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Christian Church Leadership

Christian Church
leadership across the world has tended to be either essentially hierarchical, in which denominational structure sets the local form; or democratic, in which the world's best-practice-management-models have been incorporated into the local church.
or wrong, both of these become stronger by tradition and their structure eventually becomes part of the church's identity.
Although Biblical terms such as 'elder', 'pastor', etc, may be used, the structure of Church leadership then generally turns on these two modes: hierarchical or democratic, neither of which are biblically based or reflect the dynamic life relationships of the early church under the Holy Spirit's management.
Both wrong!
Problem Background
History or tradition has had a powerful influence in the way we do things, but it should never be the determining factor in the form of leadership in Christ's precious Church. Unfortunately, in self-justifying support of their own ways, hierarchical churches have claimed an authority beyond Holy Scripture by asserting that so-called ecumenical decisions or common practice of Christianity during the first three centuries of church history are an authoritative determining factor for church belief and practice today.
This is neither biblically nor historically true!
so-called 'ecumenical' councils of Christianity were simply formal decisions of church leadership within the bounds of the Roman empire concerning which the Emperor had an interest in unity in his empire, such as Constantine's Council of Nicea. But Christianity had spread far beyond Constantine's empire. Sadly, the historical continuity of Rome's influence in European history has tended to make this view dominant in many countries from which it then spread through European colonial influence.
Reformation of Christianity in Europe and the development of democracy in European cultures happily coincided, helping to further the Reformation to some degree. But it subtly added an influence which has subsequently tainted the Church's thinking in democratic countries concerning the nature of church leadership, in which the top structure is an elected board of elders, or deacons, as the church's management directorate.
Reformer John Calvin's 'Institutes' had a huge effect on the formation of the Reformation/Protestant movement world-wide. He taught that a definite pattern of church government was prescribed by scripture, that pastors must be elected by the church and sanctioned by current elders (presbyters) if present in the church (Calvin Institutes 4:2).
although each form of church management so claims a Biblical basis for itself, neither the episcopal hierarchy, nor the presbyterian management board, nor the congregational democracy model of church government fully reflects the Bible's perspective of early church leadership.
In its
beginning, to be authentically Christian in its character and in its form, the Christian Church was given all it needed for its health and strength: namely
   – (1) the Bible; understood within its own context by the immediate presence of its Author in the life of the Church;
   – (2) the Spirit of Truth Himself (the Author of that Word).
This provision assumes of course a personal heart-relationship with God, and it is here where church leadership sadly began to loose the way.
apportionment of blame for church leadership aberrations in past Christian history is beyond our reach. For as an example, even in the relatively more important field of theology –
  • a doctrinal error in Calvin (his 'extra Calvinisticum' of finitum non capax infiniti, meaning in effect that while Christ suffered on His cross He also sat enthroned above all in Heaven)
  • may be traced directly back to Augustine's neoplatonic ideas, but Augustine in turn had already been damaged by the doctrinal and spiritual slanting of the Church's thinking within his own time,
  • as represented in Ambrose with his early Stoic training, and so on... and so on...
We should not condemn.
each generation of Christianity therefore needs to be careful in not continuing that which seems 'right' simply because it was approved thinking by the respected leaders of a previous Christian generation, no matter how sincere that may be.
We ourselves are
directly accountable.
So How Should It Be?
On the Day of Pentecost, at the birth of the Church's mission, there was only one level of leadership. They were called apostles (a pre-existing term which meant something like 'emissaries') and were twelve in number for the twelve tribes of Israel because the Church's first area of outreach re-stated Christ's mission to Israel in a renewed offer to the nation.
Remember, the Lord Jesus had said to them –
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses
in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth
Acts 1:8.
Please Note:
(This strict focus on the nation Israel ended finally with the stoning of Stephen described in Acts 7; hence no-one replaced the apostle James after he was martyred, Acts 12, as had previously been done with the death of Judas)
when Paul describes the gifts of the Holy Spirit given on that day of Pentecost, he is not describing ranks or levels of leadership, but spiritual gifts or enablings.
Ephesians 4:11.
There was always only one level of leadership in the Christian Church among whom various gifts of special abilities were distributed to enable their work. The general term for leadership in our New Testament is πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros), which simply means 'senior'. It is often translated as 'elder' in our English versions, but has unfortunately come to mean pastoral assistant in many parts of Christianity.
When the Apostle John wrote his inspired letters, he referred to himself simply as a presbyteros – senior/elder. This was his leadership role or office, or rank!
2 John 1:1; 3 John 1:1.
one be an apostle as well as an elder? Yes of course, that is how Peter described himself: apostle in enabling gift and elder in rank of responsibility.
