Monday, December 14, 2009

More on authority or accusations of the lack thereof

In the prior post, I wrote:

Is that proper? Is it Biblical? What is the mark of a man called to lead? More to the point, what do we view as the marks of a man called to lead? I am afraid that it may be based on many things that may make sense to us from a traditional and pragmatic standpoint more than from a Biblical standpoint. Being a good preacher, a good manager/organizer, having the proper experience and education. All well and good for a business person, but the picture we get in the Bible is a bit different.

So what is the picture of leaders that we get in the Bible ?

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10: 42-45, emphasis added)

Service is the focus of what Christ calls greatness. That is counter-cultural but isn't that kind of the whole point of Christian ministry? One of the final acts of Christ before He was turned over to Pilate was to wash the disciples feet.

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 16: 12-17)

Before the beginning of His Passion, Christ spent some of His last hours in humble servitude to the disciples. Why? What was His purpose? It was in large part to show us what sort of men led in the early church and what sort of men we should recognize as our leaders and submit to in His Body.

In the traditional church, we recognize as leaders those men who hold leadership positions. Is that who we should be led by? In other words, should we submit to men simply because of the office they hold in a local church organization? Is that how we should identify those who should lead and those we should follow?

The Bible gives us plenty of direction here. The entire ministry of Jesus was teaching and serving. He did not merely walk around teaching, although as the Son of God that would certainly have been His prerogative. Instead, Jesus was constantly serving, not counting earthly glories and honors of any value. First and foremost, those who we should honor and respect, and yes even submit to, are those who are servants.

What else do we glean from the Scriptures?

Now I urge you, brothers —you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such men. (1 Cor 16: 15-18 )

So Paul tells us to recognize and be subject to Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus. Why? Because they held titles or offices? Because they had advanced degrees? Nope. The “devoted themselves to the service of the saints”. Now that might include teaching, the text doesn’t say. But the next line describes Stephanas as a “fellow worker and laborer”. Those are the men we should recognize, honor and be subject to, men who devote themselves to service and labor. They didn’t seem to rule or lead from a position of authority, they were fellow workers and laborers. Someone in the ditch next to me with a shovel is a fellow worker and laborer.

Furthermore, in 1 Peter 5, Peter exhorts those who are younger to be subject to the elders.

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)

Why is this important? It is not a stretch to make the point that while youth is often accompanied by zeal, it is also often a zeal coupled with recklessness and immaturity. This is bolstered in 1 Timothy, chapter 3:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Tim 3: 1-7, emphasis added)

An elder must be a mature brother, not a recent convert. Along with that we see a number of other characteristics like maturity, soberness, gentleness, not driven by money. They must manage their marriage and their family well in order to serve the church. (I would add as an editorial comment here that ministry for many men places a crushing burden on their families. It seems inconsistent to me that we read something like that and then perpetuate a system that places an inordinate amount of the burden of service on one man at the expense of his family.)

So leaders must be mature in the faith. They must also live a life that is one others should emulate. See the above passage in 1 Timothy 3. Our leaders should lead their household well, be hospitable, not money driven. Able to teach and self-controlled. We often read "able to teach" as if that is the primary indicator of a man's "calling" to be an elder but the bigger picture is that we follow those who have a life that is one we should desire to mimic. See also Hebrews 13:7…

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (Heb 13:7)

I had never really focused on that verse until I was looking at Hebrews 13:17, the proof-text of submission to leaders in the church. We are supposed to imitate the lives of those who are our leaders. Like the old saying goes, lead by example. We should examine their lives and seek to be like them, to emulate and imitate them. That is a far cry from leading by dictating. See also 2 Thess 3:7-9 and 3 John 1:11.

Let me wrap it together. The men who should lead and the men we should follow are those who live lives worthy of imitation through their service.

