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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Doing Church - Leadership

Taking my own suggestion, I want to examine various aspects of "church" that, perhaps, we need to revisit. Are we doing what we're simply comfortable doing, or are we doing what the Bible says to do? I will look here at the concept of leadership.

There is plenty of information in the New Testament to explain what church leadership is supposed to look like. We have two entire passages -- one written to Timothy and the other to Titus -- that details the qualifications for a particular component of church leadership referred to as "elders". It might be called "bishops" in some translations or "overseers" in others, but it's the same thing. We know, for instance, that elders are appointed, not elected. We know that they are males (no matter how hard you work at changing that). They are called to a higher character than your average, everyday Christian, beginning with the concept of "blameless", a high calling indeed. We know that they are to lead by example, and not for personal gain (1 Peter 5:2-3). And we know that there was not a single "elder", but always a group of elders. Oh, yes, there is plenty of information on this particular group.

Funny thing. How many churches do you know that follow this? Elders are elected, not appointed. The qualifications are often mitigated -- "No one can meet those standards, so we'll just try to get close." Often those who serve as elders aren't chosen for their spiritual depth, but for their willingness or, worse, their contributions. In the worst cases, though, some churches ignore this group of people altogether. They claim that their pastor is their "elders". (You see the problem, don't you? "Elders" is plural, but "pastor" is not.)

There is a second group in biblical church leadership. They are typically referred to as deacons. This group first came about in Acts 6 when the numbers of believers were starting to overwhelm the Apostles. Deacons, then, were appointed to serve the needs of the church people. These first men were no slouches. They were "men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3). One of them, in fact, was Stephen who, a chapter later, died for the faith. Paul explains to Timothy what the qualifications should be for deacons in 1 Tim 3:8-13. There is some question about whether or not women may serve in this role, and that's fine, but there is no doubt that deacons form a second tier of church leadership. Another group of servants, the deacons take care of the physical needs of the church while the elders take care of the spiritual needs.

Today, of course, biblical qualifications aren't of much concern. "Warm, willing bodies that can do things around the church" are pretty much all the qualifications required. I mean, seriously, are you really going to suggest that you need to have "men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" to get the job done? Don't set the standard so high! And, of course, there are other churches that ignore this group entirely as well. Some churches have deacons and no elders. Other churches have elders and no deacons. Neither of these fit the instructions for church leadership.

I have to admit, there is a problem along these lines in my mind with a particular segment of "church" today in America. The "house church" is quite popular, and I see lots of good things there, but a church that consists of maybe a dozen people is not likely to include "elders" and "deacons" without making nearly everyone one or the other. I've never quite understood that particular aspect of the house church concept. I'm just saying.

There is another disconnect between today's churches and the biblical accounts that I've never had cleared up for me. Every church in America today has a pastor. This pastor is the primary leader. These primary leaders vary, I suppose. In some churches he is the "teaching elder". In others there is the "head pastor" along with several other "lesser" pastors. But it's still primarily a singular form of leadership, not a leadership by elders. Now, in the Bible I find only one, single, solitary reference to "pastor". It's in Eph 4:11, and most reputable translators find it to be a basically hyphenated word with the concept that follows it: "Pastor-teacher". There are no Bible colleges, no seminaries, not even anything that resembles "clergy" in the Bible, but we still live with this pastor-leadership concept in nearly every church in the country. Why is that? Where does it come from? Most importantly, is it right?

My question, then, is this. Are we doing church leadership in a biblical manner? Biblical leadership has two tiers, elders and deacons, is constructed of a plurality, has specific qualifications, and is appointed. Each tier has its tasks to do. There is no example in Scripture of a singular leader of a church -- what we call today "pastors". (Of course, you'd be hard pressed to find anything approximating the concept of "the Southern Baptist Convention" or some other denominational structure over a group of churches.) So ... are we doing church leadership in a biblical manner, or is it time to reexamine how we have structured the leadership of our churches?


Dan Trabue said...

Along these lines of thinking (and related to your "house church" comments), the early church had no church buildings, the Bible has no provisions for ever creating such a thing - at least none that I can think of.

Do you think that we ought to reconsider the building of church buildings, since it's an extrabiblical notion?

Are we doing church meeting places in a biblical manner?

Dan Trabue said...

Beyond that, our church services don't look very biblical.

In Col 3:16, we read that there was no one preacher responsible for preaching, rather, teaching was the role of each believer one to another...

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

Also in 1 Cor 14...

“What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.”

Paul also wrote in Eph 5...

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”

And Paul commands in 1 Cor 14, “do not forbid speaking in tongues.” Although, he does give some guidelines for the practice.

Still in 1 Cor 14, Paul notes that...

“Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said”

Peter wrote in 1 Pet 4...

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.”

Each one? I guess that would include the women, too, taken literally. Of course, that sort of contradicts Paul's command against women speaking in church in 1 Cor 14. Which is it?

My point here is that we do many things differently than they were done then and I don't think that is in and of itself a bad thing. They had arrangements that made sense to them in their time and place. Some of that carries over, but not necessarily all of it.

You think?

Anonymous said...

Good points. We are so far from the foundational elements of church leadership. The problem is that so few read the Bible and/or take it seriously that few seem to know or care! The lack of church disciplne is appalling.

Stan said...

I don't know that church buildings are necessarily extrabiblical. The Jewish believers still met in the synagogues. So I approach that with caution. I certainly agree that the 1 Corinthians example of teaching is not at all what we do, and I certainly include that in my question "Are we doing church right?"

Dan Trabue said...

As to where churches met in the Bible...

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, AND breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. ~Acts

As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and hauling men and women committed them to prison. ~Acts 8:3

Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. ~Romans 16:3-5a

The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. ~1 Cor 16:19

Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy [our] brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer, And to [our] beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house... ~Phil 1:1-2

Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house. ~Col 4:15

While they initially met at times in the Temple, I believe the bible record shows they mostly met in houses.

As a related aside, does your church allow speaking in tongues, should someone begin doing such?

Stan said...

The fact that they met in homes doesn't to me, equate to "Thou shalt meet in homes." The Church of Christ complains because some churches have names that are not "biblical" for the same reason. Yes ... they met in houses. I'm pretty sure neither you nor I think, "Therefore, it is wrong to meet in buildings of any other kind."

Tongues is not in my area of anything resembling confidence. I have never gone to a church that practices tongues in the manner that Paul prescribes. I'm not opposed to them ... I just haven't ever seen it happen biblically.

FzxGkJssFrk said...

Yes, the first Christians met in houses, but my inference is that this was because they were not permitted by authorities to have houses of worship. The church was in a sense underground. But Stan already said this.

I think the point about pastors is interesting. I'll have to look into that more.

von said...

These qualifications for elders and method for getting them are what we follow in our church.

Stan said...


Pure curiosity -- how are elders appointed in your church?

von said...

By the existing elders.