John Ewart on the Hourglass of Leadership

Have you ever been in a situation where decisions and the ability to move forward were stifled because there was a bottleneck somewhere in the leadership process? It can be extremely frustrating, especially when you are the one causing the problem!

Years ago, I had an experienced leader teach me about what he called the “hourglass of leadership.” Perhaps you will find some aspect of this helpful. I have referred to it often.

Think about the shape of an hourglass. Wide at the top and bottom with a very narrow middle. That middle part is very strategic. It is designed to allow only a certain amount of sand to sift through thus creating the timing mechanism. If the gap is too wide, the sand moves too quickly and the timing is off. If the gap is too narrow, the sand is blocked from making progress and the instrument becomes useless. That small gap actually makes certain the hourglass fulfills its designed purpose.

Leadership can be described as that gap. Good leaders help determine pace and timing. Effective leaders maintain the connection to the designed purpose. When leadership is too wide open, unfocused and inattentive, there is often no calibration. In church life that can result in a bumper car mentality (see previous posts) with ministries all doing their own things. They have little to no connection to a greater, designed purpose. Resources and efforts are going off in a million directions, competing with one another and very little progress is really ever accomplished.

If leadership is too tightly controlling, however, it can lead to a halt of movement, a stifling of creativity and lack of progress as well. Leaders who have to be in every meeting and personally make every decision can hurt and even stop growth no matter how brilliant and talented they are. They create a bottleneck of micromanagement which inevitably becomes frustrating for everyone involved, including them!

There is a needed balance of uniformity and release in church leadership. This proper balance of uniformity, creativity and delegation can create an environment in which healthy scalability can occur. In other words, if everyone is on the same page, actually understands what that page is, why it is important to all be on that page and then is allowed some flexibility to create on that page, you can create a climate of uniform vision and be in a positive position for healthy growth.

Leadership must bring ministry leaders together in a united vision designed to fulfill a biblical mission. They must lead others to participate in building a train that is hooked together, moving down a single track in synergy as compared to riding around on the bumper cars. This takes time and a certain pace that can often be very contextual. Like sand properly sifting through an hourglass. If the attempt is made to change them too suddenly, there is often rebellion. It is similar to a child that have never been told “No” and suddenly is disciplined. It can lead to conflict.

But once that vision page is drawn together and everyone is on board, leadership must also release responsibilities in delegated trust with accountability back to the ministries in order to see the base grow and extend. If you do not, you will create a backlog of decisions and lack of action. You will soon be stuck and plateau can occur. Eventually, you will forget to make certain decisions in a timely fashion because they all rest on your shoulders and you will create even more confusion about the vision and mission.

So think about the hourglass. What is the proper vision and timing for this place and these people to fulfill God’s mission? How can I bring them together in unity and them let them go in ministry?


Scott Kellum: What is the New Testament Canon (Part 2)?

[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Aug. 8, 2012. It is the second of four by L. Scott Kellum, Associate Professor of New Testament & Greek at Southeastern, on the New Testament canon. In this post he writes on the collections of New Testament books and their apostolic origins. Check in next Monday for part 3.]

Yesterday, I wrote about the idea of the canon. Today, I want to begin to explore the reception of the individual portions of the NT. I believe the publication of the NT as a collection is clear evidence of the belief that these books were the New Covenant documents for the Church. The early manuscripts of the NT circulated in four volumes of codices (a codex is like modern books, not rolls). These are the Four-Gospels, Acts-General Epistles, Pauline Epistles, and Revelation. From the manuscripts and description in the Church Fathers, these are set by the mid-point of the second century (AD 150). Things common in the manuscripts like the nomina sacra (abbreviations of the divine names), titles, and arrangements show a common ancestor(s) for these collections. This means that the collections as collections must be much earlier than AD 150. For most of the collections we can confidently date them into the early second century or late first century (of course, the books themselves are much earlier). The first of these collections to be published (and I believe the forerunner for the rest) is the Pauline letter collection.

As a young Christian, I was taught that Paul’s letters originally circulated individually. Over time Churches shared their letters with one another and a collection eventually grew—Porter calls this the “snowball theory.” It is not likely that this was the case. A collection of Paul’s letters is mentioned in 2 Peter, suggesting that at least some of Paul’s letters were circulating in the late 60s (if we take 2 Peter as authentic as I do). Clement of Rome (c. AD 95) and Polycarp (c. AD 110) know of Paul’s letters and although they do not mention a collection per se, they cite so much of the corpus that it is unlikely they possessed a stack of individual letters. It is more likely that Paul’s letters were published as a collection in a codex.

Published letter collections were not uncommon in antiquity. The author put these letter collections together themselves, then either published posthumously by the author or his students. When an author would send a letter, he would often make a copy to keep for their records. The collection of these “retained copies” becomes the basis for publication. The implication is, then, that the author is responsible for the collection.

There is, quite possibly, evidence for this in the Scriptures. Paul, late in his life, asks Timothy at 2 Tim. 4:13 to bring him “especially the parchments.” This word “parchment” is a word for that describes a papyrus codex. This is possibly Paul’s retained letters. At any rate, retained letters would have originally been in a papyrus notebook format. If so, this explains at least two questions regarding the collection. First, it explains how we have small books like Philemon. How on earth does a 1-page personal letter survive at Philemon’s home? It survived because Paul kept a copy. Second, it explains why certain letters are missing in the Corinthian correspondence. The “former letter” (1 Cor. 5:9) and the “severe letter” (2 Cor. 7:8) are missing because Paul did not retain copies for whatever reason. Then, some individual, whether Paul or a surrogate, takes the codex notebook of letters and publishes it. It is rapidly received as Scripture in the early Church.

The books are generally arranged in the same order as in our English Bibles except for one thing: the book of Hebrews is placed between 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy in most manuscripts, although some have it elsewhere. For example, the earliest manuscript (P 46) has it immediately after Romans. The letters are arranged by length and content. Letters to Churches are first (Romans-2 Thessalonians) then letters to individuals (1 Timothy – Philemon) in descending length. Hebrews is placed between these two groupings, I believe because it transitions nicely between letters to churches and letters to individuals, in spite of the fact that it is longer than all but Romans and 1 Corinthians. Although I do not believe Paul wrote Hebrews, I do believe that it has strong connections to him. I further believe that it owes its place among the Scriptures by virtue of its position in the Pauline letter collection. If this collection owes its origins to Paul, it is probable that the inclusion of Hebrews is not a late addition but owes its inclusion to Paul or his followers.

All of this leaves us with two conclusions. Regarding the canonical status of Paul’s letters, that issue has been settled by none other than Peter (assuming 2 Peter to be original). Furthermore, the content of the collection is also apostolic, i.e., the books were collected by Paul. Paul not only collected, but since we know of missing letters, there is a strong possibility that Paul was selective in the content of the collection. This sets us very far from the 4th and 5th century greybeards sorting and sifting. The collection is apostolic in its origin and recognition.


For further reading:

H. Gamble. Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1995.

E. R. Richards. Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004.

D. Trobisch. Paul’s Letter Collection: Tracing the Origins (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000.

S. E. Porter. “When and How was the Pauline Canon Compiled? An Assessment of Theories.” In The Pauline Canon, ed. S. E. Porter. Boston: Brill, 2004.