Cliques, Celebrity Leaders, & The Disease of Hierarchy

33 Comments
February 14, 2012

If you have ever socialized with a group of human beings before, you have probably come into contact with the phenomena of cliques / factions, and celebrity fascination.  If you think back to your elementary school days, you will notice that kids seemed to exhibit this innate ability pretty early.  It is not something that has to be taught.

Cliques

The phenomena of ‘cliques’ usually begin in elementary / middle school when a particular child asserts himself, or is perceived as being superior to the rest of the children in the class.  Once that specific child is socially identified, other children begin to crave this person’s acceptance or approval and fight to become part of the select group that associates with this ‘popular’ person.  The group that is able to publicly associate themselves with this popular person becomes known as the ‘popular’ crowd, or the ‘in’ crowd.

This group has an unwritten, but socially understood, hierarchical pecking order.  What and who the popular person likes and accepts is what and who the rest of the popular group likes and accepts.  While the popular child is able to express himself / herself, the group that associates with this popular child is usually only able to quietly agree or express the opinion of the popular child.  If there is a disagreement with the popular child or if one of the children in the group seems to draw more attention to himself than the popular child, a conflict can erupt.  This usually results in the expulsion of the rival child from the group.  This rejected child then either becomes a ‘loner’ who becomes embittered, or he / she becomes the leader of a rival group of children who were not deemed popular enough to fit into the popular group.

The hierarchical ‘pecking order’ that I just described does not simply end in elementary or high school, but continues into every aspect of fallen human life.  You can see this principle at work within companies, governments, families, religious institutions / denominations, and even in the animal world.  There is a reason for this, and it goes all the way back to the garden of Eden.

Hierarchy

In the garden, mankind had access to two significant trees. One tree (the tree of life) would conform them to, and inject them with, God’s own life.  The other tree (tree of knowledge) would conform them to and inject into them a pattern of life that is patterned after a fallen angel (satan).  Angelic beings were created to operate by hierarchy.  Unfortunately Adam & Eve (and the human race who came from them) chose to receive from the forbidden tree of knowledge instead of God’s life from the tree of life.  Instead of being conformed to God’s image, mankind was conformed after the image of an angel (satan).  This is exactly why every aspect of fallen humanity in every society, including man’s religious system, is patterned in a ‘up / down’ hierarchical manner. It is natural to man’s system.  This curse has even been passed down to nature and the animal world.

The problem is, however, that human beings were created to conform to God’s life, and not angelic life.  Leadership, in God’s order, is completely different.  God’s view of leadership is the opposite of hierarchical, and is exactly why Jesus made this radical statement about ‘kingdom’ leadership and church life in Matthew 23:8-11.

But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant.

 
This truly radical statement from Jesus challenged mankind’s religious understanding of ‘leadership’. What Jesus said in this passage did violence against the religious hierarchical culture. While most preachers and theologians are quick to skip over this passage and explain what Jesus did not mean, few give attention to how radical this redefinition of ‘leadership’ actually is. (click here to read more about the non-hierarchical nature of New Testament leadership)

There is a reason Jesus challenged mankind’s common religious understanding of ‘leadership’. Life in the body of Christ (kingdom) was simply to be an expression of the life within the Trinity.  Unlike angelic life, life within the God-head is completely non-hierarchical.  While there is most certainly leadership in the body of Christ, as soon as ‘leadership’ begins to be understood in a hierarchical manner, it ceases to be kingdom leadership.

There is more that needs to be said about this in greater depth that address much of the error that is commonly taught about the nature of the Trinity and church function in the religious system.  A good friend of mine, Milt Rodriguez, has written an excellent book that I strongly recommend called: ‘The Community Life of God: Seeing The Godhead As The Model For All Human Relationships’.  (Everyone should have this book in their library!)

The good news is this, Christ has come to destroy factions, cliques, and the hierarchical pecking order that has been a hallmark of fallen humanity!  In Christ, all the distinctions of the flesh that keep us apart disappear! (Matt. 23:8-12, Gal. 3:28, etc…) The degree to which a person, or a community of people, are focused on the person of Jesus Christ and are living by His divine life will be the degree to which they actually live free of cliques, hierarchies, and Christian celebrity idols.  We may know these things intellectually, but our old nature will automatically gravitate back to this way of thinking by default apart from Christ’s supernatural life.

With that said, I’d like to call your attention to three fleshly temptations to beware of.  Simply being aware of these temptations will help us recognize when fleshly patterns are arising and give us an indication that we need to return to Christ’s life in us.

1. Beware of ‘selective associating’ and ‘selective name dropping’

I’m afraid this issue is alive and well in today’s celebrity culture.  You don’t have to be someone with influence over thousands to catch the disease of having a ‘celebrity’ mindset.  This can be a real temptation for anyone who is concerned about their public reputation and image.  

Like elementary school, there are people you will be tempted not to publicly associate with because of the ‘damage’ that it will do to your reputation or image.  This can be a difficult issue, especially, if the person you are tempted to avoid publicly is a figure that others you admire do not like.  Questions / rationalizations like these may run through your mind:

“What will they think of me if they know that I have a relationship with them?” (Awkward teenager dilemma)

“It will hurt my ministry, witness, and godly reputation if they see me associating with them.” (Ministry ‘stewardship’ dilemma)

“I will only publicly converse and associate with those whom I can wholeheartedly endorse and claim.”  (elitism dilemma)

As one who is pretty active in the social networking world, I see this occur often.  Big name Christian celebrities will often converse with and mention (name drop) other celebrity Christians publicly on forums like Twitter, Facebook, & the blogosphere in public conversations with one another, but will not converse publicly with anyone else of lesser perceived influence.  I regularly receive private messages and personal correspondence from others, including a few well known Christian leaders, who would never acknowledge me publicly.  That used to perplex me, but now I find it to be revealing.

Celebrities associate with celebrities in their self made ‘green’ rooms.

Celebrities associate with other celebrities at exclusive events. (Grammys)

Celebrities only make themselves available to other celebrities, but few others.

As members of Christ’s body, may these descriptions never be true of us!  In the course of my life, I have been impacted by a handful of people who went against the grain of the celebrity Christian culture and have made themselves accessible, both publicly and privately.  They did this even though they were counted among the ‘celebrity leader’ status.  

Because these few men and women have made themselves accessible to the ‘common folk’, they have been disdained by other celebrity leaders in their circles.  Nevertheless, these courageous folks continue to go against the grain of celebrity Christianity.

Those who have made themselves accessible have paid a dear price for this because, as the saying goes, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.  Nevertheless, I have learned more from these men and women by simply observing the way they interact with others than anything they may say or do.  We would all do well to follow their example…even on Twitter:)

2. Beware of giving false honor and respect to those on the leadership ‘stage’

While some may say that celebrity Christians need to step down from the ‘stage’, I completely disagree.  They should stay on that ‘stage’.  It is the ‘common folk’ who think they are not on the ‘stage’ who need to step up to the stage!  When you finally step up on the stage and find your voice, you’ll begin to see what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 23:8-11.  

You will see that you are on the same level and are actually ‘peers’ with those celebrities you once idolized.  You will see that they are simply fellow brothers and sisters in Christ like you.  You are free to speak to them, converse with them, and yes, even challenge them when appropriate.

Let me warn you, however.  If you do this, you will be seen as one who does not respect authority or someone who likes to stir up trouble.  Celebrities who have been placed on a stage over others may feel threatened when they are spoken to like a peer from someone they don’t consider a peer.  

Recently, I’ve observed a considerable backlash from the ‘celebrity’ clergy class against those who are challenging what they are publicly promoting.  I find that to be eye opening and even encouraging.  Don’t let this deter you.  You are free to see them as ‘peers’ even if they don’t see you that way.

3. Beware of comparing yourself to others, & stop comparing your brothers and sisters in Christ to one another

(especially vital for my brothers and sisters who are living in organic church life)

If you compare yourself to others, or compare others in the body of Christ to one another, it is a sign that you are operating in a very great blindness.  When sin occurred, we adopted an individualistic mindset that separated us from God, and from one another.  This resulted in a ‘rivalry’ of sorts between ourselves & God, and others as well.

