- There’s no hint of the clergy/laity or minister/layman schema in the history, teaching, or vocabulary of the New Testament. This schema is a religious artifact that stems from the postapostolic disjunction of secular and spiritual.
- In the secular/spiritual dichotomy, faith, prayer, and ministry are deemed the exclusive properties of an inner, sacrosanct world. A world that is detached from the whole fabric of life. But this disjunction is completely foreign to the New Testament ethos where all things are to bring glory to God—even the stuff of everyday life (1 Cor. 10:31).
- Leadership contains these elements:
- Persuasion & Influence
- Leadership is really nothing more than influence.
- Giving direction
- Leadership is showing others “the next step,” which goes along with persuasion and influence.
- Leadership “leads” or “points” to something/someone
- For the Christian, it always points to Christ. Either in faith or action. As Christians we lead/point/guide/direct people (both Christian and non-Christian) to the ultimate Leader, Jesus.
- All aspects of leadership are accomplished by teaching and/or example.
- If you’ve ever given direction to someone and they’ve heeded it, you were leading.
- If you’ve ever corrected someone, and they received it, you were leading.
- If you’ve ever led (brought) someone to Jesus Christ, you were leading.
- If you’ve ever written a blog post, article, or book, and you influenced someone to take an action or adopt a viewpoint, then you were leading them.
- If you’ve ever persuaded another human being to do anything, be it your spouse, child, parent, friend, co-worker, employee, etc., then you were leading them.
- We all lead in various and miscellaneous ways and arenas. We just differ in the kinds of things into which we lead others.
- Some people influence more people than others based on the size of their “platform.” “Great leaders” are people who by virtue of their lifestyle and wisdom have many followers who safely trust their guidance. But the fact that they have large followings doesn’t entitle them to wield the special title of “leader” at the exclusion of everyone else. Unfortunately, many Christians obsess over being a “leader” today. Some to the point of frenzy. Some will give their souls for the title of “leader.”
- Is it possible that much of Christianity today is focused on being a leader when it should rather be focused on how to follow an indwelling Christ?
- Focus on following Jesus and you will be leading others naturally by your example, let alone by the things you say.
Here are 10 things to consider about “leadership” and why the common idea that some Christians are leaders and others aren’t is a myth in my view:
- The New Testament never uses the term “leader.” In some translations, you’ll find the word “leader” only in a few texts. Hebrews 13:17, 14 and Romans 12:8, namely. But these are questionable translations of the Greek words. Those words are better translated as “guard,” “give care,” or “guide.” It’s the verb, not the noun. These texts almost certainly have in view the more spiritually mature overseers and elders. Overseers/elders are not “the” leaders of a local assembly. They simply lead in a specific capacity that’s different from the other members of the assembly.
- Overseers (also called elders and shepherds/pastors in the New Testament) are part of the DNA of the assembly, but we have misunderstood these functions as “offices” that have inherent authority over other Christians. Overseers/elders/shepherds certainly lead, but so do prophets, apostles, evangelists, teachers, exhorters, those who have gifts of mercy, helps, and every other function in the body of Christ. Christians have authority only in so far as they are revealing the mind of Christ is the authority. Again, all Christians lead according to their specific gifting. That’s the argument of 1 Corinthians 12.
- Jesus Christ turned the common idea of leadership on its head. He did this in two ways.
- He took dead aim at the positional/titular view of leadership that was common among the Jews (Matt. 23:8-13).
- He took dead aim at the hierarchical/top-down view of leadership that was common among the Gentiles (Matt. 20:25-28; Luke 22:25-26).
- Many Christians and assemblies have adopted the business model of leadership over/against the New Testament vision of leadership. Properly conceived and functioning, the ekklesia is a spiritual organism whose source is divine life. It’s not a human-constructed institution. Once this is fully understood, our understanding of leadership changes dramatically.
- The New Testament doesn’t emphasize leadership. It emphasizes following Jesus (who is now in the Spirit) and living as a servant of Christ and a servant to others. According to the New Testament, all are gifted, all are servants (“ministers”), all are priests, and all have ministry as members of the body. In addition, all are called to be examples of Jesus.
- None of the many words used for “office” in the Greek language are ever employed to describe a function or role in the assembly. New Testament scholar Robert Banks makes an indisputable case for this in his seminal book, Paul’s Idea of Community.
- The doctrine of “covering” was invented in the post-apostolic period, and it has no biblical merit. See Reimagining Church, Chapters 11-13 (entitled “Who is Your Covering?”) for details.
