"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ..." (Eph 4v11-13)
This is a passage of scripture which I love so much. When I first studied it properly, it changed my understanding of church. However, I am not here to defend apostles today, Terry Virgo does that far better than I can. Rather I want to write about what leadership is for.
It is a great honour to be posting here on my favourite blog site. I do so at Dan's invitation, and I say at the outset that this is effectively a joint post, reflecting something very much on our hearts. The inspiration came from a comment that Dan made over at SGuncensored (comment 23). He said:
"We are coming close to the crunch of the issue surely? Essentially the issue is - does the Bible teach that church leaders speak for God? And when they do speak do we therefore take their words as God Himself? Surely the answer must be no! If that was the case then
1. Why has the Word of God been given.
2. Why has the Holy Spirit been poured out?
3. Why does the New Testament speak of “you (corporate) are a royal priesthood, a holy nation”?
Please hear me, I’m not saying that Christians leaders are irrelevant! I believe passionately in Ephesians 4 - that such ministry are the gifts of the ascended Christ. But I wonder if we still are retaining a degree of Old Testament Law thinking and haven’t truly grasped that we are ALL a royal priesthood and therefore ALL have the right of access to the manifest Presence of God and can all pray to Him and hear from Him? Surely it’s Old Testament Law thinking to still look to such leaders (one leader - many members) to hear from God?"
Dan's comment really stirred something in my heart about the need to have a correct, New Covenant view of leadership. So after some time sharing on the telephone, we felt it would be helpful to give an overview of what leadership is for, what the leaders are called to, and also what the members of the congregation are called to. So here goes:
The call of leadership
It says "to equip the saints for the work of ministry." That is a high calling; that the members of the flock - all the flock - grow up and are able to minister fruitfully in whatever their gifting is. The leadership is not for the benefit of the leaders, but with the ultimate purpose that the whole body reach maturity in the faith, every one doing their part.
Ephesians 4 gives a vision of leadership that enables every member to be fully released in their gifting, not ministry by the exclusive few.
The call to the body
The ministry of every member is taught throughout Scripture. Here are some examples:
The priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2v5, 9)
So every member is a priest. There is no "priestly class" that has superior access into the presence of God, no-one who has a greater standing before God, no-one whose prayers carry a greater weight before God. Every single believer in the congregation is a priest - equally, with equal right to be in God's awesome presence, equal right to seek His face and to manifest His glory.
Heb 7v27 tells that a priest offered up "sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for the people's". Now Jesus has offered the one perfect sacrifice - so there is no more sacrifice for sins - but there is a principle here of priesthood; the priest did not only enter God's presence for himself, but also for the people. In the same way, as priests of the new covenant, not only do we have access into God's presence for our own blessing, but also for the blessing of others. We can enter in and pray for ourselves; we can also enter in and pray for others. Every member is qualified to minister the grace of God for others. We don't need to go and have hands laid on us by the pastor or elders (although they can just as any other member can). We are a body, a kingdom of priests - all of us - with the right to enter in and the authority to minister the grace of God to others.
The prophethood of all believers (Acts 2v17-18)
Here Peter is quoting Joel 2, and it is very clear that every single servant of God should receive the Holy Spirit and thus be enabled to prophesy! Of course, in 1 Cor 12-14, there are clearly those who have the gift of prophecy, as well as other gifts, but the point being made is that every believer has the ability to hear from God, to dream dreams, to see visions. Just as there are evangelists but we are all called to witness, there are those with gifts of healing but we can all pray for the sick, so there are prophets but all have the potential to hear from God.
Hearing from God is not the exclusive realm of leadership. I would hope that leaders lead by example and make it their business to seek His face and to hear His voice for the direction of the fellowship, but God can speak to anyone in the fellowship. It was Moses that cried out "Oh, that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them" (Num 11v29). Moses had the heart of a true shepherd.
The gifting of all believers (1 Cor 12v7, 1 Peter 1v10)
"Each one" has a gift. The gifts are given "for the profit of all". Attendance at meetings is not the goal of church. A body is living - that means each member is active; gifts are manifesting. If these things are not present, it doesn't matter how large the church is, how dynamic the leadership is, the church itself is missing out of the purpose of God. If the gifts are given to build up the church, then if every member is not functioning, the church is not being built up as God intended.
