In the Church, we formed tribes—or denominations—based on wanting commonalities in doctrine, in praxis, in values, and in culture.
Or as the proverb goes, birds of a feather flock together.
On the dark side, tribes can be exclusive: racism, classism, esotericism, and other “isms” can operate explicitly and implicitly within a tribal view of life.
Perhaps, though, the longing for communitas, for belonging, is baked into our spiritual DNA. After all, before creation there was community existing in the Triune God, and so maybe “let us make humanity in our own image” became the carbon-based operating system.
But for me, there is a deeper, perhaps more subtle and personal reason for a tribe and it has to do with authority.
Even simply writing that word makes me wince and question myself.
Being an aging baby boomer who wore black arm bands in high school to protest the Vietnam war, who expressed solidarity with a counter-culture, and who argued before school boards to repeal its ‘no hair touching the collar” dress code back in the day, I fought and struggled with authority and the often myopic (in my young eyes) stances of leaders.
But then I had an encounter with the Holy Spirit and became a Jesus freak. And that launched a transformation in my poor discombobulated neurons.
Once one surrenders their will to God, there is no question of who has the authority: He’s got it all. But that also plays out in the Church, Christ’s body. An ecclesiological governance was so developed in the early church that the writer of Hebrews insists:
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. HEBREWS13:17
Even more so, Paul asserts his own authority throughout his letters to different “lead pastors”. His instructions to Timothy and Titus have more than a simple mentoring feel to them. He instructs Titus to appoint pastors for local churches in Crete, implying levels of a leadership hierarchy across the whole Church. But in our American Protestant cultures, we are fiercely independent and autonomous.
I have been part of both an independent church as well as a denominational one. I’ve spent a chunk of time thinking through the role of authority in ecclesiology beyond the local church. And honestly, it wasn’t always easy for me to acquiesce to local church authority structures.
But I think I find an element of safety and accountability in being a part of something more than just an “association” or “network” of churches. Don’t get me wrong: I totally love the idea of like-minded churches who are similar in mission and vision. But I think something is missing in that.
In the end, I find myself wanting to be in systems of leadership…and I find it difficult to believe we can have accountability in leadership without real authority structures. Please understand: I’m not into entrepreneurial-strangling, institutionally-heavy, bloated bureaucracies. But how do we ask our people to be fully invested and yet we leaders of local churches are resistant to it ourselves?
I may not totally agree with everything my tribe does, but it seems healthy to learn to live out submission in “real life” beyond the spiritualized idea of “just me and Jesus”. And it seems disingenuous that as a senior pastor, I wanted that in my own church but had little desire for it in my relationships with a larger church system.
Something seems amiss with that. But that’s just my opinion.
Do you have one?
Dave Workman | The Elemental Group