Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Leadership in the church

Christ is the true Head of the church, but mankind has historically had trouble recognizing Him as such. We would much prefer someone physically on the earth, someone we can see and touch. Perhaps it is because we are more in tune with the physical realm than we are with the spiritual. Whatever the case, it has been going on for a long time. When God established the nation of Israel, He was to reign over them as a king, but it didn’t take them very long before they said, “We want a king just like all the nations.” God said that in so doing they were rejecting His reign over them (read 1 Samuel 8). That desire still exists in the hearts of men and women. We would rather follow a man who we can see and touch and hear. This presents a danger for the church. If we are not careful our hearts will be drawn away from Christ as our Head to some lesser head. In addition to that danger there is the danger that many men (and sometimes women) are all too comfortable with having that preeminence. John had to write one of his letters to a man named Gaius rather than to the church because of Diotrephes “who loved to have the preeminence among them,” and thus he would not receive John. We must be on our guard against this danger; otherwise it will erode away our very first foundational principle (and a very important one); Christ is the head of the church.
I would like to emphasize that this problem is a problem of the heart, and the remedy must take place in our hearts. It is a question of maintaining a spiritual focus in a physical world. Having said that I believe that God in His wisdom laid out several practical safeguards in His pattern for the church. One of these has to do with a plurality of leadership. Men who are in a position of leadership in the church are called in the New Testament either elders or overseers (King James uses Bishops). Every time this word is used in connection with a local church it is in the plural (Phil 1:1; Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5; Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:1). It is also significant to mention that even Peter and John who were apostles and might have exercised more authority, simply referred to themselves as elders (1 Pet 5:1; 2 John 1). When we consider the tendency that we have of focusing on earthly leaders we can quickly discern the wisdom in God’s pattern for the church. When one man is always in view and in a position of leadership it is much easier to allow that man to gradually take the position of head, but when there are several this tendency is kept in check. It is also important for leaders to have accountability among themselves. This can easily be neglected when there is only one.
The question might still be asked, “There may be some danger, but isn’t there a lot of benefit to the church from having a pastor or full-time-worker?” Let us carefully analyze this question. First let us be clear what we are asking. If we are asking about the people who serve in these positions, then we will quite readily say, yes! There are many wonderful, godly men who have served and are serving as pastors and resident full-time-workers. If we are asking about the practice of having one-man leadership or ministry, then I would say, no. The reasoning goes like this. I trust we believe and agree that Christ is the perfect head of the church, and that His plan for the church is perfect. If there is something needful or even beneficial for the church we may reasonably expect to find it in the Bible. In this case I find no Biblical examples of one man ministry (whether we call that man a pastor or full-time-worker or whatever). I encourage you to do your own research. Prayerfully consider what the implications are of Christ’s position as Head of the church, and what the Bible actually has to say about leadership (let me know what you find).
Next time we will consider an important corollary to Christ’s headship; namely, the unity of the body.

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