the weblog of Alan Knox

Ruling or Leading?

Posted by on Feb 17, 2009 in blog links, elders | 8 comments

Matthew has written another interesting piece concerning elders called “Implication for Elders’ Authority from 1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9“. I appreciated his discussion of the difference between ruling and leading:

Προΐστημι (proistÄ“mi) may be translated “rule” or “lead” in 1 Tim 3:4–5 (“Manage” in the ESV; “He must manage his own household well.”) This is also the role of an elder (cf. 1 Tim 5:17). Since ruling and leading have distinct meanings with important implications, a choice should be made. While nothing in this passage seems to require one or the other, a choice may be made based on other passages such as 1 Tim 5:17 and 1 Thess 5:12. Part of the thesis of my dissertation is that elders have the authority to lead, not to rule.

What is the modern distinction between the English verbs “rule” and “lead”?

rule: “exercise authority over” or “decide with authority”

lead: “take somebody somewhere”

Unfortunately, I think too many elders are attempting to “rule”, and few are trying to “lead”.


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  1. 2-17-2009

    An analogy I have used in the past:

    A ruler is in charge of a cattle drive-behind the crowd forcibly pushing them forward.

    A leader is in charge of a parade, standing out in front of willing followers.

  2. 2-17-2009

    I guess the term ‘shepherd’ is misunderstood too. In Bible times a shepherd went before his flock who willingly followed after him, because they knew his voice and trusted him. Nowadays, at least here in the UK, the shepherd drives his sheep with the aid of one or two dogs, essentially forcing the sheep to where he wants them to go.
    Can’t help thinking there is a direct analogy here somewhere….

  3. 2-17-2009

    Usher: Shouldn’t it be “serve or serve”?

  4. 2-17-2009


    Yes, that’s a helpful analogy.


    I think – according to some – we can redefine “shepherd” or “pastor” to mean whatever we want them to mean. 😉

    Deacon and/or Usher,

    That was Jesus’ definition, wasn’t it?


  5. 2-18-2009

    Why do we think that anyone, other than the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ, has the authority to lead us?

    To me an elder’s role is to support the Christ leading efforts of His church in growing in its understanding and knowledge of Him and expressing Him to the world. An elder helps to protect what God is doing in that particular church. They really are not meant to lead but to follow as well.

    Jesus leads. We follow Him and no one else.

  6. 2-18-2009

    I like your July 9, 2007 post on this.

  7. 2-18-2009

    Maybe some help in defining rule comes from the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary. There is a difference between rule used as a transitive verb and an intransitive. I believe that it is a transitive verb which means to govern. Even the last part of the first definition of the 1828 Dict. gives reference to I Tim. 3, but also has “In limited governments, men are ruled by known laws.” That should help to give a sense to limited government in both the home and church, since God is the Supreme Authority over all. A limited government has laws as its basis and they even govern those that govern. Then when the governors have to obey laws, they show as to how it needs to be done, so as to lead.
    Whether lead or rule is used, I believe it needs to mean the same thing. But, somehow the definitions of our language need to be known, even as the laws of definitions are known laws and we need to be guided by them.

  8. 2-18-2009


    I don’t think we need to be afraid of “leading” – this is a biblical quality that Jesus equates with service. Problems come in when we forgot the service part.


    Thank you. (Sam refers to a post that I wrote two years ago which was also called “Ruling or Leading?“)


    I do not have a problem with “leading” as long as it is understood as service, the way Jesus described it. When we begin to associate “leading” with “authority” or “control”, then I think we’re in trouble.