Shared leadership is vital. It entails replacing the mindset, 'This is a project for other people', with one that thinks, 'This is a project with.'
If you were starting a 'spirituality at work' group, for instance, you might buy a book of Christian meditations, lead the first couple of sessions and then pass the book to another member of the group. If they were confident to lead the session and use the book, would it matter if they were not a churchgoer?
The foundation for shared leadership may lie in the 'exploring' phase.
If you have fully involved people you feel called to serve in 'Exploring the possibilities', they will have ownership of the project, which will encourage them to volunteer to help.
Plenty of volunteers will greatly increase the likelihood of the venture proving sustainable. The load can be shared more widely, reducing burnout. The project won't depend so heavily on one or two key people who might have to pull out if their circumstances change, such as having to move elsewhere.
Pioneers should withdraw from their converts as quickly as possible
About a century ago, Roland Allen, who served as a missionary in North China, urged this as a key principle for missionary work. Allen is being re-discovered today by quite a few people in fresh expressions circles. Inspired by the practice of St Paul, Allen argued that missionaries should leave behind:
- the Holy Spirit;
- a basic understanding of the gospel;
- the bible;
- the sacraments;
- continuing support, such as - in today's context - mentoring support for the new leaders.
Then missionaries should trust the Spirit to work through the word and the sacraments to complete the task they had begun (see for example, Roland Allen, Missionary Methods - St Paul's or Ours?, Lutterworth Press, 2006).
Roland Allen's advice
Following Allen's advice in the missionary context of modern society could have a number of advantages.
We would be adopting the practice of St Paul
Often the Spirit forced him to leave his new converts after a very short time - perhaps a few months. The longest he stayed in one place was at Ephesus, where he remained for two years (Acts 19.10).
Emerging Christians would be forced to rely on the Holy Spirit from an early stage
As they experienced his guidance, their confidence in God would grow.
They would be less dependent on the person who had led them into faith
Dependency can stunt spiritual growth just as over-dependence on their parents can make it harder for children to mature. Instead of relying on a more experienced Christian, emerging believers would have to discover answers for themselves, guided by the Spirit and the Scriptures.
Leaving quickly could send a message that reproducing the church is important.
'I'm going to leave you in the hands of the Spirit because I'm called to start another fresh expression,' a pioneer might say. Emerging Christians would be likely to think, 'If the person who led us into faith thinks it so important to start another fresh expression, perhaps we should do the same.'
Leaving quickly is not the same as abandoning people altogether
St Paul kept in touch with his fledgling congregations by letter and visited them. Founders of a fresh expression can keep in contact today in far more ways and can mentor the leaders they leave behind.
Neil Cole has followed Roland Allen's principles in North America, for example.
Over 800 small congregations formed within six years (see Neil Cole, Organic Church, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005, p26). Ordinary people, who are recent converts, become church leaders in their own homes!
You may also want to read God grows church through reproduction.