As a community, we at The Table are committed to polycentric leadership.
Polycentric: Poly = short for polyester; centric = at the center. So all of our leaders wear polyester jeggings.
Just kidding. Wouldn’t that be awesome, though?
In all seriousness, poly means “many, much.” So polycentric leadership means “many leaders at the center.”
In distinction from a democracy, where the majority rules (and marginalizes the minority), and a “senior pastor monarchy,” where one person makes all the decisions (with a group of advisors), we seek to be a church that is a pneumacracy.
Pneuma = Greek for “Spirit,” cracy = rule.
At the Table we recognize that the Holy Spirit rules and reigns among us. But how does he do this? Through the polycentric leadership structure Paul explains in Ephesians 4:7-16: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers (APEST for short). These gifts (who are people) are given to build up the body of Christ.
We need multiple gifts leading together, complementing each other, to reach full maturity and knowledge and unity. Christ gives his Spirit and authority expressed in the fivefold structure of APEST to lead and guide his church.
We call this dynamic at work among us communal discernment.
Here are a few commitments that inform our understanding of this leadership structure:
1. God’s Spirit leads and guides our church
As members of Christ’s body, our job is discerning the kingdom of God in our midst together. This means that we are all responsible to pay attention to what God is saying and doing in our community through his Spirit.
Most of the time, one or two leaders do this job. But because we believe God’s Spirit leads our church (Rev 2:29, 3:22, etc), we all need to participate in discerning together. In order to do this rightly, the church needs to be built up into “full maturity,” so we need all five gifts of the Holy Spirit in operation (Eph 4:7-16).
Leaders at The Table are responsible for empowering and building up the body of Christ so we can discern together what God is doing and saying in our midst.
2. Jesus is the head of our body
Jesus is the head of the body (Col 1:18; Eph 5:23). Leaders lead, then, by holding open space for us as a body to discern how Jesus is leading.
In Acts 15, we see the church do this when Paul is called back to Jerusalem to give an account of the Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus. He and Barnabas share stories of Gentiles coming to faith, Peter shares, and finally James shares. Afterward, a letter is penned with the results of their communal discernment: “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (Acts 15:28).
Jesus has given us his Spirit, not just individually, but communally, as the new temple. And by this Spirit we discern, together, how Jesus is leading us using the wisdom and authority given to us to live out Jesus’ ministry today (Matt 28:18-20; Jas 3:13-18).
3. We handle conflict through communal discernment
Relational conflict in the church is inevitable, and we are intentional to handle it with communal discernment, following the wisdom of Matthew 18:15-20. This text is often misread as how to administer “church discipline” to one who is wrong or in sin. But the text itself calls this action “binding and loosing,” which is a rabbinical practice of discernment.
“Binding and loosing” is an act of discerning the kingdom of God in the midst of conflict. We submit to one another in love to discern the reality and truth of a situation (which is often hidden beneath layers of pain, blame, and shame). We bring others to help us listen and repent; we involve the church if need be.
This practice goes beyond individual sin and includes big, corporate issues that impact how we follow Jesus together. Issues such as:
- How do issues of wealth and consumption impact our witness in the suburbs?
- What sorts of violence can a follower of Jesus endorse and participate in, if any?
- If God is pro-life, how do we develop a consistent ethic that reflects God’s heart for the all the living?
- How do we posture ourselves in the highly charged atmosphere of same-sex relationships?
Issues like this, and many more, need to be communally discerned in our church. Instead of simply adopting the easiest position or relying on one of two leaders to make decisions, we seek to discern what “seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”
4. We resist individualistic “God told me” faith
In some circles, discernment is basically individualistic. Individuals declare “God told me,” which seems to put the matter beyond debate.
We resist this posture, because we recognize that we need help to hear God’s Spirit speak in our lives. What we believe we are hearing from God as individuals needs to be tested and sifted by God’s church (1 John 4:1; 1 Thess 5:19-21; 1 Cor 14:26-33).
Throughout the New Testament we see believers testing, sifting, listening, submitting, repenting, learning through engagement with God’s church. No one stands above the church, authoritatively speaking for God. No individual has a privileged position of infallibility.
Communal discernment goes hand in hand with mutual submission; we learn to trust that if we think we have a way forward, a word from God, a conviction about a certain issue or stance that we can submit that to the body for discernment. This comes out of a deep trust that God cares more than I do about outcomes and truth.
Jesus has given us his Spirit to lead us into all truth, so we commit to learn to trust that Spirit in the covenant community. We resist the power plays of “God told me” and learn to submit what we believe, our convictions, to the community of faith. We learn how to increasingly trust God’s voice in our life, and adopt a posture of mutually submitting what we hear and think to one another for confirmation and shaping.