So how are we to gauge this? How do we see these qualities in a man? I would argue that we cannot unless we live in community with them. How can you possibly recognize a man who lives a life worthy of imitation unless you know them, know their wife and their family, spend time with them? Being an elder is not a job so why do we treat calling pastors like it is? The process for "calling" a pastor is very similar to the process of filling a job in corporate America. You post the position, listing qualities and credentials desired. Then you narrow down your candidates through a “pastor search committee”. What follows are interviews and “candidating”, which basically means hearing a guy preach a few times to see if you like listening to him. What you typically see is that the church will hire a man from outside of your congregation to come into the local body and lead it ( I would be curious to see how many pastors come from their own congregations). Instead of training up men, young and old alike, to lead through service and maturity in the faith, we perpetuate a system that keeps most men in the church in blissful spiritual infancy and hire men armed with a seminary degree. The practical ramification is that many pastors "learn on the job" and either sink or swim. Instead of discipling men and recognizing them as elders, we hire men based on extra-Biblical qualifications and see if they can make it. As the statistics show, many of them don't and get fired (as if an elder is someone you can/should hire or fire) and many more trudge along in frustration. The turnover rate among pastors is staggering and no one wants to have an honest conversation about it. I think that if you recognize men who are leaders because of the praiseworthy lives they live instead of hiring men and hoping they will exhibit those qualities, we would see far less turnover. It is not fair, it is not realistic and I would suggest it is not Biblical to bring men in from outside of the community to lead it instead of recognizing as leaders men within the community.

I am sounding like a broken record here but there are a number of men who I respect and heed their counsel and frankly none of them has ever been “my pastor” in the sense that we were joined in a formal membership covenant with a local body. I would go so far as to say that in the churches where we were formal “members”, the men who were pastors were either men who didn’t know me well enough to offer any sort of substantive counsel or are men who I wouldn’t trust the counsel from anyway regardless of the degrees they held or the offices they occupied or the books on their shelves.

I don’t mean to imply that men who are pastors are irrelevant. I am saying that whether someone is a “pastor” is not the determining factor of whether we should follow their leadership. Some men who are vocational pastors, like Josh Gelatt, demonstrate that they are men we should respect and recognize, not because of the title they hold but because of the life that they live. It is also true that there are many men (and I put myself in this category back when I held that office) that carry the title of "pastor" but lack any sort of heart for people. I am far more concerned about the heart of a man, how he lives out the Christian life, his relationship with his wife and family and other Christians than I am in seeing what title he holds or what his job is (in the church or out). I would respect Josh as a leader whether or not he was a vocational pastor, as I respect other men who are not and likely never will be vocational ministers. Conversely, and this may sound harsh, there are a lot of men who are not living lives that we should imitate that are employed as pastors and regardless of their title or office, those men are not leaders.

We absolutely should recognize men who are mature, who are wise, who are experienced, who are well versed in the Scripture, men who love and serve the Body of Christ. Show me a man who loves God and serves the Body, a man who by his life is a man who I want to be like, a man who labors among the people, not above the people, a man who has as the focus of his ministry Christ and not himself and his honor and I will show you a man who should be followed. If you truly love the local Body of Christ, you will serve everyone in that local gathering whether or not it is your job and whether or not you get paid for it. If you are a vocational minister, ask yourself a question: if they local church you are in had to stop paying you for economic reasons, would you keep ministering there or would you go somewhere else? Would you become a tentmaker like Paul or would you pack up and seek greener pastures? What does your answer say to you?

Ultimately, authority is not about control and leadership as the world defines it. The signs of leadership we have in the church are love, self-sacrifice, service, humility. Without those qualities, all of your degrees and titles don’t mean a thing. Being “Reverend” so and so and having M.Div. after you name is the least important quality of a leader in the church.

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Alan Knox said...


I think it is important for us to submit to our leaders. Even as an elder, I submit to other leaders.

Also, as Paul says in Ephesians 5, we should submit to one another, not just to leaders.

Here's the difference though, some suggest that if one person submits to the other person, then that second person automatically exercises authority over the one submitting. I don't think so. In fact, in Scripture, we find many instances of submission between believers, but we find no instances of believers exercising authority over other believers.


Phillip Fletcher said...

Thanks for the article Arthur.