The only way this rivalry can be eliminated is when the deep seeded ‘separation’ mentality is eradicated from our lives.  Because we have been placed ‘in Christ’ who is the very fullness of God, we are no longer separate from Him.  We have been baptized ‘into’ one body.  As a result, those ‘in’ Christ’s body are not separate from one another either.  ’In Christ’, there is no ‘stage’ and ‘audience’ to keep us separated from one another.  When we realize that we belong to one another, ‘in Christ’, rivalry will cease.  Our natural bodies naturally testify to this reality.  For example:

Your hands are not jealous of your arms or legs.

When falling, your hands naturally extend to protect the rest of the body.

When one of your body parts are hurt, the entire body is affected.

What is interesting is the fact that our bodies do NOT have to be taught this!  It is a state of being.  Likewise, the church cannot be taught not to be jealous of one another, not to be offended by one another etc… Each time this is tried, it results in failure.  

Body parts loving one another, promoting one another, protecting one another, bearing one another’s burdens, etc… is a natural state of being when the members of the body have a deep seeded revelation of Jesus Christ and who they are ‘in Christ’.  When jealousy, rivalries, and ‘cliques’ exist among us, it is a sign that we have lost sight of Christ Himself.  When we lose sight of Christ, we automatically lose sight of who we are ‘in Him’.

While celebrity christianity & ‘cliques’ may be widely accepted in today’s culture, being aware of these three common temptations to factionalize and idolize will help us see our need to keep Christ continually in focus.  His ways never have, and never will, conform to the pattern of this world.

Jamal Jivanjee

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33 responses to Cliques, Celebrity Leaders, & The Disease of Hierarchy

  1. Great article. I agree and this is something that we should all become aware of because cliques do not build unity in the Body of Christ. I stayed away from them as a kid so I was never really popular but that was ok with me. As an adult I see the cliques and once again I avoid them because they limit my growth in Christ. He did not limit his interactions with others based on their popularity or status in society and never do I want to do that.

  2. Thank you my brother for writing these words of life. May the Lord shatter this mindset amoungest God’s people. May we see the reality that we are members of one another forever. Let us partake of Him together and shine forth His glory on earth. I see this pattern too often in the Jewish Messianc circles…may the Lord consume this stronghold with His heavenly fire. God bless my brother. Love you :)

    • I’m glad this was an encouragement to you. I stand with you in your desire to see the pure expression of Jesus Christ manifested among messianic circles. The Lord will fulfill the desires that He has given you. Your heart is a great encouragement to me! Love you too:)

  3. Right on, Jamal!
    This is very popular in my past (I did it all the time). It puts people on a platform under the guise of ‘spiritual
    Leadership’.

    “so and so is speaking in chapel at my awesome school”

    “Just had lunch with the senior pastor, be impressed with my desire to excel in the church industry.”

  4. I love what the Lord speaks through you!

    It’s always so sad to see Christians in “leadership” attack others by whom they feel threatened. It’s a religious, prideful spirit that makes them feel justified in hurting others in order to maintain their authority and status and to protect what they feel is their territory. It will even drive some to tighten their hold on their little fiefdom to ensure they don’t lose control over what they feel is “theirs”.

    Having a father in the military and moving from school to school, I quickly learned about cliques. And, always being the new, unknown person, I was usually on the outside of established cliques. So it was disturbing to be in institutional church (IC) and again see the cliques that abound. Cliques are by nature exclusive, and in the IC they are mostly made up of people who have worldly connections or interests, but they are also made up of people who are on the worship team or who serve in “leadership” together. Also, cliques can be gender-related (especially those formed around “leadership”). There might be some overlap of cliques in the IC, but, no matter what an IC does, there will always be people who don’t fit into any of the cliques.

    BUT, the beauty of a group that truly gathers around the person of Christ Jesus and is loving each other with His love is that no one is excluded! There is a place for each member of the Body and no one claims to be — or is considered — more important than any other. Race, age, and/or gender doesn’t matter. All in the group are valued!

    • Catherine,

      Thx for reading and sharing your heart here. Sometimes our negative experiences with cliques actually develop within us a strong desire for true fellowship and community that are byproducts of Christ’s life. It seems this was the case in your life as well. May the Lord give you all that your heart longs for. Blessings to you sister!

