Most of the Bible is filled with tribal languages, especially through the Old Testament. Abraham was the leader of a small tribe, which would grow with his children and grandchildren into what we know as the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus comes on the scene and calls twelve men and a group of women together to continue his mission into the world. The day of Pentecost comes and we find that about 120 people were gathered together. This, in reality, is a tribe. It is a group of people joined together in all aspects of their lives, and working for the common goal and mission.
Early Church gatherings and church formations throughout much of history have operated much like the tribal system from which Israel formed. A leader or a handful of leaders formed a church, what some might call a small group today. That group would grow, but in most cases because they were meeting in homes the group size eventually was forced to split. When we read Paul’s writings to the churches of the New Testament. These writings are often to a group of leaders, who likely had churches throughout the cities and provinces that he was writing. It would have been impossible for a persecuted church to gather inthe hundreds and thousands in one location without drawing the unwanted attention of Rome. We have to remember that at the time Christianity was considered illegal atheism to the Roman Authorities.
Following this beginning, the Church Universal grew through people carrying God’s word, in small groups, out to the world. Churches were established in villages, towns, cities, and rural areas of the world. These establishments started much like they do today, with a handful of people joining together for study and encouragement, again what some would call small groups. Family leaders brought their families together, and out of these groups a church formed. Even the early beginnings of American Christianity, from the small tribe of pilgrims to the many established churches that popped up with settlers as the nation grew, was built upon the joining of several families in a common focus. This is still the basis of a majority of the churches in America, where most churches remain under 150 people in weekly attendance. In fact, if you seriously study the growth of small groups in the mega-church movements you will find that successful growth beyond the 150 mark entails some sort of formation of groups of tens, the twenties, and even fifties, for deeper study and fellowship. This is because people tend toward a deep relationship in a smaller group, and most of us have deep relational needs. It is how we are created to live and work by God.
Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fisher-Wright have written an organizational leadership book entitled, “Tribal Leadership”. It is a great book for learning about the dynamics for leading and strengthening your leadership as a tribal leader. I would encourage anyone interested in tribal leadership or who leads a small group or smaller church to look into the thoughts of this book. In the beginning, of their book, they describe some information about what tribes are. Here are a few descriptions they give:
- “Human beings form tribes”. (Introduction)
- “Every organization is really a set of small towns. We call these small towns tribes.” (p.3-4)
- “A tribe is a group of between 20 and 150 people.” (p.3-4)
I found the number “between 20 and 150” very interesting. I’ve been told for more than twenty years of pastoral ministry that a small church is a church under 150 people. I have also been taught that in most cases a person can only effectively pastor about 150 people before they must call on others for help and expand the pastoral care. It was refreshing to see in print what God was already laying on my own heart, that I must change my ministry from being worried about super growth, numbers, or trying to lead a corporation. A few years ago I fought my own ego and the pressure of many in the background in which I find myself ministering. I began seeing that the smaller or small-town church isn’t a bad thing, its simply different than the larger church focus, of most books out on church health. I began to see that, like much of the Biblical history and much of human history, we in small town ministry operate more as a tribe than a corporation.
I am being encouraged through this book on “Tribal Leadership”. I am starting to see some better ways to lead the tribe in which God has called me to lead. I am also understanding in my experience more and more that, like Abraham, Jacob, and others in the Bible, I am not some general out in front of troops or leading from behind to get people to do what I want to be done. Instead, I am living life with the people. I am going through the trials and problems with them. When they hurt, I hurt. When they cry, I cry. When they celebrate, I celebrate. I know many larger church pastors say these things about those they lead, but the reality of psychological and personal dynamics show us that it is impossible to really know thousands of people personally at a level that makes us a family with them. A tribe is, in essence, the agreement of a group of families to form a united family group. In the smaller church the pastor, and more often the pastor and spouse, are called to be the leader of that family group, that tribe.
I want to encourage others who are on this same journey, in a similar call to the smaller parish life. Yes, there will be painful experiences in your ministry. Yes, there will be times you hurt so badly and hope so hard that you loose sleep over those whom you have let into your heart. It is the risk of being in a family. The risk of being a part of a tribe. Stopping thinking that you are leading some business organization, and start simply living life with the tribe God has called you to. You may not have your name on the cover of a major leadership magazine or ever speak to hundreds of thousands of people. However, you will know the joy of seeing children grow into adults who carry God into their own families and daily lives. You will be blessed to have a family unit far larger than just you, your spouse, and your children. You will find ties that really can last a lifetime. In the end, you will not know just how many people you have affected within the greater community that you have become a part of. This is especially true if you can help to bring true Godly love and unity into the DNA of your tribe.
I pray that God blesses you, as you lead the tribe you are called to lead. I pray that God gives you the daily call to be the leader who unites and encourages the tribe toward greater things in His purpose within the community that you are called to live.
(Book note: Logan, Dave; King, John; Fischer-Wright, Halee (2009-10-13). Tribal Leadership. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.)