Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him!

— Gerard Manley Hopkins

I’ve been doing some thinking, reflecting, and reading toward a theology of place, and Hopkins is one of those poets who expresses a tremendous sense of location, and of the particular. God loves trees, and God loves people: but more – God loves THIS tree, the way this particular tree raises its branches in praise, and God loves THAT person – and calls her by name. Hopkins expresses a deep and rich sense of the particular, but also, a deep sense of sacramentality: that God is someone in and behind all things, and all things become lenses through which we discover more of God.

“For from Him, to Him, and through Him are all things…
And in Him, all things hold together..”

But what I was reflecting on this weekend is something more particular. That SOMETHING more particular that had my interest this weekend was fathering. And the particular Scripture and metaphor that had my attention was the well-known comment by Paul – “You have many teachers, but not many fathers.”

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Could it be that in this small phrase Paul is expressing something more than his functional relationship as founder of the community? Could it be that he is expressing his relational connection, his own personal affection, for a group of people? Could it be that this little phrase expresses something nearer to a relational ecclesiology, a dominant metaphor that becomes paradigmatic? If so, we have not merely a framing for church function (the “family” frame) but then also hints at the nature of ecclesial leadership.

The implications – and there are many – would include the social-psychological implication that a functional church could not exceed 150 persons (The Tipping Point) in size. Any religious organization (church) that exceeded that size would have to intentionally break itself into multiple communities – multiple churches in one social organism. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The conviction I am working with here is that ecclesial leadership should function primarily in this relational pattern. Authority, decision-making, strategy, organizational design – these and more should function first within a family frame. And so in particular senior leaders should be first fathers in relation to the wider community, and secondarily express the other functions necessary: administrators, teachers, leaders, etc.

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The last words in a book are typically quite important; for this reason we have paid special attention to the book of Revelations. But we have not paid similar attention to the book of Malachi. Yet it’s easy to argue that this little prophet has a more important position than even John the Revelator. The Old Testament, after all, was the only Scripture for Paul and Jesus. And the last words of the last book of the Old Testament preceded four hundred years of silence. When you want to make a point, we tell beginning speakers, “remember to pause.” The last words of Malachi are followed by a four hundred year pause. Here they are:

4“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the
decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
5“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before
that great and dreadful day of the LORD
comes. 6He will turn the hearts of the fathers to
their children, and the hearts of the children to
their fathers; or else I will come and strike the
land with a curse.”

In a traditional frame we think of fathers as the ones in charge. We picture a pyramid, with fathers on top, then mothers and children below. This is a classic image of patriarchy and it fits well with the old paradigms of management and control. But when it comes to the New Testament and we see Jesus bending down to serve, our old frames for the way power is exercised are overturned. “The greatest among you will be the servant of all.”

In healthy churches, as in healthy families, both hearts and minds are engaged, and people are free to grow and become. Both dependence and independence are discouraged in favor of inter-dependence. Neither the Cartesian individual, nor the over-invested, co-dependent style of relating are encouraged.

It remains to ask the “how” question – what does authority as loving service look like? Some of the best Christian research on this has been done by Jack and Judith Balswick of Fuller Seminary in their book “The Family.”

family systemWhat does a mature person look like? Where is Christ taking us (Eph 4 “the fullness of Christ.. maturity..”) The first point the Balswick’s make is the end goal of a healthy family life: growing children to maturity. What is maturity? Biblically defined, maturity is the capacity to be a servant to others. This implies a living process of moving children from dependence to maturity. The role of parents, as the role of pastors, is to empower others to become mature servants: empowerers. Maturity is parallel to discipleship: it results in multiplication. The healthy family has within its seed the capability to produce other healthy families. In the same way, healthy churches produce offspring (new disciples and new churches).

Pastoral leadership, then, is developmental. Families, like churches, pass through stages of maturity. There are four parenting/leadership styles that every effective parent and leader must master: telling, teaching, participating, and delegating. The first style is appropriate for young children, and the last style for mature children. The goal of an effective leader is to move beyond delegation to reproduce their own maturity in their disciples. This orientation is really clear in the ministry of Paul, as in Romans 1:11,12. Paul longs to impart a spiritual gift, but his goal is mutual participation in ministry.

Some years back I summarized a journal article by the Balwick’s on maturity and parenting style. The beauty of their developmental model is that it also provides an explicit assessment for family systems. Unhealthy leadership styles are more common than healthy ones.

See also the work of Pete Scazzero

Related: The Trinitarian Nature of Leadership