Ecclesial Leadership As Friendship

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Chloe Lynch
Explorations in Practical, Pastoral and Empirical Theology
  • New York, NY: 
    , February
     280 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


One question everyone faces at some stage is: What is your story, and how has it shaped you? This is where Chloe Lynch’s thought-provoking book Ecclesial Leadership as Friendship begins. She writes in her introduction: “My story and my context are thus the starting points for my imagination. Such starting points influence my capacity to apprehend a theological reality which may not yet be seen to be manifest in practice, because they both engender the questions I ask and determine the sources which I consider suitable not only to unleash, but also properly to bridle” (5).

Her imaginative approach to leadership is then divided into four parts: (1) a sense of pain as someone immersed in ecclesial life; (2) a deep remembering in scripture and tradition; (3) weaving these rememberings into a way of imagining incarnational ecclesial leadership; and (4) an active practice of hope which engages the prophetic imagination in promises of hope.

Lynch reiterates the value of stories in her opening chapters, stating: “We are formed by the narratives we inhabit, their practices and values becoming our own” (12). One of the most significant stories in respect to church leadership is what she calls the narrative of managerialism. The impact this narrative has in churches is theologically problematic, and its necessary dismantling is a painful exercise. Lynch argues that managerialism is linked to the functionality of Taylorism and McDonaldization, narratives of growth and success, and churches formed by models of consumerism and market practices. She argues that churches need to seek a different theological telos beyond these widely accepted cultural norms, which is a challenging and painful process.

Her search for theological counter-narratives begins with the doctrine of the incarnation as a means of exploring Christian practice. For Lynch, ministry is rooted in Christ’s vicarious priesthood and participation in the way Jesus reconciles humanity to God. This reorientation of the basis for ministry leads into a practice of deep remembering, initially through conversations about servant leadership with Ray Anderson and Robert Greenleaf. Whilst sympathetic to the metaphor of servanthood, Lynch is also aware that it is problematic—not least because it raises questions about power. To address these issues, Lynch returns to the doctrine of the incarnation and the language of kenosis (self-emptying) from Philippians 2:5–9 as a way of discovering a healthier way of “belonging-in-community” (87).

The final chapter, on deep remembering, deals with memories of the church and how “the act of kenosis which is the incarnation” can be manifest in “kenotic community,” which is not just church but “the whole of humanity by virtue of Christ’s solidarity with the flesh” (95). This opens up a discussion about boundaries between insiders and outsiders. Alongside the kenotic calling of the church to the world is the ek-static vocation of the Spirit lived in the presence of God. Thus, for Lynch, sharing in Christ’s life is “a participation in the community of lived transcendence, caught up by the Spirit in Christ’s movement of love towards the Father which is true worship and in his extension of divine love to humanity” (101). She argues that this is the church’s telos and the trinitarian basis for exploring ecclesial leadership as friendship, which she sets out in part 3.

The opening chapter of the third part introduces this notion of incarnation ecclesial leadership as friendship, which is then explored more fully through John 15:12–17 and Jesus’ description of the disciples as friends. Lynch considers how Aelred of Rievaulx interpreted this passage before examining how friendship is understood in the work of Thomas Aquinas, Søren Kierkegaard, and Anders Nygren. She concludes that Christian friendship is characterized by (1) a shared pursuit of God with sacramental, transformative, and eschatological implications; (2) limited particularity, albeit not exclusivity; (3) preference as an affective liking; (4) mutual benevolence undergirded by trust; and (5) recognition of different degrees on intimacy (168).

The fourth and final part seeks to work out these ideas in terms of ecclesial leadership. Lynch maintains that the kenotic offering of self in leadership is not without cost to the individual and is shaped by communal context. Once again she emphasizes the significance of story, arguing that the hermeneutical frame of the ecclesial community is “an important leadership component by which believers are enabled to make choices such that their own stories and symbols (both as many individuals and as one body) remain consistent with the larger narrative of the One in whom they participate” (181). Within this narrative framework the role of power continues to play a critical part, and she identifies “a cruciform exercise of power” (193) as fundamental to incarnational ecclesial leadership.

In her concluding chapter, Lynch acknowledges that the ideas she has set out can be both risky and costly, but then, she contends, so was the ministry of Jesus. Thus, she states: “The telos of incarnational ecclesial leadership is, rather, the deepening participation of believers in Christ’s life and ministry of love towards the Father which overflows to humanity. This is the end to which leadership must direct the church and the process by which influence towards that end occurs is a praxis of friendship” (208). It is within this context that power should be used in churches and congregations.

Lynch’s book is an enormously stimulating and engaging exploration of leadership in the church. The author writes out of her own evangelical background, and it is refreshing to read a sustained reflection on leadership from this context that is not just about functional notions of church growth. Lynch deals equally seriously with theological ideas and insights from organization studies. This book deserves to be read widely and published in a more accessible paperback version.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Vaughan S. Roberts is rector at the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick, UK and chair of the MODEM Hub for Leadership, Management and Ministry.

Date of Review: 
February 19, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Chloe Lynch is Lecturer in Practical Theology at London School of Theology.


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