Foundational Story / Stories

At a personal level we all have stories, some of which we would love to have a measure of amnesia over. The young Martin is an embarrassment – ‘did I really say… no surely that was not me’. (Thankfully I have a birthday soon so will on that day no longer be young… never again to make a mistake. I am ever hopeful that one day soon I will enter the ‘second half of life’.)

Pragmatism. I am where I am today because of the journey I have taken, mistakes, wrong turns included. I am not suggesting ‘fate’ (or predestination!) but I do believe there is a God who works in all things, through all things for redemptive purposes. Some of my foundational stories I have outgrown. They were in Chapter 1 of my book, and I am now in Chapter 10… however, in this post I am going to press into the corporate area.

Many corporations (if they claim to have purpose that does not have money as the bottom line) have a foundational story – the why for which they are doing what they are doing. As time develops (thank you Walter Wink) changes take place, the corporation takes on a personality that if left unchecked is increasingly separate from the founders / foundational story. I have tracked with three organisations where I consider this is the case. I have noted in one of them that around 25 years after the start the foundational story had become unknown by those who joined from that time on.

We can legitimately move on from a foundational story, in the sense of ‘that was the young Martin’ and thankfully I have matured. We can move on by saying – that was at the core but I could not live up to that, so no longer am pushing for that. I have no issue with that. Honesty counts high in the kingdom of God; probably counts higher than getting it right (but what do I know?).

We can move on… but I consider if we move on by simply ignoring it we will find ourselves with a movement / corporation that decides the future, a future that does not fulfil the foundational story but deviates from it.

I am pondering if boards / leadership teams / eldership / blah blah blah have a couple of functions: to ensure the foundational story is alive (even if it has developed and been adapted) so that any movement does not veer off from the foundations (not a good idea for buildings… look at the Temple built on sand: although the claim was it was rock, Jesus spoke of the flood coming and the true foundations would be revealed). And maybe the second aspect is that such a board / leadership is there to hear the voice of the practitioners and seek to ensure that as much as possible is in place to help provide a decent shape for the river to flow. The foundational story brought to a suitable next level but through some centralisation but through the ‘practitioners’. In Ephesians language: growth; filling; built on the foundation of.

Gift not title

The Ascended Christ gave out some titles so that everyone might know who is above them, order might be preserved… That might not be the first time I have misquoted the Holy Book.

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves…” (Lk. 22:25-27).

No misquote this time, and strong words: I am one among you. The incarnation truly lived out. That has to be the foundation, modelled in the breaking of bread / the Lord’s Table, where everyone is equal, it not being the ‘table of the xxx movement’, and where we are careful not to fall into the trap of giving the person arrayed in rich apparel (or higher status) the better seat… (Those references only make sense when we consider the politically subversive nature of what the Last / Lord’s Supper (deipnon: banquet) stood for. Subversive to the Jewish world of the day, where Jesus instructed who to invite to a meal, and deeply subversive in the Graeco-Roman world where the banquet was part of the activity that held the Imperial system of everyone in there place intact.)

Even in the parable that maybe gives some indication of ‘order’ in the age to come Jesus indicated that he would do the serving! Serving is not something for this age and then we lay it down and get our position!

Jesus gave gifts, not titles. Not even ‘Apostle Paul’. But we have Paul (by the grace gift of heaven) an apostle. A title sets me in position and will commission me to do things ‘to’, and if I am a goodish sort of person release me to do things ‘for’ you. But a grace gift, releases me to be ‘with’ you, and holds me in check to be accountable to God for the gift given. Paul as an apostle had a commission to fulfil, one marked by signs and wonders with great patience, in other words he truly had to sow the subversive seeds of the Gospel in the direction of the eschatological future, that was opened when Jesus rose – that new creation direction.

If we are to see real breakthroughs in our hierarchical world, if we are to model the end of all divisions, then we really need to drop the titles. I think that would be a good move.

Jesus was one among us, but he was not simply one among us. We do not read, OK here we all are, time for the annual meeting, who do we want to appoint now as the Messiah, maybe we pass it round… how about you Peter? After all you are pretty rockish. Or, how about you Judas, you do seem to carry a clarity about this kingdom issue?

One among – the foundation. And standing in the gift that God has given, that is not given to allow for position ‘over’ but alongside to bring that gift for the sake of the release of others. Leadership / gifting is to be recognised and to do so is not a vote for hierarchy; it has to be first self-recognised. It is not contributing to hierarchy, not when there has been time spent in the wilderness and temptations have been refused (and there is a direct tie in this Scripture to that of the offer of the oikoumene to Jesus… become the one over the kings of the Gentiles – talk about order and delegated authority perfected!!).

From that foundation there is no shouting nor declaration of how great one is, but the embracing of a leadership that does not advance itself in status but increasingly disappears, increasingly empties itself, carries the ‘better I go away’ attitude, recognises that the function is ‘until’.

Leadership is not to control order, but to release exploration and then in the wake of the explosion to try and keep up!