Mixing Our Wineskins?

Can emerging churches survive traditional top-down systems of governing?

What do you think about this? Emergent systems have a self-regulatory, mutual accountability system that enables everyone to participate and keep the system healthy. Which is why no one is insisting that someone organize and govern the internet – better to have the whole system work it out than hand it to one group, or one government.

Who would you trust? If anyone? The community seems better equipped than a single leader. Even Jesus suggested that 2 or 3 witnesses have a better angle on the truth than a single person.

The reason i am saying this is because:

The emergent dynamics of the new churches have a decentralized, non-hierachical leadership system that seems to work. But because it doesn’t look like anyone is in charge, the older organizations sometimes insist that their old leadership forms be adopted. And then what was previously working explodes or implodes.

– Case in point – a new church in USA was doing great until an organization gave them some money, and gave it to someone they recognized as the “Leader”. This created distrust among the group and it imploded with a lot of bitterness.

– Other implosions have happened when a single leader was ordained by another, more hierachical group (NOS came up recently as an example of this).

If it is true that we cannot mix old leadership styles with new emergent churches, then we really need a whole new way of training, evaluating, and communicating backwards so that the older churches can understand and allow the new wineskins to grow.

David Garrion’s book “Church Planting Movements” is helpful, since he is observing similar problems in India and China.

“Church planting movements are at home in their environment. They dont have the smell of foreignness to them. Their leadership is local; they worship in the community’s heart language; they meet in their own homes.

There are at least three ways that Church Planting Movements can succumb to alien abduction:

1. by forcing new believers to exchange their cultural forms for alien ones

2) by creating a welfare system of foreign dependency, and

3) by injecting foreign elements into the life of the church that cannot be locally reproduced.

Any one of these alien invaders can cripple a Church Planting Movement.”

page 252-253, Church Planting Movements: How God is redeeming a lost world, David Garrison

So what i am thinking is this:

The old hierachical model of leadership may be a foreign element to emergent churches and therefore will cripple any future growth or reproduction.


Accountability and leadership are dispersed in the emergent model. Leadership is dynamic, and everyone in the organization is equipped to innovate at the right time. Accountability is mutual and even those leading for the moment are not beyond the accountability system of the whole organization.

Enter the foreign system – in which a ‘Qualified Person’ is singled out, raised up, ordained, told to send reports on behalf of the emergent church to a foreign group of people. Now we have a two-tiered system of leadership – the “Leader” and the “non-leaders”. We have not only withdrawn leadership and innovation from the new group, but we have done something even worse – we have removed the mutual accountability system and therefore crippled the governing ability of the whole organism.

If this is true, and i am just thinking out loud – i might be wrong – in fact i hope i am wrong – but if this is true, then we need to

1. still attempt to maintain unity with the wider body of Christ

2. at the same time realize that mixing foreign elements can be dangerous

3. focus on new wineskins for the new wine.

4. Get used to the idea that emergent churches will have an emergent system of government that will be different to their predecessors, and yet still be anchored into the pages of the Bible.

In fact, the idea of multiple elders and mutual accountability is probably a lot more biblical than the more recent ‘senior pastor’ model which doesn’t seem to appear in the New Testament.

(not to say it is wrong- i believe we have ecclesiastical freedom to use the forms that make sense and work- which is why we should be tolerant of older church forms)

Anyway, what do you think??????


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • tk says:

    I understand, appreciate and in general feel better about a non-centalized, emerging form of leadership. Maybe that’s because I spent 10 years in coporate America and saw first hand the potential shortcomings and abuses of traditional top-down hierarchical forms of leadership.
    That being said, what if the prevailing leadership model of the folks we are hanging out with is a traditional hierarchical one?
    (aka the suburbs of New England) My guess, no data, just a guess, would be,75% of these folks spend the majority of their lives in traditionally led jobs, schools and organizations.
    I recently sat down with some friends and they actually verbalized a desire to be led in a traditional way.
    New England is unique in many ways. I recently heard Brian McLaren refer to New Englanders as anti-institutional/institutionalists,(amongst other things) meaning they despise institutions but long for their security and familiarity at the same time.
    Perhaps this is another one of those goofy things…I don’t though I’m just kinda thinking outloud here.
    peace and prayers,

  • Great insights.
    I’m in an elder led church, but we too noticed a ‘drift’ this year back to the ‘senior pastor’ model. (the beloved ‘trump card’ of titles – whether it be ‘directional leader’ or ‘senior pastor’)
    Here’s my confusion – I agree that plurality and mutual accountability is the way to go – but how did the US/West with their focus on democracy get stuck in the rut of dubbing and empower ‘senior pastors?’ It seems like the drift would have been the other way, right?

