Leadership and Listening: Spiritual Foundations for Church Governance

Donald Zimmer, Alban, 2011, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Church governance has had several forms (from ancient Israel to the current): governing institutions (from Nehemiah’s simple project to Herod’s elaborate bureaucracy), elder leadership in the early church, charismatic leadership gave way to more power in episcopal offices (institutional form), the contemplative movement (monastic life), valuation of daily work, and business enterprise (Jesus as CEO).

        Zimmer sketches each of these contributions to church governance theory and practice, and adds another contributor: spirituality, the nurture of the soul (‘imagination’) in the world of work (p 22). (Cf Marx’ theory of alienation as another call to work validation.) Spiritual discernment focuses on listening prayer, liturgy, story telling and reflection as ways of listening more attentively to G-d and to one another, the basis of holistic spirituality. Zimmer details insights for church governance from the natural order and from scripture.

        •From scripture. Called to be servants, blessed by differences (diversity), Christ’s image bearers in our society, gifted by the spirit, saved by grace for good works, called to rest and renewal (Sabbath), part of a highly interrelated world. These seven themes are not automatic steps but organic, coming from within.

        •From the natural order. Wholeness (creation is an unbroken whole), unique identity (eg DNA particularity), self organization, facility of information transfer, openness (physics suggests how the world works—‘creation is more sacramental than scientific’ p 72).

        Effective church governance means listening to G-d’s corporate spiritual discernment (simplicity, where we ‘centre down’; boards need to listen together and yield to G-d’s call. p 102).

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.