1 Peter 5:1.
special emphasis in his letters on his work as an apostle (not its rank but its character) was needed for two reasons:
 his background not having known Jesus before his own conversion; and,
 his pioneer work which was constantly undermined by preachers/teachers from the first church in Jerusalem.
work of every presbyteros/elder in the Christian Church is to shepherd or pastor that flock of Christ! This is the basic character of all leadership in the Christian Church.
All Elders
are Pastors
If an elder does not shepherd the flock at a personal level, that elder is none-functioning. Even if he sits on boards and council meetings of the church to share in decision-making, he is not functioning as an elder unless he is active in personally shepherding the flock. Shepherding is the exercise of a direct personal relationship to God's people and not simply participation in group management decisions.
But what about Deacons? Are they not part of the leadership?
The Church had no Deacons on the Day of Pentecost. They were not an essential to its function.
They were added later, as a delegated management responsibility when the need arose in the life of the Church. That principle does not change with time.
Accordingly, the Apostle Paul warned Timothy not to appoint persons to a delegated position hastily for Timothy would carry the blame before God if those persons then failed their responsibility and damaged the work of God –
"Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure ...
The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later
For that reason Paul had said –
"...let them also be tested first; then let them serve as Deacons if they prove themselves blameless."
1 Timothy 5:22,24 &
1 Timothy 3:10.
Pastors Preside
Shepherd or Pastor (from the Latin for 'shepherd') is the basic Biblical image of Church leadership.
In the time when this image was used of leadership in the beginning it had no direct spiritual significance as the modern word 'pastor' tends to have today. Even political leaders were viewed in the Bible as the shepherds of their sheep (2 Sam.5:2, 7:7; Isa.44:28), and so it was also in ancient Egypt where the Pharaoh was pictured in his statues with a shepherd's crook and a flail.
A pastor in Biblical perspective is leader. His role is never simply supportive. He is not a spiritual chaplain. He leads in totality or he is not a pastor.
that mean that Pastors are dictators of Church direction?
No, but they are solely responsible for Church direction. A wise shepherd acts according to the needs of his flock, not of his career!
When the Lord Jesus said –
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me"
He is exemplifying the role-relationship of pastor to his flock. Sheep do not follow decisions. They follow the relationship which they trust! The office may create responsibility, but the relationship gives leadership. They are not herded! They follow voluntarily because they trust.
John 10:27.
Church Management
Unfortunately in many church associations, unless the local pastor enjoys some form of celebrity status, the management board of the local church (whatever they may call themselves) often tend to see themselves as hiring a pastor whose responsibility it is then to act as chaplain to their church, apart from perhaps being departmental-coordinator, or whatever other role may be invented by the management board to meet the perceived need of the church and keep the pastor fully employed. Leadership has thus passed to best-practice management models learned from the world rather than from the Word of God. This is unacceptable to God!
Also often in practice, when a local church board/council/executive-committee is chaired by their pastor or senior pastor, his necessary focus on specific issues to provide management leadership may sometimes interfere with his function as the impartial chair of meeting procedures and decisions. This has often then led to a person other than the pastor or senior pastor chairing these church management meetings, with the inherent danger as a consequence that the leadership office of pastor becomes eroded to a religious portfolio as chaplain to the church. Although this violates the essence of pastoral leadership, it is a strong influence often assumed as an acceptable management model in many evangelical churches today.
Elders? What about the Elders?  
are pastors, whether full-time or part-time; there is no other form of church leadership given in Holy Scripture.
But does the Bible not say – "first apostle, second prophets, third teachers, then ..."? Is this then not a ranking structure of church leadership?
1 Corinthians 12:28.
absolutely not. The Apostle Paul is here describing the geographic scope (not any rank) of these ministry gifts in their order, in which the gift of apostle (ἀπόστολος) by its nature and meaning of the term is one who is 'sent out' – a delegate or ambassador sent, and therefore the most wide-ranging in inspired service.
the original Twelve did not receive their calling from a gift of the Holy Spirit. They were appointed and so called before the Day of Pentecost, that is before the Holy Spirit had given the gift of apostle to the Christian Church, because they were sent out ahead of Jesus in His itinerary through Palestine. This secular term ἀπόστολος (apostolos) simply means 'sent one' and its equivalent was in common use in Israel, before Christ came, under the term שליח (sheliach), meaning one-on-a-mission, such as delegates of the Sanhedrin who travelled out to the synagogues of the Dispersion.
The Twelve would have understood this, as of themselves on behalf of Jesus, through His use of this secular term. The Twelve therefore were not apostles by gift of the Holy Spirit but simply as representative of Christ's ministry to the twelve tribes of Israel, hence their number; a number which needed completion again (appointing a successor to Judas) before Pentecost for the renewed offer of the kingdom to Israel (Ac.3:19-20).
understanding of the term is confirmed by an early Christian document from the beginning of the second century used as a guidance manual, apparently among churches in the region of Syria, the so-called the Didache (Διδαχή: Teaching). In this, early Christians are advised that if anyone who is called an 'apostle' stays among them for three days he is not an apostle:
  "Let every apostle, when he comes to you, be received as the Lord;
But he shall not abide more than a single day, or if there be need, a little more.