  • Dan P says:

    Thanks Andrew. You’ve helped put words to some of the tension i’ve been feeling lately. as a young seminary grad who feels increasingly awkward in the wineskin of the modern church, i’ve been wrestling with whether to pursue ordination. it’s kind of a given in my tradition (Presbyterianism) that if you want to help start churches, you’ve got to be ordained. but i feel much more in tune with an organic leadership structure where everyone involved brings their unique gifts. I’m wonder if getting ordained would in some ways prevent me from being part of anything that organic.

  • [depone] says:

    The more I think about and live in the new way of church I realize that it has a differnet DNA in every aspect.
    The thing about leadership you are writing about is a main problem for traditional leaders to understand. Because we are no longer looking on single persons as spiritual heroes and on all people as wonderfully created individuals who are loved by God and at the same time all fallen short from his glory – we are no longer accepting one-man-shows and so on. This seems to a lot of people like a loss of control [which it is in one aspect] – but if church is seen and lived as a network of friendships we don’t lose accountability. We even don’t loose leadership in a team-sense, like a group within the community.
    At the moment I am prefering to look on leadership in a way similar to open source entrepreneurs. They invented something and are letting it loose, so everyone is able to contribute to it. It’s like opening a space to meet God and allow the attendants to contribute to it and shape it. After all it’s not possible to ruin it, because the contributions are beeing overlooked.

  • Frederic says:

    My English is not so good but i am so fired up by this post, i feel i need to say something. As you said Andrew, New Testament can be a tremendous inspiration source at this point.
    When Paul introduced the gospel somewhere He quickly passed the leadership baton to someone else. His philosophy of ministry is made crystal clear in 2tim2:2 raising leaders who will raises others leaders able to raises others..and so on. In fact, it was a top down gouverning structure but UPSIDE DOWN. Meaning the “senior leader” empowered others leaders and help them networking with each others (see epistles)in a specific area and their missions was to do the same with others guys. This one of reason the message spread so quickly in these times.
    Today guys like David Garrison, George Patterson and others shows that this kind of New testament leadership structure work very well in Church planting movements around the world. I’m sure this is a kind of structure which can fuel the gospel in the emergent movement too.
    Anyway, great post Andrew, thanks for opening this discussion.

  • alexander says:

    Andrew you have dealt really well with what I see as one of the critical areas of difference between the historic and emerging. For those in the UK this is probably THE issue, and the way both parts communicate and respond to it will determine much in the future for all concerned.You have expressed well the new dynamics but have also sought to bring understanding in a gracious way. I can give other examples of attempts at ‘alien invasions’ which have resulted in artificial divisions and implosion. In our own setting we have genuinely begun to experience the new dynamic of dispersed leadership and mutual accountability. The difference is startling. Not at all how I thought it would be!

  • Andrew says:

    hi everyone – thanks much for your thoughts.
    frederic – good point on paul – my friend neil cole has a theory (mentioned here) that the Apostle Paul moved his strategy from starting ministries and handing them over (his first journey) to bringing a large team and helping them start the ministries themselves (his 3rd journey).
    there might have been a progression in his ministry from starting things and handing over the baton to a later stage of not starting (or not baptising) and just enabling others to get things going themselves.

  • clark says:

    The entire leadership style needs to be in conversation right now. Thanks for adding to it. The tribe I grew up with uses elders and deacons in leadership. The ministers are accountable to the elders and the deacons as well. The only problem I see if the use of power by the elders in lots of communities. Instead of being sheperds to the flock, they are the money managers and focus on the budget issues. The church I attend now, as a preacher but he is also apart of the sheperds. They have a financial committee that handles money issues and always let the congregation know whats going on, plus they use laymen’s terms for budget dummies like myself. They do are great job of seeking spiritual health for our community.
    I really believe in getting the message across to others that they “own” the ministry, meaning they should act like its theirs, not just the ministers or a select few in power. I worked in a campus ministry that really pushed this ideal and several students, who wouldn’t normally be considered “leaders” steped up and served the community and dreamed big dreams. I like how Solomon’s Porch seeks to make the dreams of others the dreams of SP.

  • Chad says:

    This conversation is difficult for professional ministers, because it threatens our livelihood. I came to a new city a couple of years ago to plant a new cell church, as a paid full time minister. The church has turned into a house church because it fit the personality of the people, and because of convictions I arrived at after moving here. Now I still “work” for the church, and even receive a small part time salary, but I work a full time job outside the church. By decentralizing leadership we allow others to take on the ministry that a full time pastor may take on de-facto.

