Judy Diehl, a friend, is author of 2 Corinthians in the Story of God Bible Commentary and, if you follow her on FB, you will see lovely photos of her life in the Colorado Rockies.
Leadership is not a position; it is an offering.
In the OT, leadership centered around the heads of households and heads of the ancestral tribes of Israel. The military needed leaders, to fight battles “in the name of the Lord” (i.e., Joshua). The priests were the leaders who directed human worship and animal sacrifice at the Temple. Leaders were appointed by God and were answerable to him for their behavior to all the people of Israel, to all God’s people: men, women and children. Compare the story of faithful Hannah to the “scoundrels” who were “priests” and the sons of Eli in 1 Samuel 1:1-20, 2:12-17.
In the NT, the notion of leadership changed dramatically as a result of the work of Christ. It is a divine gift and a privilege, not a position of authoritarian rule.
Another blog site, Ephesiology.com (which focuses on the biblical letter of Ephesians) had a recent post about “The Dark Side of Hierarchical Leadership,” posted November 29, 2020. It was the contention of the post that leadership is one of the most critical areas that needs evaluation and transformation in the church today. Some of their points of view are expressed here in my blog.
First, in view of the recent moral failures of a number of prominent Christian leaders, it is time that the Christian church give grave consideration to what it truly believes about “leadership.” Not a few women have made accusations about sexual misconduct by prominent leaders in large mega-churches such as Willow Creek in Chicago and Harvest in New York City. Grave accusations have been made against Southern Baptist pastors and ones in Sovereign Grace churches. Often the women’s testimonies are rejected by a male leadership team, and their stories are pre-judged because of the high position of the person accused. They questioned the women’s integrity and cited their own authority. Unfortunately, this narrative is not unique in the Christian church today. It could happen anywhere. That is why something needs to be said and done about this situation immediately!
As another example, we recognize that a number of leaders in the Roman Catholic church have injured and damaged people, even “leading people astray” by their sexual abuse, deceptions and threats. For too long, the church hierarchy turned a “blind eye” to sinful leaders and refused to see clarity of truth. Again, abuse was ignored and the authority of “leadership” was above reproach. Fortunately, this is changing because so many innocent young people have been adversely affected, physically, mentally and emotionally.
There is a movement among evangelical writers to address the issue of “spiritual abuse,” within the Christian church today, which can take many forms: misuse of positions by church leaders, the misuse of Scripture to promote fear and obedience to certain leaders, claims of divine authority, and pressure to retain secrecy and silence. And, pastors themselves can be victimized by other church leaders.
We are seeing the results of a strong, “pastor-centric ecclesiology,” where there is too much power in the hands of too few people (even so, one person). It is time we realized that “spiritual abuse” in the church is rearing its ugly head, and it is devastating. Behind closed church doors, Christians are experiencing “manipulation, superiority, elitism, exploitation, forced accountability, censorship of decision-making, secrecy requirements, control of teaching and pledged obedience.” This is not only remarkable, it is sickening (see Jn 12:42-43).
Second, the role of “submission” has escalated to the subordination of lay-people to the pastoral leadership, and the “mutual submission,” “love one another” biblical passages are ignored (Jn 13:34-35; Eph 5:21; 1 Jn 4:11-12). Some have argued that the subordination of roles in the church are based on the “subordination” of the Holy Trinity itself: that Jesus and the Spirit are subordinate to Father God. This is entirely false, unbiblical, and a poor excuse for any kind of human subordination in the Christian church. Humans in powerful pastoral positions are not to use people as subordinates. Volunteers in the church have been relegated to menial tasks like organizing pot-luck dinners, nursery duty, parking attendants and the set-up/tear-down crew. They perform their tasks with silent voices and with little acknowledgement. “Volunteers are seen as commodities to be used to sustain the organization rather than as discipled followers of Christ” (Mt 28:18-20). That is, many people attending church do not know how to do ministry, and use their spiritual gifts, because they have learned that “ministry” is always been done by others, by the “ministers” of the church. The “holy, royal priesthood” of all believers (1 Pe 2:5, 9-10) is ignored, to be replaced by a hierarchy of the privileged “ordained” and the lowly “non-ordained.”
All of my adult life, I have struggled with those who discount the gifted leadership of women in the church (see Rom 12:6-8). Women have been allowed to lead other women; they can cook and clean and serve tea, but there are still many churches who do not allow women to teach or preach, even if they have excellent qualifications, lead a godly lifestyle, and are called by God to do so. The reason why men are opposed to women in leadership positions is because they really don’t want to recognize the authority of God and his divine leadership over themselves. The power of the male-dominated church leadership is too great to disturb.
Ego-centric interpretations of Paul’s writings have placed excessive male authority over women in the church (and perhaps even in their homes). For example, male leaders have neglected to see that in 1 Corinthians 11:3-10, Paul was speaking of “propriety in worship” of both genders. In fact, Paul continued to address the same topic in 1 Cor 11:17-34, as it relates to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The readers’ lack of decorum and appropriateness in the Supper was far more serious than the modesty of head-coverings. In truth, Christ is over everyone, male and female; ultimate authority belongs to God the Father, and honor is to be shown not only to God but also to one another.
Furthermore, many interpreters have never noticed that the words “authority” used in 1 Timothy 2:2 and 12 are very different. In verse 2, the Greek word is translated “superiority, in a place of prominence” and refers to kings in a leadership position. In verse 12, a very unique Greek word for “authority” is used in reference to women who are engaged in worship, and means “to domineer and control, especially out-of- turn.” Neither men nor women should speak or teach in such a manner. Worship should be experienced by both genders with holiness and propriety. Thus, Paul’s instructions are for anyone who leads the worship of our Lord in prayer, in song, in preaching the gospel, and in leading the rituals of the faith. He or she should do so with appropriate correctness and reverence. People have misinterpreted Scriptures to their own profit and benefit, and have placed God in their own box; any disagreement with their view is foolish or heresy. Truth becomes relative to the leader’s advantage.