  5. Hey Jamal,
    Great insight into a clearly non-kingdom (worldly) way of group-relations!

    Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world,…

    May it not be so amongst His family/citizenry/army/sheepfold/…

  6. Jamal,
    I have been “dropping” your name allot lately,buts that only because I am tired of being so darn popular. LOL, Love You Brother. Great article!
    Craig

  7. Then why does scripture command us to appoint elders, pastors, evangelists etc.. And to honor those who labor in the word and care for our souls. There are those called of God to shepherd a flock and to whom we are to be subordinate as an undershepherd. Even Paul defended his apostleship and expected the churches to show requisite deference to his office under Christ. The church you promote is a leaderless church and not the model given to us in scripture. We should be grateful that God has gifted the church with men of ability and knowledge whose ministries reach beyond the borders of their individual churches. Piper, MacArthur, Sproul, Dever, Begg etc.. You might call them celebrities but their lahore have benefited the church immensely. It shouldn’t be expected that I would have the same platform as these men. The fact we have different platforms and access to people doesn’t make them better, me less. Nor does the fact they have a much larger audience and influence mean there is something wrong with the “insitution” you seem to take great pleasure in endlessly bashing.

    • Michael,

      Thx for reading and commenting here brother. Obviously, understanding ‘leadership’ outside of a ‘hierarcical’ grid is difficult for us because it is the grid that the scriptures have been taught to us through. When we learn the context of the New Testament, however, we will see that there are problems with this kind of thinking. I have a couple of points that I would like to ask you to consider:

      1. In the New Testament, the term ‘elder’ means one who is an ‘old man’ or ‘wise’. Obviously, this is a descriptive term since simply giving someone a title of ‘old man’ or ‘wise’ does not magically make them an ‘old man’ or ‘wise’ in the faith. What most people don’t realize is the fact that when Paul would plant a church, the majority of time he would leave after only 3-6 months! Because the group of believers in the body were young in the faith, it would take a few years for elders (wise ones) to develop. It was only when Paul would return or hear about their progress in the Lord after a considerable amount of time that he would publicly affirm the fact that elders in the faith had developed among them. The New Testament church operated by Christ’s headship.

      The concept of the church being ‘run’ by a select group of people while the rest of the body remained passive is foreign to the New Testament. This is how new churches could function for years after Paul left, but before elders existed in those specific churches. When Paul recognized that elders (wise ones) were present in a specific church body, he did not ‘appoint’ them to something that they were not (wise ones in the faith), rather he simply publicly recognized the mature believers in the faith that had developed so the rest of the body would follow in their example. Elders are to set the example for the flock. This was important for many reasons.

      If elders had a selective ‘office’, how could those who did not occupy that ‘office’ follow in their example? I can not follow in the President of the United States’ example (signing bills into law) because I do not have his ‘office’. The term elder (wise old man), shepherd (pastor), etc… are descriptive terms, not offices. Did you know that in the Greek, there is no word for ‘office’ that is used? The english word ‘office’ was added in translation much later.

      2. Your suggestion that the New Testament teaches the concept of ‘undershepherd’ (hierarchy) is completely false. This belief comes from a twisting of scripture and flat out bad translation. The New Testament describes ‘mutual submission’ in the church, but not selective hierarcical submission. I have already written at length about this with specific examples. I’m curious, did you read the article that I linked to in this article about the non hierarchical nature of New Testament leadership? If not, let me suggest that you read it carefully. Here is the link again: http://jamaljivanjee.com/?p=286

      • It amazes me that we have tended to look so much towards those in “official” positions for our growth and direction. I have had to deal with people throwing up the “God is not the author of confusion” quote when I have suggested that the hierarchical system is problematic in the growth of the body. Jesus said we are to “learn from Me” and that the promised Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth. Imagine that, how novel an idea, that we can trust the Holy Spirit to teach us. This is not to say that we do not need the body to be a part in our growth but that we have supplanted His work in guiding us with what the latest “big name” teacher has to say. There, I have dropped the big name before you.

  8. First time visitor!

    I laughed at your comment about receiving emails from well-known people who will write to you but would never acknowledge you publicly. I’ve experienced the same thing. I’ve told my husband that reading my blog (and former blog) must be a guilty pleasure for many people. They read faithfully, but won’t link to it for fear of people knowing they read my blog.

