a solution to church leadership problems

I am constantly reading and involved in conversations about how to do church in this era, and the conversations invariably turn to ideas about church leadership. And often, it can seem like folks are trying to put new wine in old wineskins by trying to lead postmoderns with the same old methods, just with a heightened cool factor. It can become discouraging.

Church leadership matters because it shapes the “being” of a church, sometimes more than Jesus does if we are not careful. Personality cults, controllingness, lack of teachability, fear of creativity – all are dangers that can be birthed from positions of power. Little did I know – an important line from the movie Stranger Than Fiction, in which Prof. Jules Hilbert teaches an entire course on “little did he know” because of what it implies – Ok, so…. little did I know that I would come upon an awesome solution to the problems of church leadership in a most unlikely place during a recent vacation to Mexico.

My husband and I had the opportunity to tour the ruins of Chichen Itza, on the Yucatan Penisula. Chichen Itza is now the ruins of an ancient and huge Mayan city. It is stunning in its architectural achievements and beauty. The main temple, which also functions as a remarkably accurate calendar, stands proudly in the middle of it all. Among the ruins is the Great Ball Court, in which a sacred game was played that involved getting a rubber ball (guessed to weigh about 6-8 pounds) into a small hoop using only elbows and knees. I can’t imagine how difficult that would be. Fortunately, it took only one point to win the game. The tour guide said that these details are controversial, as the Mayans neglected to leave a rule book for us. But according to one theory, the captain of the winning team was decapitated at the end of the game. It was a great honor and a reward for his hard work and fine leadership and team building skills.


ball court "ring" through which the winning point is scored

The parallels to church leadership issues are obvious. No, really. It is because, as the theory goes, the ego was thought to reside in the head. To be ready to meet the gods, one must lay down ones ego – what better way than to cut it off entirely, as if it were a hand or an eye that causes you to sin? And our own Head has been struck down already (from the victory on the cross- stay with the metaphor here) and seems to have taught that that is the path He expects us to follow into new life. Should not our church leaders be showing the way?

So then. Those who succeed to the high places of leadership, who accumulate power, or give a particularly good sermon, will offer up their gifts and talents for the good of the Kingdom, then march up in front of all for the beheading so that we may eliminate ego and all the problems that come with it. Soon, all the “winners” who have been in power will be heaven’s problem. Those who subsequently aspire to leadership will indeed be called (or dragged) supernaturally. Only the least of these will be left and I suspect they are the true church “leaders” anyway.

By the way, in the movie Stranger Than Fiction, the protagonist Harold Crick hears an unseen Narrator speaking his life as it happens. He is terrified of the “little did he know”. But ultimately, he submits to it for the sake of the Larger Story. For those of us in leadership, we could say, little did we know ministry could cost so much.

Now, see if the elder board will vote positively on this one.

imagine the building campaign!

The Main Temple - imagine the building campaign!

a longer view of the Ball Court

a longer view of the Ball Court

Recent Posts
Showing 4 comments
  • Skip

    “The Good News deconstruction bears to the church is to provide the hermeneutics of the Kingdom of God. The deconstruction of Christianity is not an attack on the church but a critique of the idols to which it is vulnerable – the literalism and authoritarianism, the sexism and racism, the militarism and imperialism, and the love of unrestrained capitalism with which the church in its various forms has today and for too long been entangled, any one of which is toxic to the Kingdom of God.”


    “But what, then, is the Kingdom of God? Where is it found? It is found every time an offense is forgiven, every time a stranger is made welcome, every time an enemy is embraced, every time the least among us is lifted up, every time the law is made to serve justice, every time a prophetic voice is raised against injustice, every time the law and the prophets are summed up by love.
    From time to time the figure of Jesus, or fragments of His figure, appear here or there in individual lives, showing up sometimes in people who burn with a prophetic passion, sometimes in people of inordinate compassion and forgiveness. When this happens, we are likely to mistake such people as mad or weak, which in a sense they are – mad with the folly of the cross, weak with the weakness of God.”
    John D. Caputo

  • Barb Dokter

    Wow, Skip. I hope to meet you someday. I am thankful that you and Ellen are friends and appreciate your response.

    These words you shared from John Caputo stirred my heart. 🙂

  • ellenharoutunian

    I am so blessed that you are both my friends. Now, off with our heads!:-)

  • Lore

    Also, I wonder why we always end up looking mainly at different ideas on church leadership in order to bring something new about. Why not change the congregation’s role? Has the congregation gotten that passive? (Is that passivity something that might be unattractive to postmodern generations?)

    Is the large ego of the leader who has given the great sermon entirely the fault of his own pride, or maybe the modern church has created a structure that aids that?

    I’ve seen a lot of ideas on how Church leadership could be done, but where is the new visions and ideas for the congregation in relationship to each other, instead of just their relations with church elders and pastoral staff?

    One might argue that change in leadership is what would bring about the change in followers, but that seems to be missing the point.

Leave a Comment