I come from a commie-pinko-hippie place that fetishizes individual choice and expression. I value personal liberty, even libertine attitudes toward sex, relationships and basically anything which isn't harmful to other human beings. When it comes to decision making I can wax poetic about the virtue of consensus building, spiritual discernment, and attenuated authority. I have been tempted to utter the phrase "can't we all get along," and not just in jest.
I don't know precisely how I landed in this place philosophically. Perhaps it has to do with growing up in California. Perhaps it is my parent's fault. Perhaps it was the liberal-beyond-belief undergraduate program I attended. Perhaps it is something native to me. Probably it is all of the above.
However, no matter what I believe philosophically about communal living, and shared responsibility, and egalitarian power structures, in practice, as a pastor, I make decisions for other people and I bear more responsibility than other people do. I am not just one person in a community of equals. I am a leader, and I find leadership to be indispensable to the health of the church.
Here is what usually happens when a group of people come together to make a decision: most of the group sits in silence while a few people with strong opinions debate back and forth until one side wins out, or someone with authority weighs in and terminates the discussion. Whatever decision making method is employed (voting, consensus, fiat), it is usually a formality. The actual decision was made based on the balance of investment in the group. Whoever was most invested in the outcome usually gets their way.
Sometimes this investment arises naturally. Sometimes people really care about the issue and they are therefore willing to invest in the decision making process to get the outcome they desire. Many times, however, no one cares and no one is willing to invest. A leader is basically someone who is willing to invest for the sake of the community moving forward on an issue where it would otherwise stagnate.
For consensus to really work everyone involved has to be willing to invest. I still hold that this is ideal. I still believe that the best decisions, the ones that accomplish the most in the life of the community, are ones in which the entire community has invested. However, the reality is that this is a rare occurrence. Most of the time a majority of people do not want to invest, and so it falls to a minority to act on behalf of the group. Frequently this minority is the same person or handful of people over and over. This pattern is what ends up distinguishing leaders and followers. Leaders are those who are repeatedly willing to invest in decision making processes. Followers are those who repeatedly defer to others.
No one is a leader all of the time and few people are followers all of the time. Even if we have a strong proclivity toward leadership we usually have venues in which we behave as followers and vice versa. I also don't want to suggest that leaders are superior. A person may be willing to invest in decision making processes for entirely ignoble reasons. The will to power, arrogance, and selfishness can all play a part in why a person might take on a mantle of leadership. Followers, likewise, are not necessarily obsequious. One might choose to follow out of deference to another person of greater knowledge or skill. One might choose to follow out of self-preservation in a climate of mistrust. One might choose to follow simply out of exhaustion. Extroversion and introversion probably have their say in which role we choose as well.
So the question that arises for me is: if my model of ideal community is mutual and consensual, but I recognize a practical necessity for leadership, how can I lead in a way that approaches my ideal?