the weblog of Alan Knox

Elders (Part 3) – Leadership

Posted by on Sep 18, 2007 in elders, office | 17 comments

Elders are often considered leadership in the church. In fact, elders are usually held responsible for spiritual, financial, personnel, business, and organizational decisions. In fact, “leadership” is often used synonymously with “decision-making”. Elders are certainly supposed to be leaders. But, what kind of leadership should elders offer? And, is this leadership unique to elders?

When we think about leadership, I think we should start with Jesus’ statements concerning leadership in the gospels (Matthew 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:24-26). I have suggested in previous posts (for example, see “Leaders and Servants” and “More on Leaders and Servants“) that Jesus turned “leadership” upside down. No longer are we to follow those who are good decision-makers, or well-educated, or charismatic, or good communicators, or talented. Instead, Jesus instructed us to find those who are serving others and then follow them. If we are thinking in Jesus’ terms, then we cannot think of leaders without thinking about their service, and we cannot think of servants without knowing that we should follow their example. In other words, our “leaders” lead us into serving because they serve themselves. This does not mean that “leadership” (decision-making) is a new type of service. Service means getting your hands dirty by doing something for someone else. We should follow those who do this regularly.

In every passage concerning elders (and there are only a few passages), the focus of the passage is on elders caring for other people (more on this in later posts in this series). There are no instructions for elders to make decisions for other people. There are no instructions for elders to cast a vision or set the direction for a group of believers. Decision making, vision, and direction are the responsibility of each believer through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, service is the responsibility of each believer through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. This does not preclude believers moving in the same direction or serving in the same way. However, an elder is not responsible for directing these believers to work together; the Spirit directs these believers to work together.

As believers are recognizing elders, they should recognize those who live according to Christ-likeness in character and in service. Thus, we should recognize those who serve others. In recognizing them, we are also recognizing our responsibility is serving in a similar fashion, that is, in “following” them. We do not follow their decisions; we follow their example. We do not follow what they say; we follow what they do. Teaching and preaching are important, but they are not primary. Those who lead should be known more for their service than their words.

But, once again, elders are not the only followers of Christ who are called to serve. Instead, every child of God is called to serve others. This service is a direct demonstration of our love for God and our love for other people. John says in his first letter that a person who does not demonstrate love for others is not a child of God:

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10 ESV)

We practice righteousness and demonstrate love for our brothers and sisters by serving them. According to John, this should be “evident”. So, every follower of Jesus will serve others. And, as we serve others, we become leaders to those who are observing us and who are learning to serve in God’s love.

Just as an elder should be known by a consistent Christ-like character, an elder should also be known for a consistent attitude and practice of service. Just as an elder is not held to a higher standard of character, an elder is not held to a higher standard of service (leadership). Every believer – if they are following Jesus Christ – will be serving others and, therefore, leading by example. We should recognize elders because they are actually humbling themselves and becoming obedient as a servant – not that their service removes our responsibility, but so that their service can be an example for us to follow.

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Series on Elders
1. Elders (Part 1) – Introduction
2. Elders (Part 2) – Character
3. Elders (Part 3) – Leadership
4. Elders (Part 4) – Teaching
5. Elders (Part 5) – Shepherding
6. Elders (Part 6) – Overseeing
7. Elders (Part 7) – Conclusion


17 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-18-2007

    I’m chewing on this one, but I’ll be out for a couple of days.

    Suffice to say that considering scripture, you’re spot on.

  2. 9-19-2007

    Wow, I can’t believe there aren’t a million comments on this one already. Seriously.

    I like what you said about how elders shouldn’t be held to a higher standard of character or service (leadership).

    To be honest, I still have a hard time swallowing everything you wrote in the post. It sounds good and I agree with it, but there are still so many logistical implications that it is hard to take hook, line, and sinker. However, being limited by Scripture (such limits you give us Alan!) I can’t point to a passage that explains how leaders should guide the body in decision-making beyond serving as an example. Hmmm, therein may lie the answer.

    I don’t want to get outside the scope of your series, but my question is “how are decisions then made within a local body of believers”? This is obviously another question for another time, but it’s what I’m left with after reading the post.

    Thanks Alan! We love you and appreciate how you are a walking the walk as you talk the talk (or type the type, I guess).

  3. 9-19-2007

    Alan,

    Great post. Do you think we may put the responsibility of “Decision making, vision, and direction” on the leaders instead of trusting the Holy Spirit because we don’t trust the Holy Spirit to work in us that way, and it’s easier to trust a physical visible leader?

  4. 9-19-2007

    Alan,

    I have heard it said (from a pulpit) more than once that the congregation will never rise higher than its leadership. Of course the person speaking was always referring to himself, and his need to be the holiest/best he could possibly be. But I always thought about how Jesus said that about himself, and he was talking about how he came as the lowest of all, he came as a servant.

