3 Leadership Paradigms for the Church

It’s Monday and you know what that means- Moltmann Mondays!

In the first chapter of Moltmann’s latest book, he outlines 3 paradigms of leadership the church can follow.  The first is the hierarchical paradigm, in which there is one God, one Pope/Bishop, one Church.  He writes, “In the political world, one ruler on earth corresponds to the one God in heaven, and in similar correspondence to the one God in heaven is the one bishop and high priest of humanity.”  Moltmann finds difficulty in the way this de-emphasizes the unique role of each follower of Jesus.  “If the church is identified in a one-sided way with the hierarchy and its functions, then the task of ‘the laity’ can only be to say ‘Amen’ to the liturgical, dogmatic and moral instructions of the hierarchy.  This is in pure form a church for looking after people; it is not a self-confident church of God’s people” (p.21).

The second paradigm is the Christocentric paradigm.  Here Christ is the head of the Church rather than a human authority figure, and it is through him that unity is found and held.  The congregation members are brothers and sisters who proclaim Jesus in Word and Sacrament.  Theoretically, this creates a community of equals, because it acknowledges the priesthood of all believers.  The problem, he says, is that “the distinction between trained theologians and people without any theological training has taken the place of the priestly hierarchy” (p.23).  Theories don’t mean much when they don’t get worked out in actual practice.

The third paradigm is the Charismatic paradigm, by which he doesn’t mean denominationally charismatic, but rather a broad sense of being led and guided by the Holy Spirit.  He uses 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 as a description:  “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are varieties of service, but the same Lord.  There are varieties of powers, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one.”  In churches that are working in this paradigm, “everyone is an expert in his or her own life and personal calling, and all are experts in their original gifts and powers on behalf of the community and its mission” (p.25).  By this Moltmann is hardly arguing for relativism.  Instead, he is advocating for churches who take seriously their individual and communal calling to be active followers of Jesus in the world.  There is not a class of religious experts that ought to do the work for the “other kind” of people.  We are all called to follow, and the church ought to be structured in such a way that encourages and empowers and sends each person to do what they are uniquely called to do to bring life into the world.

As a pastor who hopes to work in this charismatic paradigm, I can’t say I’ve figured out a structure yet that fully realizes this potential, but I hope in our own small ways we are fumbling forward and figuring out how to enliven each community member to practice living into their unique callings more and more each day.


  1. I haven’t read Moltmann’s latest work yet (I will soon!), but based on your brief but thorough descriptions, I’d say that there are positives and negatives to each paradigm. The charismatic paradigm can easily be manipulated by those that most strongly manifest certain gifts of the Spirit, but end up using them for their own ends. Not that you, Danielle, or any other emergent leader would end up leading the next Jonestown, but we all should bear in mind that no human system is perfect and that we are all more than capable of screwing up big time.

  2. I just want to say something in a semi-private, anonymous setting without going so far as to e-mail you directly. Call it a venting, if you want. But I think it is also in the hopes of letting you know that I connected with what you said at Jacob’s Well the other night. It hit home. This is what I want to say:

    I am a Missionary. I am a Theologian. I am a Pastor. I am a Minister. I am a Servant. I am a Leader. I am a Scholar. I am Sent. I have received the Scriptures. I am listening to the Spirit. I am being Blessed. I am Sent.

    So I am 25 and maybe in another year I will have completed my Associate’s Degree. Maybe an M.Div by the time I’m 40. But then again, maybe not. Maybe I won’t live that long. I am in the process of becoming a licensed local pastor in the Methodist denomination, and in a recent interview, one of the pastors asked me, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

    And I answered diplomatically enough, even though the question — or at least the implication of “Do you know what you’re getting yourself into? Back out now, while you still can.” — irked me. But on the drive home, I wondered how Peter, covered in the dust of Jesus, might’ve answered that question. “Assistant King of Israel. Duh.”

    What does it matter where I see myself in 10 years, or whether I have what it takes to support a family, work, and finish school? I am being sent, and I am compelled to drop everything and go.

    I am left grateful that Jesus conducts his own recruitment, rather than going through HR.

    Of course, Peter later realizes that there’s a better Story to tell, and he starts telling this other Story everywhere he goes. One time, he’s telling this new Story to the Jewish leaders who want to kill him. And they are amazed. And they are even more amazed when they find out he’s uneducated.

    I can’t help but wonder why some of us are still telling a corporate america story, or an institutionalized religion story, when the real Story is so much better.

    Since hearing/experiencing a literal, palpable call to ministry 3 years ago, I have done everything I can to prepare for ministry. I have read whatever I can and listened to whomever I can. Most of my learning has taken place outside the institution. Alan Hirsch calls this learning “on the road with Jesus.” But for most of this time, I have been dealing with the sense that I am less of a minister — whatever that means — than the educated people. Like I’m some sort of probational minister until I can complete seminary.

    Of course, I highly doubt most Christians feel this way. So maybe it’s just my own junk I am dealing with. My own expectations.

    Either way, I just want to get it off my chest — once and for all — that I may die before I can ever go to seminary. I may not get a chance to complete school, and perhaps God has other plans for me. Can that just be alright? Because it seems like Jesus had no problem teaching a bunch of illiterate disciples how to turn the world upside down. The Holy Spirit is still the one calling and empowering, right?

    I am starting to believe this, and it is transforming me. My heart burns within me. I feel empowered, not abandoned, by the Ascension of Christ.

    You preached a Good Word. I appreciate it.

  3. Matt, you make an excellent point. I think you are absolutely right, and it’s something we must remember is possible at all times so as to keep ourselves humbly in check- and to ask outsiders to keep us in check, too. Thanks for reminding us of this.

    Josh, thanks for sharing a bit of your story and frustrations. I think you’re right that it’s helpful every now and again to remember that the disciples never went to seminary, nor did the people in Acts who were leading house churches. I am by no means demeaning seminary education, because if you CAN get one, it’s a helpful way to work through your thoughts and to get an idea of the very long story of Christian history so that you have perspective. But the disciples became prepared for ministry by being discipled and mentored. If you can find a mentor who is doing the kind of work in the world you want to do and you can work with him/her, that’s the most important opportunity to seek. Ask for a reading/study list as part of the process and you’ll find that you are learning from both voices from the past in books and voices from the field in front of you.

    That being said, it’s just true that some places require seminary training before they’ll hire you. So another question to ask yourself is where you feel called and whether that place is a place that requires a seminary degree. At that point, you’ll have to decide if the job you want access to is worth the degree you need to get to apply for it. Discernment is always best done as a community affair, so surround yourself with people who know you, who can ask you good questions and pray with you and encourage you. I’m certainly no expert, but you can shoot me an email anytime. :)

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