About This Blog

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

"58 to 0" (Jon Zens)

TITLE: 58 to 0: How Christ Leads Through The One Anothers
AUTHOR: Jon Zens
PUBLISHER: Omaha, NE: Ekklesia Press, 2013, (202 pages).

Have we bought in lock-stock-and-barrel the prestige and accolades given to all things leadership? Are leadership conferences, seminars, and often expensive resources out there worth the investment? What about leadership in churches? Is the modern concept of leadership hierarchies biblical to begin with? The key point of this book is this:

"In the NT, the organic way for everything to develop is through the functioning of all the living stones together. The starting point of assembly-life is the priesthood of all believers as a living reality."

The title of the book comes from the authors' interpretation of the New Testament whereby Christ is the leader while everyone else are followers. Thus, there is no NT justification for decision-making or leadership stuff only to be left to the hierarchy of leaders that we have today. Instead, Jon Zens and Graham Woods argue that the responsibility lies with the "58 others" or the whole body of Christ.

Part One of the book is about Zens' passion for life and his understanding of what NT leadership is all about. He sets the stage by criticizing society and the modern cultural emphasis on leadership which has become way too lopsided. So much so that organizations fail to function when there is a lack of leaders. For the Christian, living biblically means serving one another, rather than human conquer and control of people to do the work that top leaders demand. Zens frowns upon titles. He attacks any "strongly hierarchical social
setting" especially because he does not believe the NT promotes that. He traces all the way back to AD150 when Clement of Alexandria first made a distinction between "priest" and "laity" to identify the cause of our modern problem. Such an initiative led to Church-State issues, Church power and control, Chapter 5 is a direct aim against the leadership paradigms of this age, especially those that concentrate power and decision making at the top of an established hierarchy. Zens claims that it is the "ekklesia" that is tasked to do the whole work of God, and not just a hierarchy that is dependent on a few at the top. He then shares four external cultural forces at work and three internal "quills" to beware of, those that threaten the rise of the ekklesia.  External forces like mobility threaten to keep people "too mobile" that they are not at any one place long enough to develop meaningful relationships. The length and distance from one another is also a challenge. Likewise, in a culture of individualism, people build walls easily from one another. Then there are materialism and consumerism pressures that distract and deter people from giving priority to building relationships. Internal forces exists in the form of "toxic personalities" which threaten to unravel communities. Those suffering from an "utopian personality" tend to substitute common affection with perfectionism. Zens also identifies those with a long-time influence in institutional leadership, who may also disrupt any group that is ekklesia in purpose and nature.

Part Two of the book deals with a selected number of "Voices from the People" who are all expounding on the importance of the Ekklesia. Like Hans Van Campenhausen, who questioned the notion of "apostolic authority" that the one in leadership takes authority from among the people, and not above or on top of them. Judy Schindler traces the rise of the One-bishop rule in the early church from 100AD to 250AD. Jon Zens even contributes about five articles in this section, raising the importance of the ekklesia at the expense of the "Roman Catholic" form of institutional hierarchy and leadership structures. Chapter 26 uses "Roman Catholic" in a rather pejorative manner.

So What?

When one passionately believes something, it is very tempting to go one step too far. For some, it is possible to throw away the baby with the bathwater. That is the feeling I get as I read this book. While I am in agreement with the importance of the ekklesia, the need to cultivate relationships, the importance to resist any institutional power and control over any community, I do not find Zens providing us with an alternative that is practical or appropriate for our times. His understanding of Church history tends to be rudimentary, especially when I read how he talks negatively about the early church fathers and how the Ignitian era births the separation of clergy and laity, plus the rise of the one-bishop rule. Church history is more nuanced and needs to be interpreted and understood from a larger perspective.

My feeling about Church leadership and its existing structures now is that we cannot simply tear down the entire structure overnight and not understand why it is there in the first place. Every Christian claims to have Christ over their lives, but how that is practiced is subject to individual interpretations. In fact, the very challenges that Jens highlight, assuming they are valid, can also be applied to any structures that Zens is advocating in the first place. Assuming there is a body of believers who have absolutely no hierarchy and calls themselves Ekklesia Church. When they want to rent a place for worship, they are asked about their official name for registration and rental paperwork.
  • "We have no leader but Jesus Christ!"
  • "Everyone of us is a leader. Everyone represents the whole body."
  • "We have no structure. We have no hierarchy."
  • "Who is authorized to sign on behalf of the Church? All of you?"
Somehow, I feel that there is no need to dismantle every structure for the sake of dismantling or proving we are structureless, or that our leader is Christ. A failing of hierarchical leadership does not mean the entire institution needs to be torn down. Just like we do not tear down the whole house just because the toilet is choked, or when the garage door fails to open. We need to fix what needed to be fix. We need to correct what needed to be corrected. In fact, the way to use this book is for it to be a corrective against stubborn structures of power and control rather than a corrosive to melt away completely all the structures and processes that have worked over the years. Anyone who comes to me and say that there is no need for structures will only be deceiving themselves. A "no-structure" group is essentially a structure in themselves. If not, it is only a matter of time before a structure will rise up from among them. Blame it not on the structure per se but on the tendency of the human heart to "structurize" anything.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of the publisher and SpeakEasy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment