Banishing Lonely Cheese
The cheese stands alone.
So ends the well known, if not strange, children's rhyme. I don't really understand what lonely cheese even means. But, there it is. Hi-ho the dairy-o, the cheese stands alone.
Rugged individualism is a value unique to America. We begin learning loneliness at an early age. The cowboy alone and at home on the range. The lonely explorer on the lonely planet, traveling for days, writing in her journal of fantastic new discoveries. The astronaut, alone, dealing with a space emergency. This is the stuff of American novels and movies and has sometimes become our idealized life. Of course, much to the annoyance of some, alone-ness is not our reality. I do believe it is our ideal. Recent articles on the Internet extolling the virtues of introvert-ism are continued evidence of our ethos. I will be lonely cheese that stands firm to the end.
I can do it myself. I will do it myself. I do all the work, I get all of the credit. It's a kind of work ethic that's quite normal here. I feel that somewhat in my job now. Most of the time, I do my work from the confines of my 11-inch Macbook Air in whatever room I decide to settle myself down in. I kind of look forward to warmer weather, so I can find a place outside with an Internet connection. But, nevertheless, it's work that I must do. I must do it alone.
But I'm not alone.
I have a team consisting of individuals spread around the country who do the same kind of work I do. We are accountable to each other. We succeed together. We go down together. Even though we don't see one another so much, we talk weekly. We pray at least weekly. Its interdependence in ways I oddly enough have not experienced in the past. I'm grateful for the weird way this working community works. It's healthy.
There's no cheese standing alone.
The church we are now attending does not have a senior pastor. There's not a Lone Ranger serving as the minister. There's no one person who does all of the preaching, teaching, serving, leading, counseling, community development, cleaning of the bathrooms. The church leadership model is one of interdependent leadership, and I must say it's the healthiest leadership model I've ever witnessed.
I used to be the cheese and I stood alone. I preached. I counseled. I scheduled the church facilities. I unclogged toilets. My desk was the place where the powerful and proverbial buck actually did stop. Small confession: as much as I verbally protested that this is not the way it should be, my ego did rather enjoy the lone cheese importance. Even in a small church setting, it's a position of power and of influence. The human ego (dare I say, specifically, the male ego?) likes power and influence, even if it's just a little bit.
When we began the International Church I served in Mongolia, I remember beginning to see this healthier model of multiples. Different ones who would teach. Different ones who serve — but teaching and serving with a unified message and aim. It was good.
The church we now attend does this well. It's the ethos. After listening to a beautiful message by a young man who serves as the part time youth pastor this past Sunday, I walked out of the building with the thought that I never want to be a part of church that does it any other way. There should be no lonely cheese.
There are many ways I see interdependent leadership applied. Teaching is the easiest one to use for exemplary purposes.
When I teach, I tend to do so in a didactic/prophetic way. Meaning, I teach and seek to make application of the Word at that moment. Nothing wrong with that. However, there needs to be much more than that.
The New Testament speaks of a single body with many gifts in several places. Ephesians 4 speaks specifically to leadership. There are leaders with gifts of pastor, teacher, apostle, prophet, evangelist. The church needs all of those these gifts. No one person can provide all of these gifts. But a team can. Let them all serve. Build capacity in leadership so that the leaders can be used, both according to qualification AND in the unique way the Holy Spirit has gifted each one. Healthy leadership will result in a healthy church.
Spiritual health is attained when believers live in a way that denies self and walks with Jesus and His cross. This can't be accomplished in solitude. There must be some sort of community. We are not made to walk alone. Even the most introverted among us are not destined to loneliness.
I walked away from our service on Sunday with an odd determination that was probably not the intent of the speaker. As far as it is possible with me, I will not join or serve in a church that does not have at least a bent toward walking in interdependent leadership. It's a right, good and healthy model — and I would argue it's the most Biblically sound model.
We were not made to be lonely cheese.