This is such a challenge to leadership. Are leaders actively nurturing the flock in such a way as to encourage people to exercise their gifts? These needs liberty - yes liberty to make mistakes and to learn, and to grow.
The goal of maturity for all believers (Eph 4v13, Col 1v28-29)
It troubles me when I read of churches where leaders have to be consulted about almost every area of life. As well as giving the leader too much control (Jesus is our Master), such excessive authority stunts growth. When someone is a new Christian, it can be necessary in discipleship to cover very basic issues (in one recent discipleship class, one of my fellow leaders had to explain that it was right to pay bills), but believers grow up. When my children are older I wouldn't dream of telling them that they can't go and live in a particular city or nation; while I might advise them, it is their decision.
It is the Lord's purpose that every believer grows to maturity, knowing what is right, having God's wisdom, dependent upon Him, not upon men. That is not to say leadership becomes irrelevant. Just as parents of grown children will always run to help at times of crisis, so the leader continues to help. But this is not control, this is tending to the wounded soul, loving, listening, praying, advising, encouraging.
What leaders do - God's way
Good leadership will provide an atmosphere where such mature life flourishes. To many leaders such an atmosphere might appear dangerous - with prophets speaking that which may bring direction to the church; with beautiful examples of godliness which change the leader's own walk; with glorious times of worship where everyone is pressing into the glory of God and the leader finds himself standing in awe - his leadership forgotten - because the presence of God is so sweet; where new leaders are emerging, even those to whom the leader will say, "God is raising up you now, it is time for me to move on."
Leadership is not given to stunt growth, but to release growth.
Leadership is not given to mediate between the people and God, but to point people TO the one Mediator and lead them into the fullness and freedom of what He has accomplished once for all.
Leadership is not given to pray on behalf of the people but to teach people the true power of prayer.
Leadership is not given to replace the Holy Spirit but IMPART the Holy Spirit!
Leadership is not given to see, facilitate and accomplish vision but to visualise vision and lead the charge towards the accomplishment of the said vision.
Leadership is not called to never move beyond the Cross but, standing firm on the glorious truth of the Cross, advance forward in freedom and liberty and take the Promised Land.
To quote, Rob Rufus - "I want to build myself into redundancy in this church because that is the purpose of the five-fold ministries - is to equip and train the believers so that we become redundant in the locality." Glorious!
"Shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20v28). Shepherds care, feed, heal and protect, and shepherds know their sheep (John 10v14) - the shepherd is not aloof, but has real relationship with the flock.
From his own example, Paul said, "For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20v27). The leader teaches, from the whole of scripture, not just his favourite doctrines.
"Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim 4v12). Leaders should be godly examples - and not in outward conduct - but in love, in speech, in spirit; there is a spirit about the leader (even the presence of the Holy Spirit Himself) which impacts the lives of those in his care - or should.
"Give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine" (1 Tim 4v13). Yes, the scriptures must be read, the truth must be declared, the flock should be lovingly exhorted concerning what is right, sound doctrine is important. Paul tells Timothy later "hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 1v13). He says that having waxed lyrical about the grace of God shown to him. Thus the true shepherd will lay a foundation of the grace of God. It is grace that heals the wounds of the enemy's accusation and so it must be declared from the rooftops.
"And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance that they may know the truth" (2 Tim 2v24-25). We must be true to scripture - correction is biblical! But how correction is done is very important. It is to be done gently, with patience, with humility. If a leader meets opposition, the first place he should go is before the Lord; he should be searching his heart "is it me, Lord?" But if confrontation is needed, the surely it must come with tenderness and love, with a longing that the person would be set free by the truth. Sometimes the rebuke might have to be sharp (see Titus 1v13), but it is with the aim "that they may be sound in the faith."
"Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Tim 4v2). The leader is a faithful teacher, not necessarily teaching what is popular, but patiently seeking to convince and challenge, and lovinging stirring up the whole flock to obey the Lord and grow.
"Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfact in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labour, striving according to His working which works in me mightily" (Col 1v28-29). A leader is passionate, longing for the maturity of every person entrusted to his care. That passion is expressed here by words like "labour" and "strive". A leader must strive with His energy, so He must be much in the presence of the Lord, and completely dependent upon Him. So surely he should be passionate in prayer, urgent in preaching and explaining the truth, faithful in serving.
What a high calling!! Yet, there is great encouragement: "...our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3v5-6).
What the body does
Leaders are actually a part of the body, but I am using the term here to describe those in the church who are not leaders, that is, the remainder of the flock. What are the flock called to?
Yes it is scriptural, and just because it is abused doesn't mean it can be ignored. Now, when we seek to understand what a scripture means, our interpretation must not contradict other scriptures - if it does then there is something wrong with the interpretation. So submission does not mean blind and silent obedience - it simply cannot given the scriptures above concerning the call of the body. A healthy church is a maturing church and maturing children have a thirst for knowledge and ask questions! So submission does not mean silence!
Submission does mean respect, and it means following the leadership as they lead and pioneer the vision God has given to the church. It means trusting the leadership to make godly decisions, and responding to the lead (unless it is clearly unbiblical or immoral) even if we think "well perhaps that might be better" because we know Jesus is the Chief Shepherd and these are men who will give an account.
It means praying for leaders, forgiving leaders when they get it wrong (because they will as they are fallible), it means talking to leaders rather than simply about leaders.
Submission shows love and honour. Out of such an attitude, submission also means a humble questioning and sharing concerns, suggesting perhaps a different way, seeking greater understanding and sharing prophetic revelation.
And leaders in this atmosphere of trust, who have an ear for the Holy Spirit, will listen for His voice not just in their own meetings, but through the flock aswell.
Earnestly and passionately seeking God themselves. Not for the pastor to do all, or to have all the answers. It's already been said that leadership is given, not to pray on behalf of the people but to teach the power of prayer and not to mediate but to point TO the mediator.
Speaking from my experience as a pastor - and I am not having a "go" here at all, just observing - there is a culture in many churches that "I'll ask the pastor to pray for me" or "I'll ask the pastor what to do." Now, of course, the pastor should pray for the flock, and give advice where needed, BUT - every member can seek God for themselves. Every member can hear the voice of God themselves.
Some of this culture may have come from leaders encouraging an unhealthy dependency, and it is time for us to break free. There is only ONE mediator (and that is Jesus, not the pastor). We are all priests - with freedom to come before the throne of grace to find mercy and grace to help in time of need. The veil is torn for us ALL.
Earnestly desiring spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophecy (1 Cor 14v1). This is a command, and it is not only given to leaders. Now again, leadership control can quench the use of spiritual gifts - but so can a lack of congregation desire! It is vital that every member sees his or her calling to desire the grace gifts of God -whatever He may give to each one - for the edifying of the body of Christ.
So often it is portrayed that leaders are indispensible. I have learned that is not true - when I was ill and out of action for two months last year, I learned that the fellowship could still mature without me!! But the scripture teaches that in one sense we are all indispensible, or at least all vital to the healthy functioning of the body of Christ - "If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?" (1 Cor 12v17).
We are all responsible for our own desire for these gifts (and for the Giver Himself). Let's not be passive in these things.
Pursue the glory! There is a tragic statement by the children of Israel in Ex 20v19: "You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die!" The people stood at a distance and only Moses went right into the glory.
But we're in the New Covenant now!!! We can all press into the glory of God. We must!! We need the cloud to drench us, the whole of God's people.
We are a priesthood and prophethood of all believers. We all have a ministry gift and place in the body of Christ. We are all called to maturity. We are all invited into the Most Holy Place. Leaders are called to lead, yes. But - together we make the dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
I passionately believe it is time to break free from old covenant thinking into the glories of the new covenant reality, which is ours through Christ. The book of Hebrews tells us again and again, this is a better covenant, with better promises. The old was the shadow of the reality.
Let's come out of the shadows...