words that need to be heard and on which to meditate. Every spiritual "leader", every pastor is tempted to fall into their own sub-culture of celebrity (whether that celebrity draws dozens or thousands).
I think I stand with Lance in saying that I'm "over" the leadership talks and conferences. While I have grown in my sensitivity to God's voice and to how He speaks in and through the Word, people and circumstances, I think that Lance nails it when he talks more about "followership" than leadership. In the second chapter when Lance quotes Rousseau ("God created man in his own image. And man returned the favor") I knew that I was in trouble. There have been times in my life where I have been MORE interested in growth in ministry whether with individuals or institutional systems where I know now in hindsight that my motives were NOT on God. I don't think anybody these days desires anything else but celebrity. The trappings of book deals, public buzz, and adoring fans are difficult to withstand no matter how spiritually mature a Christ follower is. Most of us feel that we're pretty humble until you put us in front of a big crowd over time…then it breaks down the best of us.
I believe Lance is going to make a power move to the "basket" of servanthood and followership over/against leaderdom. I've already seen hints of that in the opening chapters. So far, all I can say is "thank you" Lance. What's good about the book is that it is not filled with condemnation or naivete. It is honest, forthright and truthful. In addition, it drives to the point of what every Jesus follower's life is supposed to be about – servanthood in all areas of life. I smiled when Lance wrote,
"If you want to help me be a better leader…take me to your server, not your leader."
Now, let's not get too weird with this, OK? I don't believe Lance is blasting or demeaning or attempting to pull the leadership gifting out of the Body of Christ. In my humble opinion, looking at the issue of ecclesiastical leadership is a lot like analyzing the issue of "women" in ministry and roles in marriage. You can view this discussion as an egalitarian, complimentarian or from a heirarchical/authoritarian perspective. I suspect Lance is looking at this issue from a complimentarian perspective…you see, leadership is good, leadership is necessary SANS celebrity, narcissism, power/control hunger and obession, all the other issues that transform once tender servants into "Jesus Jerks" (Lance's phrase, not mine – unfortunately!). Anyway, pick the book up and read it. Even if you are NOT in leadership, you might want to take a look at it and then join in prayer…pray for your leaders and for the Spirit's deconstruction of any tendency or temptation for them to fall into being a "leaderholic" (again, Lance's words, good words indeed). By the way, if you don't like what I said, read Bill Kinnon's take on the book – Bill is smarter and better looking than me!