“Brother, you have gone too far this time!” my friend exclaimed. “Everyone knows that it is “C” but you are going to make all your clergy friends mad! Elders instead of senior pastors and priests? And you replaced ‘Christ’s sufferings’ with that stuff about leadership and the priesthood!
“I know. I probably won’t publish this one. I don’t want to offend anyone needlessly.” I replied while shaking my head and thinking about my distorted paraphrases of 1 Peter 5:1. “But you have to admit, that is exactly what’s wrong in many churches today. We seldom speak of Christ’s sufferings but instead rely on leadership principles and teach the wisdom of men! But I hear you; I will think it over and pray about it before I publish it.”
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I am saying is very much needed and I believe that God is leading me to say it: The New Testament, especially verses like 1 Peter 5:1-4, teach us that the church of Christ is supposed to be led by a group of godly Spirit-led elders rather than one senior pastor or priest. This is true even if that pastor or priest is the most eloquent communicator or the most spiritual person in the community. Instead, elders who are gifted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are to watch over and shepherd the flock of God until the Chief Shepherd – Jesus – appears and gives us our reward.
The vision is simple, clear, and easy to understand. And yet over the years many church leaders, including me, have discarded or glossed over the plain teachings of the New Testament and bought into the worldly thinking. We often treat the church as just another non-profit organization that is dependent upon human leadership, personal charisma, and management skills, or we make our faith into a religion where people have access to God through being in good relationship with their priest, obeying the dictates of the church, and honoring the sacraments.
All of this keeps people from the central truth of Christianity: Christ in us is the hope of glory! (Col. 1:27) Christ living and working in you and in me is the hope of the world, the light that dispels the darkness, the bright morning star that beckons a new day dawning. Unless we stay focused on the message of Christ – that God took the form of a man, lived among us, gave His life for ours on the cross, and rose from the dead and is even now interceding for us and living inside of us who believe – unless we stay focused on this message and being new creations in Him, we become just another non-profit organization or man-made religion.
"the church of Christ will not only survive without the man-made distractions, it will thrive as people get back to the basics of New Testament Christianity!"
Take the Apostle Peter as an example of someone who stayed true to the Message of Christ. In 1 Peter 5 he could have easily declared that Jesus told him that he was the rock of the church and that everyone should be a strong leader like him (just think of the leadership books he could have written!). Not only that, Peter could also have instituted a priesthood by appointing priests, mandating tithes and offerings, instituting sacraments, and commanding obedience to the priests.
But Peter didn’t do any of that. Instead he modeled the humility of Jesus and he followed the teachings of Jesus. He didn’t lord it over the flock nor insist on high titles for himself. In fact, when decisions needed to be made for the church, he didn’t hand down dictates but gathered the group of elders together and as a group they prayed about it, debated the pros and cons, and came to a consensus that they could all agree upon (see Acts 15). Peter provided Spirit-led leadership but he didn’t hand down dictates or issue ultimatums.
This is a great example for those of us in church leadership. Contrary to popular opinion, the church of Christ is not dependent upon the communication skills and management abilities of the senior pastor and staff. Nor is the church dependent upon a priesthood and religious traditions. The church of Christ will do just fine without all the man-made enhancements, thank you very much. In fact, the church of Christ will not only survive without the man-made distractions, it will thrive as people get back to the basics of New Testament Christianity!
After all, when it is all said and done, it is Christ in us – the Spirit of God in each and every believer – that is the hope of glory and the hope of mankind. That living reality -- God alive in individual believers -- is what brought great growth to the church in New Testament times and is still bringing people to Christ around the world today.
May the Lord help us to remember that it is Him living in individual believers that brings healthy church growth and may we make relationship with Him the foundation of our churches and ministries.
Let’s Pray Together: Lord Jesus, You gave your life for the church, and You loved me and the people in my congregation while we were yet sinners and hadn’t even thought of turning towards You. Help me to remember that as I lead, teach, pray, or serve in whatever position or situation You place me. Make my ministry be all about You and not about church stuff. May You be the center of everything I do, whether it be in the church, the community, or my family. It is Christ in me, You living in me and flowing through me to others, that is the hope of glory and true success in my life. Be with me in these situations that I bring before You now… (Continue praying as you feel led…)