  • Fajita says:

    My small group (which is an appendage of a 1000 member church in “Bible Belt” USA) has been in a conversation about planting a church, a new kind of church, for several months now. However, when we got to the part of the conversation that implied leaving behind the old and springing up with something new, I felt like I was speaking another language than they were.
    In short, the sense that “we” are in “our” world and “they” are in “their” world came to the surface. My small groups members are comfy cozy in the only way they know to do chruch.
    In short, when it comes time to talk of what a new wineskin is and what the implications are, I am finding that perhaps they are not new wine after all, just progressice old wine. I mean, they feel new compared to the rest of the wine, but really they are vintaged almost the same year, so to speak.
    I am not convinced that the shift is going to be easy. I also think that it will happen predominantly in new churches. The old wineskin is not torn asunder, but it is not adequate to hold more than it is currently holding, which would be fine is the world remained in stasis. The thing is, we live in a world that is the inverse of static. It is unusually dynamic.
    Today, I feel lost – a wine without a skin.

  • James says:

    I am in what I call and apostolic lead chruch – what the SP says is pretty much gonna go. It is understood that my role as a YP is to support the SP’s vision for youth ministry.
    Needless, there’s some contentiong that arises.
    How on earth is a guy suppossed to minister in a postmodern context, the world of the emerging generations, while being measured and evaluated by modern, old-wineskin, standards.
    It seems to me a lot of the publishing that is coming out is pushing people in my position to go out and create new wineskins, and from what I see in real life…keeping things in the old wineskin just isn’t working.
    I’m gonna burst.

  • Steve Holt says:

    This is responding to my friend Fajita (I see we travel in the same blogging circles…). Your concern is my main struggle with the Kimball/McLaren/Whoever “emergent model” of church. It is a change in form but not focus. While it is a step in the right direction, the focus of the universal church needs to shift from meeting the needs of lost people in our sacred spaces and sacred times, to loving people wherever we are. Even in the emergent model, so much time and attention goes into the “sacred times/sacred spaces” that it puts the emphasis on that instead of on living out life in the body the rest of the week.
    Example: I met with some guys doing the emergent thing last weekend, and one of them made this comment: “After we began renting the property in [this particular neighborhood], we soon realized that we were developing relationships with the folks in our respective neighborhoods, but not in the church building’s neighborhood.” You see, the emphasis on having a sacred space has taken them out of their own neighborhoods as the primary focus for evangelism and put it in a completely impractical place: near a church building. This re-structuring of the institutional model is my main problem with the emergent model. We need a different focus.

  • David Malouf says:

    I really like how the initial blog and the first post dialogue… very nice. Seems like it allows for multiple models – it’s okay to have an “emergent” model and a “hierarchical” model and a _______. But that’s such an Emergent way to think.
    Have you seen those 3-D renderings of music on many of the software music players? It’s usually some kind of three-dimensional line graph (which is an oxymoron, I know). I think it’s a great picture for leadership as well as the other gifts. Not all are necessary all the time. When the situation needs / calls-for a certain gift (or gift mix), then that person(s) is(are) called on.
    I think one of the thorns of a hierarchical model (at least it’s thorny to some of us) is that they are ALWAYS leading (for the record, I was one of them). Why, for example, is a Sunday morning “teaching” always done by someone trying to “lead” (it’s not enough to focus on part of God, we must be told what to do about it – that’s leading). The silent statements about what is valued screams that leading is the ultimate. Very similar to my time at Home Depot… Again, not a bad thing, just a thing.
    So what if administration was done when needed, leading, teaching, hospitality, etc.? In other words, the issue isn’t a lack of leadership or even a spreading of “leadership power,” rather leadership became just one of many gifts to the local Body. It is something used by those so-wired as a GIFT to the Body, as an expression of God’s grace towards His bride. (this is consistent, in my mind, with the posts about “upside down” leadership).
    I don’t know that leading by a one/few is so evil. Leaders see leadership issues (good and bad) just like some of my very merciful friends see when mercy is needed, or my VERY giving parents see a financial need. I don’t know that flattening leadership is best, especially to those who ARE leaders. De-elevating does not need to mean dissipating, does it?
    My quick 2 cents – I love this post, though!!

  • Chad says:

    I like Fajita’s comment about living in a dynamic system. Though the “modern” church primarily exists in a static model, emerging churches have the ability to live dynamically. That can also include implimenting differing leadership structures. With some groups of people maybe top-down leadership is a better fit. In my church, at times people want me or other leaders to make some decisions, even though we have a pretty decentralized leadership. Even when this is the case, I try to turn the decision back to them.

