Recently I have been reading the book Open Source Church: Making Room for the Wisdom of All by Landon Whitsitt. I admit that I am greatly intrigued by the ideas which Whitsitt puts forth in the book. A statement that he made in one of the chapters I was reading made me start to think a bit. He said, “stop hunting for an expert and ask the crowd for solutions instead, because it probably knows.” I think that this statement should cause believers to stop and think about their understanding of “church.”
The model for the church which most of us are familiar with and which has been around for close to a hundred years is one where the leader has attended special classes and therefore is viewed as an “expert” in all aspects of the Christian faith. The members of a given congregation, turn to the leader for advice on matters regarding faith and clear interpretations of Scripture. Often, that leader is also expected to guide the administrative functions of the congregation, the mission activities of the congregation, the personnel matters of the congregation, and the list continues.
What Whitsitt proposes is that we change the model of church so that we are not lifting up an “expert” to do all the work and make all the decisions. As I read his ideas, it made me think of the TV game show, “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.” One of the lifelines that was available for the contestants as they try to answer questions was to poll the audience. More often than not, the majority of the audience came up with the right answer. It seems collective wisdom is better than individual wisdom.
I think there is something to this idea. In my particular flavor of being the church, we have actual procedures and guidelines in our constitution that requires a balance between clergy and laity. Decisions are made by a group of individuals versus a single person. The group cannot act without the clergy’s involvement but the clergy cannot act, in most cases, without the groups involvement. This was designed because of a fundamental belief that the Spirit speaks through the voices of a group of Christians more often than through the voice of one. I think also that much like the game show, the collective wisdom is always better than the individual wisdom. Each person is limited by their perspective, experience, and gifts. A combining of individuals brings together multiple perspectives, experiences, and gifts so that the group as a whole is greater than an individual alone.
This is not a new concept. There are many examples in which this approach is taken and with great outcomes. However, the concept is not always understood and followed within the church. I think it is time that we lift this up much more as the model instead of the exception.
I also realize that there are times and circumstances when leaders, as individuals, are called upon to make decisions without group involvement. However, I feel these decisions should be limited and used cautiously. This also does not eliminate the need for a leader to cast a vision, provide direction on the agreed upon path, or stand up in the midst of crisis.