    I stopped caring about who links to me a long time ago. I just keep writing with the goal of blessing others. I trust God will bring the right people at the right time.

    • Sallie,

      Welocme to the blog! I appreciate your comment. Yes, fear of the opinions of others will make people be ashamed of that which they should be promoting. May we all be free of the opinion of others. I’m convinced that it’s the only way we can truly love.

      Hope to see you back on the blog in the future. Blessings to you Sallie:)

  9. Jamal, you make some really good points ~ you’re cobbling together several issues and throwing in some personal stuff as well ~ i’ve pretty much resolved in myself that “celebrities” want nothing to do with me ~ i figured this out after several encounters ~ they’re mostly concerned with their own agenda be it power, influence, selling books, dvds, etc ~ their lack of interest in fellowshipping w/me or hearing what i have to say is ok ~ its all between them & the Lord and me & the Lord anyway.
    Satan has a field day with egos and agendas. I’ve been alternately amused and appalled by all the recent furor over rob bell’s book “Love Wins” ~ havent read it and dont intend to but what is in a perverse,cynical sense so entertaining is reading all the theologically brilliant blogs & reviews ~ many of them strike me as being written by very angry, unloving types of christians. Bonhoeffer points out that theology began with satan’s comment “Did God really say…?” and so in a sense satan is the father of theology/doctrine and that kind of goes along w/the “tree of knowledege” vs the “tree of life” issue you raise.
    Bell’s kind of the new kid on the block and perhaps many of the orthodox theologians & celebrity christian author critics resent his celebrity and clique following.

  10. Jamal,

    To me, it all comes down to the old phrase of “I am better than you” or the opposite of that mindset “You are better than me.” Why do we feel this way? Why do we fall into this separative illusion? Because we do not know who we are in Christ, and if we do not know who we are in Christ we also do not know who others are in Christ. We have yet to see our identity, our reality, which is Christ. All problems of yesterday and today stem from not seeing Christ as our Life, our only Life. To know Him is know everything. To know Him is to know who we are and who others are also. This wandering eye problem has an answer. In order to look into the eyes of Truth we must look upon His face. Yes, to know Him is the answer. Christ, our Life. Is Christ in you grander than Christ in me? Is one part of Christ better or less than another part of Christ? No, Christ is the supremacy; all of Him.

    • This, as the saying goes, has hit the nail on the head. Good comment. Too often I think we can hit ourselves on the head and jar the truth of the reality of: John 17:21 May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. (HCSB)

  11. This is spot on! Enjoy reading your post my friend. They always challenge me and confirm things God has been speaking to me. Beautifully gifted! Steven

  12. Jamal, I really believe that what you are saying is completely accurate and in accord with scripture, but it is a threat to the established order of things. I do not quite understand the workings of mankind and the love of subduing people, but Dr. Seuss gives us a great lesson in Anthropology in the story of the Star Bellied Sneetches. This spirit to be greater than someone else is at every turn and intersection in the pages of the history of the world. When you consider the plight of the Native Americans, the African Americans, and the Aborigine people of Australia, as examples, you will see this need to control, culture, and “civilize” a people group that had already developed their civilization, without the need for help from a foreign dominant culture. I believe that the current agenda of the 501C3 Institutional Religious Corporation (aka “local church”) is to stomp out groups that are “leaderless” in the same manner.

    This greatest-among-you ism is not from God, no matter how many scriptures you can pull out about Paul’s authority. Is the pastor of every run of the mill church in America equal to the authority of Paul? Is there anywhere in the Bible where it says Pastors can wipe dung on whomever they choose because they are over you and you are an underling? Even Paul rebuked Peter in front of everyone. Show me some marks of the cross in your body and I will believe the authority of you, pastor.

    The need to establish empires and control people is nothing new. We inherited this need from the Anglo Saxon culture, which is Hellenistic to the core. Is it any wonder that churches that are traditionally Anglo Saxon in practice also empathize this unscriptural hierarchy in husband to wife, and church to pastor relationships? May I add the passage in Romans 13 that is used to prove that we are do whatever the government says?

  13. Amen to this article, Jamal. It is sad to see how westernized churchgoers today elevate celebrity preachers to something they are not. Thanks for you heart, brother.