  • Alan Cross says:

    Good point, David. I am all for a flat structure and cannot stand the Senior Pastor model where it seems to be all about one person at the top of a pyramid. However, I am learning through experience not to be so utopian, to listen to what God is saying and to go with what is needed at the time (i.e. TK’s comments about New England and some of Andrew’s original post). What if there is a body of defeated, discouraged, and negative believers who have lost their way? A flat structure of leadership is not going to do a whole lot of good because someone full of faith with a vision of Christ needs to help restore them and call them beyond their present state. I just think that leadership in and of itself is not a bad thing and is not going away anytime soon, whether in emerging structures or historical structures. The question, however, is what does biblical leadership look like? Is it domineering, personality driven, and power based, or is it life giving and empowering? I would imagine that every emerging fellowship has leadership of some kind to encourage, teach, and to help propel the witness of that body (I’ve yet to see one that doesn’t, even if it is unspoken).
    Perhaps the way to interface with the historical church forms is to recognize that leadership that already exists (even if it functions differently) and to promote the “way” that leadership occurs, rather than change everything entirely. As far as people in the emerging church getting all bent out of shape if someone is named the leader(s), it seems to be attributable to more of a fear of disempowerment and abuse than anything having to do with what the new wineskin would look like. I don’t see God creating wineskins based on people’s fears of past failures. How can we be positive about our communities of faith, empower those called to lead, teach, etc., and still call each person to offer their gifts and callings to the body and the world in a way that brings about participation for God’s glory? Maybe we should quit calling people to be leaders who’s main desire is to build some great church. Maybe we should look for those who take the last seat, who put on the towel of service, and who use their gifts to serve others out of the limelight, only caring if God receives glory. Maybe our problem is not just structure, but our hearts. Only God can heal that. Just some thoughts . . .

  • John Battern says:

    I believe there is a place for the shepherd/pastor in the emerging church. To deny this is to deny the gifts of the Spirit, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” Eph. 4:11 The key to the discussion here is the next verse, “to prepare God’s people for the works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Eph. 4:12.
    In the modern church of the late 20th century, the pastor became the professional minister who did the work of the church, while the members were primarily the consumers of this ministry. In the emerging church, the pastor and the people must both reclaim their Biblical roles, the pastor who teaches and prepares, and the people who use their gifts for works of service. If the “body” is thus functioning according to the Creator’s plan, then it matters little what labels are applied, the church will fulfill it’s purpose in the world.

  • Jon says:

    The wineskin analogy is helpful as it avoids put-downs and focuses instead on what works best. So it does not say, “We are right and you are wrong, you bunch of hierarchical addicts.” It focuses on context.
    …But even then, I have heard people complain, “By calling us the old wineskin, you are implying a judgement.” *sigh*

  • G’day mate – great thoughts on a dificult subject!
    I find this a real tension – partly because I am used to ‘being the leader’ and partly because people are used to looking to me.
    But also because I see the need for some kind fo ‘point person’ – whether they are the top of the pile, the middle or whatever. Someone always seems to be the one to pull it together and help everyone else find their place.
    The other complicating factor is that people expect leadership – non churchies expect leadership – and often they want to know who is in charge.
    As i lok at scripture I see Jesus as a ‘point person’, Paul as similar and probably heaps of others who may have held more oversightish roles than others.
    I’m not sure of the way forward, but I sense a natural order to things and that includes some kind of primary leader – what hirschy would call an apostolic leader

  • Great post Andrew,
    the concern i would have is that who is foriegn and who is indigenous in this environment? The complication is that we emergents all tend to exist somewhere along a continuum with Traditional hierarchical church at one end (Do we read “foriegn” here?) and the indefinable “other” at the other end.
    This movement, in reality, looks more anarchical than structural and most of us float, some frustratingly so, somewhere in the heirarchical structures, seeking change from within. Can we pin this movement down to new principles? Are we in danger of building fences rather than digging wells? ie; do we want to define a space where some are “in” and others are “out” with a defined set of rules of engagement or do we want to simply be in a space where we “hear” God rather than “do” God. It is my conviction that the emerging church is in the business of digging for the water of life in each of our respective communities, digging wells. Ash Barker, of Klong Toey slum in bankok, writes in his new book, “Surrender All” about a concept of leadership that ultimately leaves communities testifying that they “dug the wells themselves”.
    Hear hear, Steve Holt in your comments: we can put on a post-modern skin but fail to change our missional focus and practice- a change to pushing a post-modern form of program and is no change at all.
    I’m unsure if defining leadership structures are that important here. I believe Jesus is calling is to a heart-change in hearing God and his voice already present in our communities. The clean out needs to occur in removing the franchises and programs that we have imported.