Christian leadership is not superiority nor authority nor control over people who are “under” (implying submission) one’s position, especially since that position is given by God. Christ is the head of the church, not a fallible human leader. All of “God’s people” are “members of his household, built on the foundation of the [very earliest] apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph 2:19-20). Furthermore, “in him you, too, are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph 2:22, my emphasis).
Leaders in modern Western business and politics have generally disregarded God’s truth, and their philosophies about leadership have worked their way into ecclesiology. The phrase “servant leadership” was adopted and adapted by the church in the 1960’s and has been “exploited” in the American church. It was originally a corrective to the leadership model that blossomed in corporate America. Business leadership models (“top-down” leadership) were replaced by a model that was supposed to imply servanthood and sacrifice, and to demonstrate God’s love and Christ’s self-sacrifice. However, little changed, and the visions of those leaders “at the top” were implemented, rather than a goal to “equip all the saints” for ministry. Like many corporations, churches are still judged by numbers: worship attendees, baptisms, children’s program and (perhaps most of all) by their income and expenses.
As an example, I held a position in a church that ministered to at least half of the congregation: head of the women’s ministry. It was a volunteer position that consumed more than 30 hours a week. I approached the lead pastor to see if I could receive a “part-time” staff salary. He told me that if I could prove that I brought “X-amount” of money into the coffers by bringing new people into the church, I could take part of it as salary. No numbers, no respect.
The title of “Pastor” comes from a Latin word that denotes “a shepherd.” It is one of five co-equal leadership gifts of Ephesians 4:11-13: note that the Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor (or Shepherd) and Teacher are gifts given by Christ, for the purpose of equipping “his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be guilt up until we all reach unity in the faith, and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (again, my emphasis). None of these five gifts is superior to another, and they are given as the Spirit sees fit, not to increase the power of the person, but for the unity and maturity of the church. Thus, we have the model of “biblical leadership,” modeled by Christ himself. The leadership in the earliest Christian church (the apostle Paul, for example) had only one focus – the declare Christ’s glory and gospel in every nation. There was never any doubt that Christ was the Head of the church and that his human leaders were co-equals, empowered by the same Spirit, serving at his direction.
Leadership is being “set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom 1:1), to serve people with humility, to edify and to support those who are already loved by God. This is “played out” through the knowledge of God’s Word, the example of the Son, and submission to the Holy Spirit. Then, it is the role of leaders to value and empower other people, and to encourage others to use their gifts for God’s kingdom. Leaders in the “Body of Christ” should influence and change culture, not be influenced and changed by it.
In his book, The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr speaks of “group narcissism: it’s a grasping for control, and every group at its less mature stages of development will try to put God into the pocket of his own members-only jacket” (p. 88). That is, leadership becomes the control (sometimes a very tight control) of a group of people, which sets the group apart as an “exclusive” group. To be a part of this group, respect for and obedience to the leader is required, rules are to be strictly followed, and any behavior or activities outside of the boundaries is forbidden. Whether it is legalistic Judaism, “official” Catholicism, or fundamental Protestantism, “it is the same ego game” (p. 89).
What is to be done? Numerous resources are available on Amazon (and even in “real” bookstores!) to help leaders build healthy communities. I mention only a few here:
Pastor and author Scot McKnight wrote a book called Pastor Paulthat affirms the nurturing of a culture of “Christoformity.” That is, we are all called to be conformed to Christ, formed by his life, his death and his resurrection. Rooted in his own words and life, leaders are called serve and give of themselves to Christ, without discrimination and personal ambition. Pastoring is participation in what Christ is doing – rescuing, redeeming, loving, guiding each person and in the community. It is a shared ministry of leadership and laity.
Furthermore, McKnight and his daughter, Laura Barringer, have authored a book called A Church Called Tov; Forming a Goodness Culture, countering the “spiritual abuses” of the fear-culture found in many churches today. As a side note, Laura is a former member of the Willow Creek Church in Illinois, led by Bill Hybels, so has experienced this ethos.
Another resource suggestion is Biblical Leadership; Biblical Theology for the Church, edited by Benjamin K. Forrest & Chet Roden. Written in language for both pastors and lay-persons, this book gives advice on how to apply biblical theology to leadership to achieve a more Christ-like ministry.
Finally, Dr. Lisa Oakley and Justin Humphreys have authored a book called Escaping the Maze of Spiritual Abuse; Creating Healthy Christian Cultures which helps to define the errors of our Christian organizations and offers solid answers to change the church for the better. They can help to create “safer places” to worship and to serve, and to form communities that flourish spiritually and emotionally.
The Apostle Paul humbly spoke of his own authority and leadership in Romans 15, confessing that his ministry was God-given for the purpose of sacrificially serving others. Leaders train and mentor others, and allow Christ to speak through them, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Leaders love unconditionally, like Christ, and leave judgment up to God. They encourage and build up, not criticize and tear down (2 Cor 13:3-5,10). “Examine yourselves,” Paul said. “We are glad whenever we [as ministers] are weak but you [as a congregation] are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection” (2 Cor 13:9). That is Christian ministry; that is true biblical leadership – to strengthen and perfect oneself in the likeness of Christ, and to love and strengthen other people so that we can all work together to build God’s kingdom on earth.