  14. Your post rings with a whole lot of truth and I for one have experienced first hand the whole “Christian celebrity” vs “common folk” mindset, both one-on-one and through social media. I totally agree about seeing ourselves as part of one body and not through the lenses of “us and them,” whoever they may be in Christendom, they are part of the body as are we all and we share in the same life i.e Christ. It is, about our identity in Christ and how we see ourselves in Christ and see Christ in others.

  15. The Tree of Knowledge was “forbidden.” Whew! May I see it today as the same and see the Tree of Life (Jesus) as eternally and unimaginably greater! May we all! Amen!

    • Great comment Michael! You are right, the ‘tree of knowledge’ is around us all the time. May we see it for what it truly is. Thanks for that perspective:)

  16. “1. In the New Testament, the term ‘elder’ means one who is an ‘old man’ or ‘wise’. Obviously, this is a descriptive term since simply giving someone a title of ‘old man’ or ‘wise’ does not magically make them an ‘old man’ or ‘wise’ in the faith. What most people don’t realize is the fact that when Paul would plant a church, the majority of time he would leave after only 3-6 months! Because the group of believers in the body were young in the faith, it would take a few years for elders (wise ones) to develop. It was only when Paul would return or hear about their progress in the Lord after a considerable amount of time that he would publicly affirm the fact that elders in the faith had developed among them. The New Testament church operated by Christ’s headship.

    The concept of the church being ‘run’ by a select group of people while the rest of the body remained passive is foreign to the New Testament. This is how new churches could function for years after Paul left, but before elders existed in those specific churches. When Paul recognized that elders (wise ones) were present in a specific church body, he did not ‘appoint’ them to something that they were not (wise ones in the faith), rather he simply publicly recognized the mature believers in the faith that had developed so the rest of the body would follow in their example. Elders are to set the example for the flock. This was important for many reasons.

    If elders had a selective ‘office’, how could those who did not occupy that ‘office’ follow in their example? I can not follow in the President of the United States’ example (signing bills into law) because I do not have his ‘office’. The term elder (wise old man), shepherd (pastor), etc… are descriptive terms, not offices. Did you know that in the Greek, there is no word for ‘office’ that is used? The english word ‘office’ was added in translation much later.”

    Excellent!!! I just came upon your blog. My family have been out of the institutional church for about 6 months now. We don’t have a body of believers to worship with right now, but relying and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ to provide. This position of elder that you have portrayed in your comment is dead on. The body of believers are to be on equal footing with each other and rely on Jesus as the head. When relying and trusting in the HS to work with inside the body, the body in turn will be healthy and vibrant. When the church relies on a “leader” the body becomes weak and ineffective; not that there is not leadership, just like I am in submission to my husbands leadership, but the leadership in the body is totally reliant on the Lord and understands that they are equal with the body.
    What happens then is that the leadership becomes a servant to the body and will emit a spirit of humbleness and sacrifice, not arrogance and authoritarianism.
    I have to say that ever since we have left the institutional church we have been more free and growing more in love with Jesus Christ! Our family consists of growing together in the Word and instead of sitting in a pew and being inactive, we engage (I, my husband, and my 3 kids) each other and talk about what Scripture says. It is more challenging and proactive, because we help each other grow in the Spirit.

    • Jamal Jivanjee March 20, 2012 at 6:57 pm

      Faith,

      Welcome to the blog! Thanks for your comment. I am glad to know this article has been an encouragement to you. We hope to see you around the blog more often. Just curious, how did you come to hear about this site?

  17. this keeps running in my thoughts, its either the world in the church, or the church in the world.

    thanks bro!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. What Is Your Socioeconomic Status? | Jamal Jivanjee - June 7, 2012

    [...] For example, not only do musicians exclusively group together, but specific musicians will seek to play with and exclusively associate with other musicians of perceived ability and influence.  Those who are of lesser status seek to ‘break free’ of their status for a greater one.  I could go on and on as this kind of behavior can be found in each category of fallen humanity.  Socioeconomic thinking is also a trademark of mankind’s institutional religious system as well.  I wrote more about this in an article titled: Cliques, Celebrity Leaders, & The Disease Of Hierarchy. [...]

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