    As his followers, we should never expect to rise above servanthood.

    Regarding Leah’s and Dan’s comments. I wonder, what decisions need to be made? Do they differ from the types of decisions made in scripture?

    I’m really enjoying this series.

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

    The Pursuit Online Store

  5. 9-19-2007

    David,

    I’m looking forward to your further thoughts after chewing on this.

    Leah,

    You said: “I can’t point to a passage that explains how leaders should guide the body in decision-making beyond serving as an example. Hmmm, therein may lie the answer.” What do you mean by “therein may lie the answer”?

    Your question about making decisions is a very important one. If I am correct that elders are not responsible for making decisions, then what are the other options? Is iT possible that Scripture answers this for us? Is it possible that some decisions actually do not have to be made? Could it be that we have created a need for decision-making?

    Dan,

    You ask a good question. I think it is probably true that some people are not willing or able to trust the Holy Spirit to lead them. I think it is also possible that some people have never considered the question of who should help them make decisions, because they’ve always been taught that their pastors/elders will make the decisions for them.

    Lew,

    If we are to follow Jesus’ example (which I think we should), then we lead best when we humble ourselves the most and become as much of a servant as possible. This is the illustration that Paul gave us of Jesus in Philippians 2:5ff.

    -Alan

  6. 9-19-2007

    Alan,

    Great series! I was going to wait until you were done with the series to comment, but, I decided to go ahead and comment now.

    I agree that elders should not be in the business of telling people what to do and that they should more be an example of someone walking in the will of the Lord. I think Acts 21 is a good example of the dangers of acting on man’s direction/guidance.

    Paul landing in Tyre, and then in Caesarea, is gathered with brethren, disciples, and probably elders of the Church. The Holy Spirit IS SPEAKING to these people and telling them what will happen to Paul in the near future. The prophet, Agabus, takes Paul’s belt and binds him saying this is what will happen to you if you continue on to Jerusalem. All the people tell him that he should not go there. They are hearing the will of the Lord by the Holy Spirit speaking, BUT, are misinterpreting it – probably with the help of Satan. An example of this in the following text:

    1. Mat 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.
    Mat 16:22 Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid {it,} Lord! This shall never happen to You.”
    Mat 16:23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

    Back to Paul. Paul was walking in the will of the Lord. The brethren, disciples, and probably elders, were setting their minds on their own (man’s) interests becoming stumbling blocks for Paul. Only after they couldn’t convince Paul not to go, did they concede that God’s will be done and not their own.

    I think this shows that man’s sinful-nature-interests, opinions, emotions, guidance, etc., can easily contradict, if not be the direct opposite of, what the will of the Lord is – even when they are hearing Him speak.

    In my opinion an elder should be an example of someone who knows the will of the Lord and is walking in it even though it may be contrary to man’s popular opinion. Wow…I just realized how difficult/taxing that is. I think I now realize why they were so heavily scrutinized before being named an elder.

    Jeff

  7. 9-19-2007

    Alan,

    What can I say? I’m 100% with you.
    In most situations, you would be tarred and feathered and run out of town if you made such thoughts known here.
    I like your reply to Leah. I have consistently refused to be THE decision maker when leading a congregation believing that decision making ought to be regarded as a part of a life lived as worship, that many decisions, which are made ought to be made over long periods of time, sometimes months and years.
    Finally, when a congregation is of one mind, we are able to say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us”.
    As you suggest,”…some decisions actually do not have to be made?”

    Keep on keeping on Brother! Your blog is GOOD value!

  8. 9-19-2007

    Jeff,

    I agree with what you’ve said. There is a fine line that we should walk. We should listen to the counsel of other believers. But, the responsibility for making decisions is still on each believer. Thanks for continuing this disucssion.

    Aussie John,

    I’m sure that some would love to tar and feather me. Thank you for the encouragement and for standing with me.

    -Alan

  9. 9-20-2007

    Thanks for your thoughtful posts, Alan. I believe that the biblical teaching for decision making lies wrapped up in the word “ekklesia”…assembly. Why did Jesus and the apostles use that word, as opposed to other words or concepts?

    I see consensus governing a much more biblical approach, like aussie john.

    What a powerful thing that a group of people can gather together to approach very difficult and sometimes heart rending issues and be able to say “…it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us….”

    Scott Parish

  10. 9-20-2007

    Scott,

    Thank you for the comment. I agree that waiting for God to bring us into harmony when making a decision is a much more powerful witness – and more biblical – than a leader’s decision or even a majority decision.

