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Leadership is not decision-making

Posted by on Sep 24, 2010 in elders, office, service | 10 comments

Leadership is not decision-making

Since I’ve been talking about leadership and service lately, I thought I would re-publish one of the posts that I wrote two years ago on a similar subject. The post is called “Leadership is not decision-making.” Leaders – along with the entire church – may need to make decisions, but this is not a factor of being a leader. Instead, it is a response to the Spirit who indwells all believers, not just leaders. No, the main factor of being a leader is service… serving other people… no decision-making.


Leadership is not decision-making

When we study the idea of leadership in Scripture, we find that leadership in the church is not decision-making, and decision-making is not leadership. When we study the idea of leadership in today’s church, we find that leadership is primarily about decision-making.

Ready almost any book on ecclesiology or church leadership, and you’ll read about various forms of “church government” or “church polity”. You’ll read about the episcopal form, in which a bishop (or senior pastor) makes decisions for the church. You’ll also read about the presbyterian form, in which a group of people (elders, pastors, staff, or deacons) make decisions for the church. Finally, you’ll read about the congregational form, in which the church itself makes the decisions.

But, when we search Scripture to determine who should make decisions for the church, we come up short. Scripture does not deal with the concept of making decisions for the church. Yes, we find church leadership in the church: elders, bishops, pastors, deacons, teachers, etc. But, these are not mentioned in the context of making decisions. However, we do find that decisions are made in Scripture.

In Acts 6, the people come to the apostles with a problem. Some of the widows are not receiving food, while others are receiving food. The apostles did not make decisions for the people. Instead, the apostles tell the people to take care of the situation. The apostles lead by suggesting characteristics of those who should serve these widows, but they do not make the decision for the people.

In Acts 15, a major question is brought before the apostles: should Gentile Christians become Jews – i.e. should they be circumcised and required to keep the law. The decision that would be made at this time would affect the church for all ages. Who made the decisions? The apostles? Yes, they were part of the decision-making process. The elders? Yes, they were part of the decision-making process. Others? Yes, even Barnabas and Paul were allowed to take part even though they were part of the church in Antioch. In fact, it seems that the entire church took part in the decision-making process. But, certainly the entire church would not have been considered leaders.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul writes to the church in Corinth about a “brother” who was living an immoral life. The church was doing nothing about this situation, and Paul admonished them for it. Paul told them what he thought they should do about this situation, but who was responsible for making the decision to actually do it? Apparently, Paul left that up to the church.

In each case, the “leaders” involved guided and taught and admonished and exhorted, but they did not make decisions for other people. In fact, in 3 John, we see an example of a “leader” who does make decisions for people, and John speaks of him (Diotrephes) negatively.

So, if leadership is not about decision-making in Scripture, then what is leadership? Leadership is service – serving people. Service should be the start of the discussion about church leadership, and service should be the end of the discussion about church leadership. Teaching is about service. Sherpherding is about service. Overseeing (watching out for) is about service. Leadership is about service. Those who do not serve are not leaders in the scriptural sense.

When we see discussions about church government (polity) and its different forms, we should recognize that these questions and forms and structures arose after the New Testament was written. For example, it is from Ignatius that we learn that the bishop should make decisions for the church and that the church should do nothing without the approval of the bishop.

Now, this does not mean that scriptural leaders (servants) do not have influence concerning decisions. They do and they should. Assuming that we have recognized leaders because of their spiritual maturity and their service to others (and this is a HUGE assumption that is often not true), then we should ask for their opinions, and we should often follow what they say (Heb. 13:17). Leaders, on the other hand, must recognize that we can selfishly use our influence to get our own way – even when the outcome doesn’t really matter.

Since they are more spiritually mature (we’re assuming, remember), then leaders should be the first to give up their rights for the rights of others. Leaders should be the first to consider others as more important than themselves and, therefore, to consider the opinion of others as more important than their own opinion. When leaders are concerned about a decision, then they influence that decision through service, teaching, admonishment, exhortation, but not by attempting to exercising authority – that authority belongs only to the one head of the church. Leaders must be willing to serve all, and allow Christ to control the decision-making.

But, that’s not what we find today. Instead, when people talk about leadership in the church, they talk about decision-making. Perhaps, we need to stop trying to make decisions, and start serving. If a decision has to be made (and make sure that it actually HAS to be made), then offer your opinion, teach, admonish, exhort, etc. Then, allow the ones affected by the decision to make that decision.

To do that, of course, we’ll have to find leaders who are willing to serve only.


