the weblog of Alan Knox

Is the Church Top Heavy?

Posted by on Aug 19, 2010 in discipleship, elders | 7 comments

Is the Church Top Heavy?

I struggled with what to name this post. I almost called it “Does the Church Overemphasize Leaders.”

A few days ago, I was talking with a friend about leadership among Christians as represented in Scripture. My friend made an interesting observation. He said, “Scripture talks about leaders far less than the church today talks about or relies upon leaders.”

I think my friend is right. So, I started thinking to myself, “Is the church today top heavy?” As I thought about it, I determined that I could answer that question, “Yes,” or I could answer it, “No.”

In one sense, the church is top heavy today because of the emphasis that is place on specific leaders. In many churches, leadership functions are reduced to the giftings and abilities and talents and time and energy and resources of one man (or a few men, at most). In this sense, the church is not top heavy in numbers, but it is top heavy in emphasis. Leaders receive more of the emphasis and attention.

When a decision has to be made (or someone wants a decision made – there is a difference), the church turns to their leader(s). When a question is raised, the leader(s) is expected to provide the answer. When there is a problem or struggle, everyone expects the leader(s) to provide the solution.

This is “top heavy” in the sense that roles and responsibilities are falling on the shoulders of leaders today, while in Scripture we see the entire church tackling these decisions, questions, and problems.

On the other hand (and in another sense of the term “top heavy”), our modern, traditional church structure indicates that the church is not as top heavy as we see in Scripture. Again, we tend to see one person or a few people leading. These people are responsible for the teaching, discipling, admonishing, training… pretty much everything that the church does in Scripture. We relegate other (non-necessary) duties to non-leaders.

In Scripture, we see something different. Everyone takes part in teaching, discipling, admonishing, training, etc. The entire church works together to serve their community and proclaim the gospel to those how are not believers. Thus, many, many more took part in “leadership” in the examples that we see in Scripture. In other words, when it comes to number of people functioning, the church today is not as top heavy as the church in Scripture.

So, yes, today the church is top heavy in the emphasis that is placed on one leader or a few leaders. But, the church is not top heavy when it comes to the functions that every believer should take part in.

In fact, as you can probably tell, these two senses of “top heavy” work together. Since we emphasize one leader or a few leaders, then others are not required to (or even allowed to) function as they should. And (to look at it another way), since everyone is not functioning as they should (to build up one another together), then one or a few have to bear the brunt of the responsibility.

Either way you look it, it’s a problem.


7 Comments

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

  1. 8-19-2010

    Perhaps the imbalance exists because the church is occupied with work it was never meant to do, willfully so in order to avoid the work that it is meant to do. There are always plenty of people in the congregation who are “called” to preach, or run the women’s guild, or manage the building fund, or serve on the vestry, or sing in the choir. The rest of us look at the resulting buzz of activity, and are content to think that God’s work surely must be being accomplished here. And that we can participate merely by saying, “Just tell me what to do.”

    Which of the core functions of a church requires someone to make a decision for the group? I can’t think of any.

  2. 8-19-2010

    yes! great clear summaries – on both uses of the phrase. I never really thought how they were so connected – but they are very much so. the structure perpetuates it all….. which came first? i assume it all started with pride of some leaders coupled with laziness of “the rest”

  3. 8-19-2010

    It is interesting to note that Paul doesn’t address “leaders,” in his letters, nor does he tell leaders to solve problems.

    Imagine today the flap if someone from outside a local church spoke about issues and problems directly to the church (the people), without first speaking these things over the the “proper” leaders, and without emphasizing the need for their leadership in solving them.

    We just think in hierarchical terms, like a business, school, or the military. We have a hard time understanding the concept of every member being connected directly to God, and God choosing to work through each member, such that all members need each other–none are complete or sufficient alone, yet we all bring some pieces to the table that are necessary.

  4. 8-19-2010

    Yes we are top heavy. Because we are in love with the idea of leadership not service. As a matter of fact the people who call themselves “serveants” actually demand you pay them for serving :o

  5. 8-19-2010

    Rick,

    You said, “Perhaps the imbalance exists because the church is occupied with work it was never meant to do…” I think that is a huge problem in the church today.

    randi,

    Yes, it’s hard to determine if it started with the leaders or with others. I also think the solution has to come from both leaders and non-leaders, which makes it very difficult.

    Art,

    I’ve often wondered what would happen if Paul addressed a letter to the church in Raleigh today…

    Lionel,

    So, what do we do? By the way… thanks for already answering this question in my next post. :)

    -Alan

  6. 8-19-2010

    hmmm… “leaders… one man (or a few men at most)” …

    Does “top heavy leadership” also have a gender-specific meaning?

  7. 8-19-2010

    Norma,

    That’s a good question.

    -Alan

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. We all just wanna be big rockstars | The Assembling of the Church - [...] about my previous post called “Is the Church Top Heavy?“, I ran across this article by Ed Stetzer called …