Mixed Leadership Metaphors

School of fish 2Does a school of fish have a leader?  Not really.  How do its members collectively determine the timing and destinations of their movements?  According to Wikipedia, “A recent investigation showed that small groups of fish used consensus decision-making…The fish did this by a simple quorum rule such that individuals watched the decisions of others before making their own decisions.”  Who knew?

Migrating geese adopt the familiar V-shaped formation for efficient travel.  The lead goose has the hardest job, but when it tires it moves to the back and another will assume the point position.  Their cooperative arrangement teaches us valuable lessons about teamwork and leadership.

Human organizations in the 21st century are behaving more and more like these models from the natural world.  Technology, social media, globalization, self-publishing and crowd sourcing are features of our day that make “consensus decision making” possible and more prevalent.  Schools of like-minded people swim toward their goals without waiting for permission from authorized gatekeepers.  Leaders arise and arrange themselves organically like from within a gaggle of geese.

This line of thinking was inspired by the book, The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer, by Jonathan and Thomas W. McKee.  They write,

In the 20th century, we used the metaphor of turning a huge battleship to illustrate leadership of an organization.  All members of the organization were aboard the same ship going in the same direction, with the leader at the helm.  In the 21st century, we’ve had to change the metaphor.  Now we talk about leading a school of empowered minnows.”

If this is true it has important implications for how churches organize themselves and envision their leadership.

Are churches moving toward more hierarchical leadership structures while the culture flattens out?  If 21st century volunteers (church members) operate like schools of fish, how will they react to battleship style leadership?  Or, perhaps Christians are content to be crew on a battleship rather than accepting the risk of swimming or flying toward their own God-given goals.

Actually, the most important question is, which metaphor best depicts the Body of Christ that Jesus leads and that the New Testament describes: a battleship directed by one (human) commander or a community of empowered, unified and organically led people moving toward a common goal? 

What do you think?  Should churches operate like battleships or gaggles of geese? Do you foresee a paradigm shift in the way we organize ourselves and appoint leaders?

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”  1 Corinthians 12:27

5 thoughts on “Mixed Leadership Metaphors

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  1. Judy, I have been living this one. I have been member of a non-denominational-charismatic-conservative community for over 25 years and I recently left the eldership because of this very point. I have over the last three years also joined and emerging Christian community in the DC area and once again I find myself in leadership. However this time I am empowering the geese. No more hierarchy, no more professional Christians, and down with the 20-80 model. This world needs a million persons believing and perusing the goal that they can be like Jesus (Luke 6:40).

    I do not believe the Protestant model of local communities following the vision of one Pastor is going to end, because it was and still is a real move of God. However people are maturing to the point where they can hear Holy Spirit and Father’s trust and love in them will empower the individual after the model of His first son Jesus. Christianity 3.0 is moving into the reign of daughters and sons of God. So now my Christian community has two camps, one is a battleship and the other a gaggle of geese.

    Thanks so much my sister. You have the prophetic anointing, which is the living person of Jesus in operation in your life. As Master Yoda would say “the force is strong in this one”. Thanks I will share on FB in hopes my friends and family in both camps will see the wisdom and the flow of God’s Spirit. Wow!

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful and wise perspective on this Larry, and for your encouragement. You make a very good point that both models will always be present because God can and does work in many ways. It sounds like you are navigating the “mixed metaphor” nature of these two leadership models well. I particularly appreciate your focus on empowerment. It seems to me that there is great potential that is routinely overlooked and underutilized among Christian communities. I believe that, in addition to big battleship churches, God is also moving to release his people for uniquely designed ministry to his glory among gaggles of geese. I’m so encouraged to hear that you are living and experiencing that very thing. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, and may the Lord mightily bless your leadership! Judy

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