In Leadership Next Eddie Gibbs writes on the twilight of hierarchy.

“The fragmentation of society into a multiplicity of subcultures and interest groups, and the widespread availability of information, has contributed to the current questioning of traditional authority… The turfism of traditional organizations can especially frustrate younger people because .. they are sensitive to the fact that ‘the system of measurement and control .. impedes cooperation and the free flow in information that is necessary to achieve productivity in the information age.'” (95-96)

Further contributing to the breakdown of traditional boundaries is freedom of access to information, and the corresponding formation of new social networks. Gibbs mentions a young leader in urban ministry in Miami who has the traditional denomination ties but his peer mentors are in California and New Zealand. Neither of those individuals are in his denomination, but they have attended emergent conferences and they blog.

Other forces contributing to the breakdown of denominational boundaries are the differences between cultural creatives and the older generation. Many of the generation currently in positions of authority feel increasingly threatened by forces they do not understand. As a result, they entrench and resist change. This only further alienates younger leaders, who look for mentors and encouragement elsewhere, frequently outside their own circles.

There is paradigmatic shift occurring. Hierarchy limits options because it limits connectivity, and we live in an connected world. Information that has to flow from the top down through rigidly defined chains has limited effect. Information that is randomly distributed and readily available creates collaboration. These more open structures are by nature empowering and generate change that works from the bottom up as well as from the top down. And change and transformation and inclusion are implicit in body life.

Boundaries in traditional settings are used to determine who is in and who is out. In new communities boundaries are not protective walls but are porous and become meeting places. In living systems boundaries are where information is exchanged and new relationships take form. Boundaries .. edges.. are the places of emergence and the frontier for engagement. (100)

Gibbs rightly points to a tension between the interconnected and flexible ethos of networks and the nature of the body Paul describes in the New Testament. What forces generate cohesion that will survive the tensions that occur in community life? Strong commitments are not made within alliances of convenience, and only within a secure environment do we drop our personas, the defensive masks we wear to ensure acceptance. Gibbs writes,

“The covenant community provides a context within which individuals can find affirmation and learn to truly forgive… In community we also hold one another accountable, because affirmation that lacks discernment and integrity is destructive to the person.” (99)

The networked church has more in common with the life we see in the book of Acts than does the hierarchical church. William Bridges writes,

“Networked technology takes power from the head of an organization and distributes it to the hands.”

This practice can be tainted with paternalism. Empowering does not mean giving power to people who had none, but rather recognizing and freeing the power that is there. When we are “in Christ” we are already empowered, but frequently our structures have impeded rather than invited the participation of the gifted community and have thus constrained the Holy Spirit and limited growth.

5 Comments on the evolution of hierarchy

  1. John L says:

    Looks like an excellent book, Len. I like these:

    Hierarchy limits options because it limits connectivity, and we live in an connected world

    “Networked technology takes power from the head of an organization and distributes it to the hands.”

  2. grace says:

    And I liked this…

    “Empowering does not mean giving power to people who had none, but rather recognizing and freeing the power that is there.”

  3. A link to this post will be in the February 27, 2008 issue of Regional Community Development News. It will be on-line February 28 at http://regional-communities.blogspot.com/ Please visit, check the tools and consider a link. Tom

  4. […] Len Hjalmarson on the evolution [and twilight] of hierarchy also see my Wikiklesia chapter on this: “Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchy: The Internet, Non-Hierarchical Organizations, and the Structure of the Church” […]

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