- The modern obsession over leadership isn’t helpful. If Christians spent their time focusing on following Jesus Christ and sharing whatever He has given them with others (= functioning as a member of the body), opposed to obsessing over how to be a “leader,” the Kingdom of God would be better off. So it seems to me anyway.
- Hebrews 13:17 confirms the idea that leadership is linked to persuasion. In that text, some translations have, “Obey them that are over you.” The Greek word for “obey” in this passage is not hupakuo, the garden-variety word for obedience used elsewhere in Scripture. It’s peitho (middle-passive form), which means to yield to persuasion. The author of Hebrews was simply saying, “Allow yourselves to be persuaded by those who are more mature in Christ than you are.” The word “over” and “rule” in some translations is a horrible reflection of the Greek. And according to Peter and Luke, elders/overseers aren’t over the flock, they are among it (1 Pet. 5:1, NIV; Acts 20:28, NASB). See Reimagining Church, the lengthy Appendix for details.
- Throughout the New Testament, only Jesus Christ is said to be the “head” of the assembly, which implies both source and rule. All leadership flows from His headship organically when a member of His body reveals His mind and will in a given situation. Christ has the power of speech, and He speaks through His body (this is the argument of 1 Corinthians 12:1ff.). And we all share the mind of Christ. His mind is not the exclusive property of a few.
- Spiritual authority was exercised *when* and only when the mind
of Jesus Christ was being revealed. The authority was
spiritual/organic, rooted in the life of Christ which was seasoned in
some (like Paul). But it wasn’t official, i.e., invested in a certain
office irrespective of what the person did or said. That’s why the
writer of Hebrews says “allow yourselves to be persuaded.”
- The few times when Paul “commanded,” he did so “in the Lord Jesus Christ” or he referred to something the Lord Himself said. Most of the time, he pleads, beseeches, admonishes, exhorts, encourages, and even requests. Paul did not have a hierarchical top/down relationship with the assemblies he cared for. In fact, in some of his letters, he submits to the assembly itself. Even saying that if he preaches or teaches anything contrary to Jesus Christ, let him be cursed. Paul’s relationship to the assemblies is summed up in his words in 2 Corinthians 1:24, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy.”
- We are called to minister to one another . . . and to the world.
We are called to lead/guide one another (as well as the world) to
- There is one HEAD. But all who share His life lead under the one HEAD pointing to and expressing the Head in different ways. All lead in different ways … in different capacities … and through different giftings and functions. Re-read 1 Cor. 12 in this light and you’ll see leadership in a new way.
- What do you say about Paul telling Timothy and Titus to appoint elders in the assemblies. Doesn’t that mean they were offices that had authority?
- There is no question that certain people were endorsed for
certain tasks in the NT. Take Acts 6 for instance. The seven men
selected in Acts 6 weren’t given some kind of unilateral authority over
everyone else, nor where they installed into a social construct
(“office”) that had intrinsic authority regardless of the persons who
Rather, the seven were selected for a task based upon their spiritual maturity and wisdom. The same is true for those places where Paul endorsed elders (which wasn’t in all the assemblies, by the way). In the OT, Moses publicly acknowledged elders who were *already functioning* as elders, the Scripture says. Moses just made it public.
In the same way, when someone endorses a book of mine publicly they aren’t giving the book authority. They’re simply acknowledging an authority that they perceive the book already possesses. The problem with us viewing the endorsement of elders in South Galatia, Crete, and Ephesus as “installment into office” is that we are imposing the Western idea of “office” as having an authority irrespective of the individuals who populate those offices.
In the NT, rather, the idea is that spiritual authority is based on spiritual maturity and wisdom — a la, expressing the mind of God. And in some cases, that’s endorsed publicly and in other cases, such individuals are given certain tasks. If a person … be it elder or apostle … is teaching something that goes against the will and mind of the Head (Christ), they have no authority in what they’re saying. All authority comes from Christ.
- I don’t view elders/overseers/shepherds as a *modern
office* — by that I mean a sociological construct that has authority
independent from the people who populate it, like the “office” of
President. Doesn’t matter if you have a buzzard or a noble man in the
white house, he still wields the authority of the Presidency. The
authority is inherent in the office. In the NT, we don’t see elders
working in that same way.
- The many Greek words for “office” are never used of them or any other function in the assembly.
- The spiritual authority they express is by virtue of their
wisdom and spiritual insight which comes from growth in Christ’s life
(hence elders can be translated “seniors” — they were the older, aged
ones in the OT).