“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
“I know the New Testament pattern for church leadership is a group of leaders made up of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, but it just will not work. We have a hard time getting two or three people to agree together, let alone five or even more!”
The denominational leader quoted above went on to say that because of our individualistic culture and lack of unity in the church we should ignore the plain instruction of Scripture. Of course, it wasn’t said in exactly those words, but it was clear that the wisdom of man took precedence over Biblical teaching. It was basically the same argument that is made for premarital sex – everyone does it and many people think that it makes good sense so why go through the hardship of following what the Bible says?
The reason we ought to follow the Bible (as if obedience to the Lord is not enough) is that God’s wisdom is far superior to man’s. He knows what He is talking about. He knows the way that church leadership ought to be structured. And if we have problems with His leadership model, the problem most likely lies with us rather than Him.
In other words, if the church is in such disunity that people can’t come to a consensus and work together, then perhaps there are serious issues in their relationship with God and with one another that have to be resolved. Leaders might have to do the hard work of forgiving one another and loving one another and being ministers of reconciliation. They would have to really know one another and share their lives and hearts with one another instead of just coming together once a month for a 90-minute meeting controlled by agendas and Robert’s Rules of Order. Meeting agendas and time limitations would have to be replaced by the leading of the Holy Spirit and loving concern for others.
This is a call for a radical change in many churches where agendas are set by professional staff and decisions are made by democratic vote. What would happen if everyone had an equal voice in leadership meetings and everyone was committed to working things out so that the group could move forward in unity? What if leaders were striving for unity in the Spirit rather than pushing through their personal vision or agenda for the church?
"If we take Him at His word and pattern our church leadership structures the way He tells us to, then we will experience His power and blessing in ways that were not possible under the man-made hierarchical leadership model."
Some might say that I am dreaming and it could never happen, that we are doomed to divisive meetings and disunity, but I don’t think so – it really is possible for a church to move together in unity and with a plurality of leaders. If we follow the Biblical model in Acts 15 and take the time to contend for consensus and unity rather than hurried and divisive votes we can get rid of those gut-wrenching council meetings where some people go away with a bitter heart while others are euphoric over their “win.” In reality, there are no winners when the leadership team is fractured and people are harboring hurt feeling towards one another.
Like many of us, I have been a part of and have even led those kinds of leadership meetings where people go away hurting and wounded. But I have also been a part of a group of leaders who are willing to invest the time and effort to build strong relationships with one another and with the Lord so that they can work through divisive issues and come to a consensus where they can move forward in unity with an attitude of, “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us that...” (See Acts 15)
The heart of the matter, then, is that making these kinds of changes in how we do church leadership would be hard work, but it would be worth it. It would be taking the narrow road of following Biblical instruction when we are so used to taking the broad road of the wisdom of man (1 Cor. 1:18-31). It would mean organizing our churches and ministries after the New Testament pattern rather than the organizational structures of corporations or businesses. It would mean putting love for God and others ahead of numerical growth, increased offerings, or building programs.
These kinds of changes are radical, but we serve a radical God. If we take Him at His word and pattern our church leadership structures the way He tells us to, then we will experience His power and blessing in ways that were not possible under the man-made hierarchical leadership model. For more leaders will be empowered, the weight of church leadership will be spread out across the shoulders of many people, and we who follow Christ will be known for our unity and for our love for one another, just as Jesus taught and prayed.
Let’s Pray Together:“Lord Jesus, You taught us to love one another. And when You prayed for us, You prayed that we would be in unity, that we would be one with You just as You and the Father are one. Help me to bring unity to the body of Christ within my sphere of influence. Lead me in my conversations with church leaders and use me to suggest changes and encourage others to follow the Biblical pattern of church leadership. Lead me as I lift before You these church leaders and situations that come to mind…” (continue praying as you feel led)
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