    -Alan

  11. 9-27-2007

    Alan,
    Thanks for this series. Maël wanted to post something like this all summer, but he never had a chance.
    I started a study of the NT to find clues about God’s view of leaders a while back; I made my way through most of Matthew when I was interrupted by the need to do another study.
    Just a note: my beginning assumption was that Jesus is our ultimate example.
    Matthew 10:24-25 struck me:
    “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”
    Elders/leaders, as well as we, shouldn’t make themselves/ourselves out to be more than Jesus did while he was a man on earth. If you look ahead to Matthew 11:29 (“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”) you learn that elders/leaders, as well as all of us, should be gentle and humble in heart. And then there is Matthew 18:3-4, Jesus says in v. 4, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” So elders, and all of us, should humble themselves/ourselves like a child.
    You have covered Matthew 20:25-28. There is again the example of gentleness in Matthew 21:5, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” … Even this King, God Himself, was gentle!
    When I think of the characteristics of a leader, my mind goes back to Isaiah 53, especially verses 2-3, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
    Perhaps I am using my imagination too much, but it seems that Jesus was not some charismatic leader who everyone wanted to follow because of their addiction to his personality; it seems he wasn’t even an exceptionally handsome man who people enjoyed watching for the aesthetic pleasure of it. How grievous it is that I have heard some believers express a desire for a charismatic pastor who can motivate them; that simply is not scriptural.
    Further in my reading I found Matthew 23:11-12, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Obviously, it is best for elders/all of us to serve others and to humble themselves/ourselves.
    To end my scripture references, I flip back to Matthew 7:24, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” It is wise for an elder (as well as all believers) to be gentle and humble and to serve, just as Jesus taught.
    I praise God that my elders/pastors/shepherds exemplify these characteristics so well in their lives. I have considered the outcome of their way of life, and I desire to imitate their faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Hebrews 13:7)
    With love in Christ,
    Cindy

  12. 9-27-2007

    Cindy,

    Those are excellent Scripture passages to bring into this discussions. Thank you!

    -Alan

  13. 7-1-2009

    “… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

    And what if they don’t observe? Who holds the “keys?” Who administers church discipline (Mat. 18) without “decisions?”

    PS. I love the words I have to type to post this: “Then Harlot.” Nice!

  14. 7-1-2009

    RevK,

    In Matt 18:17, the responsibility to treat the sinning brother as a Gentile and a tax collector is given to the one sinned against, not to the church or to church leaders. We all hold the keys of forgiveness and reconciliation.

    In 1 Thess 5:14, it is the brothers and sisters who are instructed to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

    In Col 3:16, all are instructed to let the word of Christ dwell richly within them and to teach and admonish one another.

    In Hebrews 12:14-15, all believers are instructed to look carefully (actually the same verb as “oversee”) into one another’s lives to make sure that no one “fails to obtain the grace of God.”

    Who administers church discipline? Who teaches? Who admonishes? The church… the whole church… that is, every believer. I am responsible for every believer that God brings into my life – they are each my brother and sister as well as my “neighbor”.

    -Alan

  15. 7-2-2009

    Alan,

    I’ve appreciated many things you have written; but this seems to be a place I am not following you.

    NAS Matthew 18:17 “And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.”

    – How is “the church” informed of a sinning brother? In some congregational meeting? Does the majority of the congregation determine if “the sinner” is, in fact, sinning? How does the church “speak” as the church?

    – NAS 1 Timothy 5:20 “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning.” Who is doing the “rebuking” here?

    – Do you have a place for councils or synods in your ecclesiology?

    – Is there something unique about someone like Timothy, who seems to be ordained by the “laying on of hands?” Is this supposed to be a practice of the church today?

    I appreciate how you respond to everyone’s questions. Peace.

  16. 7-2-2009

    RevK,

    Matthew 18:17 – “And if he refuses to listen to them, tell (this is a singular command – it refers back to the person sinned against) it to the church (Jesus doesn’t limit who in the church is told), and if he refuses to listen to them (everyone who was told), let him be to you (this is a singular pronoun – referring only to the person sinned again) as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.”

    Do I have a place for councils or synods? Only as much place as Scripture gives them.

    Is there something unique about someone like Timothy? Yes, Timothy was an apostle – traveling around from place to place with Paul. However, this doesn’t really have anything to do with “laying on of hands” – which is Scriptural – or “ordination” which is a concept that was later attached to “laying on of hands”. Look through Scripture at all the times “laying on of hands” is used. (English translations may not be helpful here.)

    Again, I’m not taking anything away from Christian leaders. The church needs people who are willing to serve (the mark of “leaders” according to Jesus). The church also needs to follow these people by serving as well. Sure, leaders will rebuke, admonish, etc., but these are not the sole responsibility of leaders. These are the responsibility of all believers.

    -Alan

  17. 9-26-2009

    this series has been SOOOOOOOOOOO beneficial to me – THANK YOU!!!!!

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