I agreed to participate in The Church As Movement blog tour to highlight the new book by J.R. Woodward and Dan White because I assumed, even before reading it, that the book would be a great help to church planters. After finishing the book this morning, I can say unequivocally, that my assumption was correct. J.R. and Dan provide a solid theological foundation, as well as transferable tools to create steps for (as the subtitle states) “starting and sustaining missional-incarnational communities.”
In the future I will share from other sections of the book, but for this post I want to focus on chapter two, which is titled “Polycentric Leadership.” In this chapter J.R. and Dan critique the two extremes that most churches move towards; either a hierarchical or flat approach to leadership.
In the first approach they suggest that a hierarchical structure to leadership lends itself to controlling leadership, a programmatic and individualist approach to spiritual formation, and an extractional approach to mission. “That is, mission is often defined as inviting more people to church, which has a tendency to extract people out of their local context and often disconnects their contribution from their everyday context.” While this is certainly not the case in every situation where a hierarchical approach is employed, I do find it difficult to argue with their critique.
For some who have reacted negatively to hierarchical leadership, they have moved to a flat approach. But as they point out, a flat approach often falls flat. “Instead of controlling leadership, there is an absence of leadership. This typically produces an anti-institutional approach to spiritual formation and being the church, and often leads to instability and a confused and unfocused approach to mission.” Which most often leads to stagnation and little movement.
So what is the alternative to the two leadership extremes? It is what J.R. and Dan call Polycentric Leadership. To begin the discussion they provide a definition of polycentric leadership from Suzanne Mores. “Successful communities, even those with long traditions of organized community leadership, will continue to broaden the circles of leadership to create a system for the community that is neither centralized nor decentralized, but rather polycentric. The polycentric view of community leadership assumes that there are many centers of leadership that interrelate.”
So instead of a solo approach to leadership, it is shared. The beauty of polycentric leadership is that it includes a relational group of people who learn to share responsibility, engaging in both leading and following, giving time for each leader to be on mission. In contrast to the other two approaches, “polycentric leadership lends itself to a relational approach to leadership, a communal approach to spiritual formation and being the church, an incarnational and distributive approach to mission, and a multiplication approach to movement.” And when you combine these characteristics of polycentric leadership to the fivefold typology (APEST) found in Ephesians 4, we get much closer to realizing the church as movement. All of which I believe gets to the real essence of the church.
I can not recommend this book more highly. Every chapter is full of theological insight and practical help. You can also learn more about the book here.