As a church planter in a community that is attempting to be more relational and organic, Parker Palmer’s words on leadership really strike a chord. He argues that it’s in the less rigidly defined community that leadership is most important not in the structured and hierarchical system:
Unfortunately, our idea of leadership has been deformed by a myth that links leadership to hierarchy, as if leaders were needed only in systems that operate from the top down. But when we are in “community” — which, at a turn of the kaleidoscope, evokes the romance of an instinctive life together — we can dispense with a designated leader, allowing the role to pass spontaneously from one person to the next. Or so goes the myth.
Yet in my experience, a community requires more leadership than a hierarchy does. A hierarchy has clear goals, a well-established division of labor, and a set of policies about how things are supposed to run; if the machine is well designed and well lubricated, it can almost run itself. A community is a chaotic, emergent, and creative force field that needs constant tending. And when a community’s aims are countercultural, as they are in a circle of trust, its need for tending is even greater. Lacking a leader grounded in the principles, skilled at the practices, and granted the authority to lead, a circle of trust will fail because the relational culture it requires is so rare and so fragile. (Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness, pg. 76)
Palmer writes about circles of trust, which are similar to a particular type of sharing-oriented small group. His comments about leadership in these circles of trust resonate deeply with my experience in church communities. When relationships replace rules for dictating the way we relate to one another in community, the role of the leader becomes even more important. Her job isn’t to simply hold up the rules and make sure everyone sticks to them. Her job is to be in relationship with the people and shape the culture of the community so that love prevails in everything. A good reminder of the importance of leaders to shape culture.