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Is There To Be No Leadership?

You could get the impression from my previous posts that I do not believe in recognized leadership within the church other than the body of elders and deacons.  If that’s the case, let me correct that quickly.  Paul, in referring to spiritual gifts in Romans 12:8, talks about the gift of “leadership” and tells those who lead to “lead with diligence.”   It seems obvious that Peter took a leading role in the early church (Acts 1:15; 2:14; 5:3), James seemed to have had a leading role in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18), and of course Paul as a church planting apostle and author of much of the New Testament shows no lack of leadership.  Paul gave Titus the leadership responsibility to appoint elders (Titus 1:5).

As Michael Willemse says on November 3, 2013 in his comments to an earlier post (Sola Scriptura” or Not?)

It seems clear to me that the role of “Minister” can be seen in Scripture. Paul writes to Timothy who seems to be the minister of the church at Ephesus. Timothy seems to have some authority in the Ephesian church since he is to “command certain men not to teach false doctrines” (1 Tim 1:3). He has a role which includes public prayer (1 Tim 2:1), teaching (implied by e.g. 1 Tim 2:8ff), public reading of Scripture and preaching (1 Tim 4:13), and evangelism (2 Tim 4:5) – all of which is described as Timothy’s ministry (2 Tim 4:5). His role is a result of the elders laying hands on him (1 Tim 4:14) and by implication is under their oversight.

My only argument with Michael is his use of the capital “M” in minister and his use of “the minister” instead of “a minster”.   Am I splitting hairs?  Maybe, but the problems many of us have seen and experienced in local gatherings of Christ’s church hinge on this issue.  Is the leadership structure a hierarchical model where one stands or sits above the rest of the leadership team as “The Pastor” who has final say, final authority, and veto power or is it a true team model where each plays a significant role according to their gifting but submits to and is accountable to the rest as a true team player.  Leadership yes, but servant leadership seems to me to be the biblical model as in the example of Christ himself.

It seems that each time Jesus encountered a desire for one to set themselves above others in an authoritative way, whether it was his own disciples (Matt. 20:20-23; Mark 9:33-37) or the scribes and Pharisees (23:1-12), he came down strongly against such an attitude.  So for me this becomes what most other issues in the Christian life become: an issue of the heart.  I’ve known some who served as one among equals and their heart was arrogant and very much bent on being in charge at every opportunity.   I’ve known others who served out of necessity in a lone leadership role as a single leader with a humble servant’s heart.

A servant leader’s heart is a heart that trusts God and others with themselves and is always open to direction and correction from others, a teachable spirit that never suggests they have come to the end of learning but are always open to considering another point of view.  A heart given to serving God’s people for another’s benefit and God’s glory no matter what it means as far as their position is concerned is the heart God is after.   A heart that never asks another to do something they would not do themselves.  A heart that is not too proud to take out the trash or unclog a toilet; one that affirms others and does not think of itself more highly than it ought is a heart Jesus can use to guide and shepherd HIS people.  Leadership of that kind leads from influence not authority or position.

The heart issue is at the root of any organizational system that is used, but it seems to me there is less chance of abuse of power when there is team leadership rather than a hierarchical model (assuming, of course, that the team is functioning with Christ-centered relationships).  I wonder if that is why it seems to be more of a NT model than any other.

About Jim Hislop

Jim Hislop is the Director of Western Seminary's Center for Leadership Development.