Stories of a broken trellis – Mark

Glen Scrivener wrote an article in EN called the Blokes worth watching conveyer belt. There has been a huge response to his article and it seems to have touched a nerve.

His examples are about a historic, specific situation. Yet the comments I’ve read and the experiences I’ve seen show that this is current and endemic. I want to share stories that show the impact of the “Blokes Worth Watching”(BWW) system. Other people’s stories help us process our own, others stories help us identify problem, others stories show us that change needs to happen.

Glen I totally agree “Parts of the trellis have let us down – at times, dreadfully. Yet Jesus never will. In this moment of crisis it is the perfect opportunity to think on Him, sing to Him, call on Him, abide in Him – to discover, perhaps for the first time, what true theology, worship, prayer and discipleship means“. If you haven’t read Glen’s article, please read that first.

Mark’s story

“I’ve been in a leadership team that obsesses over raising leaders, and by leaders I mean elders, and by elders, I mean men. We spent time discussing a book called ‘The World Needs More Elders’, focusing on the need to raise men to ‘build the church’. Very little time was spent discussing raising women leaders. When it came to a small group to support the eldership in strategy and vision of the church, it was only men who were picked. I can’t recall a discussion around how to choose the ‘right’ man but in practice it was those who gave up a lot of time and were known to the leaders. 

The environment I was in is not unique, it was a model repeated through many churches in the group of churches we belonged to. Now I am outside of it, it is easy to sound critical, but I was in that church because there was much I loved. As Glen states in his article, the vine, Jesus, was clearly visible, until the trellis, the church systems, became so wonky it no longer held much of what was once so beautiful. I was pushed out because I was pointing out how wonky the trellis had become. 

While God has been gracious to many churches that do have a model of BWW, BWW easily creates a culture of idolising the trellis rather than guiding people to the vine. It highlights an unhealthy obsession with leadership and promotes the idea that leaders are “leaders of leaders” and ‘their’ churches are “leader factories” (quotes are used because I’ve heard these phrases used positively by leaders). In my experience this has led to pastors ignoring those who don’t fit an ideal of leader quality and having limited discipleship for the whole church. It also sets an unhealthy hierarchy in eldership teams with the “lead” (the paid one) being in charge instead of the mutual submission that is needed. The pressure builds to ‘raise’ leaders and character easily becomes secondary. Much can be ignored if you focus on all the good a person does for the church.

Scrutinising the trellis and being honest about its wonkiness is a start to being able to repair it but some churches won’t even get that far. Much of what Glen describes seems to highlight an underlying culture, a structure holding up the trellis, of comfort, control, and insecurity. We stick with what worked before and we train people in the same way we were taught without question. We pick leaders that look like what we think the trellis needs – the charismatic preacher, the person that serves on all the rotas, the person that can play the guitar and sing well, and so on. How many do we overlook because they don’t fit the current leadership mould? Perhaps we stick with BWWs because anyone else would be risky, we might offend those who prop the trellis up, financially or otherwise.

How do we fix this? How do we fight against comfort, control, and insecurity? Glen focuses on the centrality of the gospel and states a deep transformation of character is needed. This is something that is worth digging into further but it needs to be discussed alongside discipleship. Both character and discipleship are assumed to be a natural part of the Christian life, especially by those in leadership, but I’ve found they are not often prioritised in preaching or practice.

Character isn’t about being perfect, as we all know, we all fall short of God’s glory. Because of this truth, it is about being humble, to be able to hear where we are falling short without knee-jerking into defensiveness, it is about being able to repent. Hurt caused in churches is often compounded by leaders who defend rather than repent. Character is also about being known, not just to the leadership, but to the congregation. Many leaders aren’t vulnerable, they don’t share their doubts and struggles due to various fears. Some share just enough in a sermon to sound relatable but never enough to highlight their insecurities. 

Acts 6 gives a solution to BWW and a lack of accountability in the church – if anyone was a bloke worth watching it was Stephen, but instead of the leaders picking Stephen, he was chosen by those around him not by those ‘in leadership’. He was known to all, not just fast tracked by current leadership. When it comes to potential leaders, are they accountable to or even appointed by the congregation or are they just picked by the elders/leaders? Are they known for what they do for the trellis or are they known for how they love others and point to the beauty of the vine? 

Discipleship is practised when one is known by other Christians who are devoted to scripture and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer (as per Acts 2:42). Discipleship is for every Christian and is where we challenge one another to be more like Jesus together. I emphasise ‘one another’ because many churches will have discipleship in a manner where one is discipled and the other is a discipler. Leaders lead and everyone must follow, challenges regarding character and theological conclusions only go in one direction and heavy shepherding becomes an issue. A healthy view of discipleship is not hierarchical but a disciple helping another disciple get to know the Rabbi. This form of discipleship seems to be quite rare but through it people become known and trusted as leaders out of relationship not through BWW.

Fixing the trellis requires us to go back to the basics of being a Christian, reprioritising humility that we won’t get everything right, repentance when we don’t, and a heart for people that leads to discipleship. It is by doing these things that we find, in the kingdom, a healthy trellis is supported and built up by the vine and not the other way around”.

Read more accounts of others impacted by the BWW culture here.

Nay has written a response to Glen Scrivener’s article in August’s edition of Evangelicals Now, read it here.

Published by Nay Dawson

Hello and thank you for reading my blog. I'm married to Jon and live in Southampton with our two girls. I work with IFES Europe as their Regional Training Co-ordinator, training staff and students across Europe. In 2019 I set up Passion for Evangelism a network of creative, public female speakers. I'm a Trustee for the Cowrie Scholarship Foundation raising essential funds for disadvantaged Black British Students. I'm also a Trustee for Friends International helping welcome International students to the UK. In response to the war in Ukraine I helped set up Ukraine Connect matching refugees and hosts across Europe

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