But if he abide three days, he is a false prophet." (11:5-7)
Obviously this is not true concerning the Holy Spirit gift of apostle, for the apostle Paul stayed in Ephesus ministering for two years (Ac.19:10-11), but it does confirm the secular understanding of the term 'apostle' at the time as being a traveling function; not a regional rank as some modern Pentecostals appear to believe.
today, regardless of what gift of the Holy Spirit may be given to individuals to equip them for service, the responsibility for the leadership of Christ's Church belongs directly to the pastors of Christ's Church, and to them alone, even if they are simply called elders.
Their spiritual gifts however do require of them an availability which is best served in a full time capacity. Hence, the apostle Paul teaches us today that –
"In the same way [as priests eat from the temple offerings], the Lord commanded
that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
1 Corinthians 9:14.
Jesus had demonstrated this when He sent out the Twelve in ministry to the representative 'House of Israel' ahead of Himself, and instructed them that they were not to fund themselves. The beneficiaries of their ministry would be their support –
"Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food."
Matthew 10:9-10.
So, if one's gift is to minister God's Word, full-time service is the norm, and not secular employment, except in special circumstances as Paul demonstrated. For this reason, it was those gifted as prophets and teachers in full-time ministry who led the church in Antioch as its elders, from which Paul and Barnabas began the first missionary journey which led to Paul's apostleship.
Acts 13:1-3.
then the Holy Scripture which says –
...[Paul] called the elders of the church ...[and] said to them: ...
"Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,
to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Therefore be alert, ...
And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. ...I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and
remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'.
Acts 20:17-35.
reference to the Holy Spirit is to be taken very seriously, for it remains a continuing vulnerability in the human condition to import the methodology of our social environment into the practice of church management.
In the world, management requires structural authority, that is authority based on position within a management hierarchy. This is therefore the human perspective in church management, and here is its real danger.
Holy Spirit does not dwell in board rooms.
He does not wed His will to organisational leadership, no matter how sincere they may be.
The Holy Spirit dwells in every born-again believers only and therefore His ministry is rooted in the individual and not in the organisation.
permanent vigilance is therefore necessary to protect the ministry of the Holy Spirit through the individual from becoming subjected to decisions of church boards, committees, or individual leaders. These are necessary in a supportive and protective role, but they must never be allowed to claim an authority which cannot be challenged by the Holy Spirit through any individual within the Body of Christ the Lord.
It is
very significant that when the most strategic mission in the spread of Christianity began, the Spirit of God did not tell the leadership of that church.
He simply said to them –
"Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
Acts 13:2.
Any concept of 'confirmation' by a leadership group, of this special calling of Barnabas and Saul, was at the most simply to relieve them of their existing responsibilities, and nothing more but to pray for them in the empathy/identification expressed in the laying on of their hands on these two men whom the Spirit sent out.
Too often the false idea of a necessary spiritual 'covering' has been used in church circles to import the structural authority of this world's pattern into the lives and mission of God's people.
The Bible teaches no such thing if it be allowed to explain itself!
This absolute priority of the Holy Spirit to work without particular approval of church boards, as He leads the individual believer,
is intrinsic to His leadership in the Christian Church and to the final completion of its mission – upon which the end of this age hangs.
Finally Final responsibility for the direction of the church is never the absolute prerogative of the church's leadership at any level.  
Just as – the apostle Peter emphasizes to us that not even their own personal experience of the revelation of God's kingdom in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself on the mount of transfiguration could measure up to the authority of God's written word (2 Pet.1:16-21) –
"For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honour and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased', we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.
And we have something more sure, the prophetic word,
to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."
2 Peter 1:16-21.
also the apostle Paul instructs us that the individual Christian is not to give recognition to a leadership direction that disregards or misrepresents Holy Scripture –
Note ⇒
"If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual [gifted], he should acknowledge
that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.
If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized."
1 Corinthians 14:37-38.
leaders are to be respected unconditional, but they are not to be obeyed unconditionally.
The final authority in all things, for every Christian believer, lies in the Holy-Spirit-inspired written word of God alone, forever, and if anyone claims direct inspiration/revelation from the same Holy Spirit, remember that the Spirit of God is consistent and does not contradict Himself in Holy Scripture!
 Praying in Tongues   Church Meeting Dynamics   The Gifts of the Spirit   Structure of Church Ministry   Pastoral Appointment Process 

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