  • Jon, feel your struggle.
    Where I am at this hour (I gave up on having “days”) – I think Jesus is STILL that leader. I think the flat, indigenous community/plurality of leaders job at that point then is to discern the mind of christ – then obey.
    of course – theory is always easier than reality. I would contend that the ‘trump’ card is removed.
    Then again, what do I know.

  • andrew jones says:

    Andrew48 While I was sleeping . . . you guys were giving some great comments. thanks very much.
    I will put some comments on your comments today when i get some time.
    Where should this conversation go? Play along with me for a moment . . .
    Why? Because i think that understanding leadership on the internet will help us understand leadership in any dynamic, unpredictable, chaotic, emergent environment or organism.
    If the kind of emergent leadership we are discussing is happening on the blogosphere, and i believe it is, then i would expect this conversation to die down around this point – seeing that 20 significant comments is probably the saturation point of commenting on a single blog post without diverting into talking rubbish.
    Has there been leadership so far?
    Yes. – I exercised leadership in starting a conversation that I felt was timely, and by creating a safe space for it to mature. that is part of my leadership gifting which normally materialises in apostolic form, and usually at the beginning of something new rather than at the end.
    But now that the conversation has started, and now that it exists in a dynamic, unpredicitable environment, my gift of leadership is not called for and i should have the grace to “decrease” and allow the next stage of development to happen to this conversation.
    how would it happen in an “emergent” way?
    who picks up the conversation and takes it from here?
    the old hierachical way would favor the longstanding bloggers or the bloggers appointed to lead the conversation.
    the emergent way, and the way it will probably
    (and i say PROBABLY) happen is this:
    1. You all left trails to this post, trails going back to your blogs (unless you left an email address). Readers will click on your name and follow your trail IF they like what you have said. If you continue the conversation on your blog, and If they really like you say, they will hyperlink to you and create more trails.
    2. If you hypertexted this exact blog post – http://tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com/tallskinnykiwi/2005/03/leadership_r_we.html – then you will go down on my list of “Trackbacks” – a convenient form of listing the trails on my site.
    Unfortunately, the trackback ability was left off until a few minutes ago – i may have missed some- but it is turned on again.
    People who want to follow the conversation will click on the trackbacks listed on this page (if they happen)
    3. Google will make it easy – the google search engine is a bloodhound looking for trails. The google bots will be making their rounds in a few days – who knows when – and they will pick up the conversation, where it is going, who is reading it and who is linking back to it. Google will recognize the patterns and recommend some of your blogs over others.
    4. Because of the search engines, google in particular, a large number of people will go to a small number of websites to follow this conversation.
    This will happen over the next few days, if Google turns up soon.
    So . . . if you would like to carry this particular conversation, you just need to put out the best post and link back here- and the community will vote with their links and content on which is most worthwhile. And Google will judge.
    Of course you could increase your chances by telling me or commenting again with a link to your exact blog post and that would help move things along.
    Again, thanks for your thoughts – I would love to carry on talking about this, and look forward to doing so on one of your blogs. Kiwiskinnyblackframe50x75

  • On the Road says:

    Emergin Leadership and vision

    Firstly, why does my head react immediately in some respects to the suggesting of the more laissez-faire form of leadership put forward and practiced among emerging models?

  • Marc says:

    Hello blogging friends,
    I addressed this issue in an open paper, published on my weblog. Would value your comments.
    Marcs paper here

  • andrew jones says:

    ok – the discussion didnt go anywhere from here.
    i think i will just add some more thoughts here in response to your comments and thoughts.
    – i see emerging style leadership in the commissioning of the disciples, and in the way the Apostle Paul “emerged” into a key player at a later time.
    – i dont believe anarchy is what we are seeing or even aiming at. the distance between tryanny and anarchy may only be one person away. anarchy would be difficult to acheive if EVERYONE was equipped to give leadership and was involved in decision making.
    – leadership in the emerging church, whatever form it takes, must be about equipping everyone to lead rather than expending too many resources on training one big hairy leader.
    – leadership like i just described is probably harder to maintain, and establish, and it should not be called
    BTW – i have been reading the book of Judges recently to get a grasp of theocracy over monachary. Israel wanted a king (of course) but God’s idea was originally more emergent than that – judges and prophets. Did they have a hierachy?
    Any bible scholars out there?

  • Are we mainstream yet?

    Alan Creech notes, the word gets out…. as he and several others have reported, The Jessamine Journal has published an article on the emerging church… and this is one of the good ones (note Alan Creech was also interviewed for the article). “Emerge…

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