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

  1. 9-24-2010

    Wow-great post Alan, Will you be my leader? :) When leaders talk like this and action actually follows it, I don’t think it’s to hard to allow yourself to be persuaded by them. The problem is these types of leaders aren’t very plentiful.

  2. 9-25-2010


    Thanks for the comment. I think there are more leaders like this out there than we think. The problem is, these are not the people who are usually followed. Often, these people are quietly serving others. Look around you for people who are serving, and follow their example and learn from them.


  3. 9-25-2010

    Hi Alan, your post got me thinking… are you reading these passages correctly? So I had to make a blog post and chew on it some myself. I wonder if there are some other examples where the leaders made decisions on behalf of others… I can’t think of any off hand. Either way I think you are onto something here. Thanks for helping me define leadership. Now I need to live it… I can’t just let the paid and elected office holders do all the leading (or serving). God bless! :)

  4. 9-25-2010


    Like the thoughts about service being the function and those serving being the one’s to learn from. NOT “leaderhip” as decision making.

    I lean more to Jesus when it comes to – who are “leaders.”

    Seems Jesus has a different take on “Leadership” for **His Body.**

    Jesus humbled Himself, made himself of NO reputation,
    and took on the form of a **Servant.** Php 2:7-8. ;-)

    And Jesus told “His Disciples” NOT to be called “Master/Leaders.”
    If someone calls them self a “Leader’ are the a “Disciple of Christ?”

    Jesus, in Mat 23:10 KJV, told **His disciples** “NOT” to call themselves
    “Master / Leaders,” for you have “ONE” “Master / Leader” “The Christ.”

    King James Version –
    Neither be ye called masters:
    for “ONE” is your Master, even Christ.

    The Interlinear Bible –
    Nor be called leaders,
    for “ONE” is your leader the Christ.

    Phillips Modern English –
    you must not let people call you leaders,
    you have only “ONE” leader, Christ.

    Today’s English Version –
    nor should you be called leader.
    your “ONE” and only leader is the Messiah.

    Jesus told **His disciples** NOT to be called **leaders** and NONE did.

    Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,
    Php 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ,
    Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ,
    Tit 1:1 Paul, a servant of God,
    Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God
    2Pe 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant

    **His Disciples** all called themselves **Servants.**
    None called themselves “Leaders.” None? None.
    None called themselves “Servant-Leader.” None.

    Why isn’t what Jesus said important? ;-)

    Jer 50:6
    My people have been lost sheep
    their shepherds have caused them to go astray…

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall **hear MY voice;**
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice.
    If Not Now, When?

    Jesus… I’ve returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul…

  5. 9-26-2010

    Leadership being service to others and not decision making for others is really a profound distinction. It highlights the qualitative difference between leadership within the church and leadership in the world.

    Fundamentally, among the saints there is no authoritarian power over others based on position. There is only a resultant, voluntary influence based on a historical relationship through service and sacrificial example through maturity. No one can “command” respect and obedience because they ARE an elder (etc.). Instead, they may appeal to their acts of past and ongoing love and sacrifice for you–which we see Paul doing on occasion.

    While a person in a community can be recognized as this kind of person over time (variously referred to as pastor, elder, bishop, but usually as elder), they never “arrive” or “achieve” an authority based on position. It is based on ongoing service (not education, wealth, gifting, knowledge, ability to speak well, etc.).

    Among the saints, servant is the aspirational and most highly respected role among the saints, where submission is as mutual as is ministry to one another.

  6. 9-27-2010

    For a few months I’ve been struggling with just these issues so thank you so much Alan for this post which summs up my own conclusions so eloquently and this site/community.

  7. 9-27-2010

    Excellent. I just wrote a somewhat similar post here exploring some things Jesus said about authority–namely, don’t exercise it but serve instead. It’s great to hear the same from someone in church, uh, leadership.

  8. 9-28-2010

    Thanks everyone for the comments. I would love to see more and more leaders who are servants instead of decision-makers. I can tell you that it takes a change of mindset both for the leaders and for those who are not leaders.


  9. 8-30-2013

    Hi Alan,

    Excellent post and a radical (but very true paradigm)! A leader serves.

    I too have been pondering the whole concept of church leadership. There is so much written spoken and taught on the subject these days among the Lord’s people, but I have asked myself and searched scripture for examples of leaders, instructions to leaders, responsibilities of leaders, actual leaders in new Covenant scripture identified as such.

    A few months ago I wrote a blog post on “The Myth of Church Leadership”.
    I have not found even one example of any of the above! I’d often thought that The Lord Jesus’ ministry with the twelve was that of “leadership development”. But such does not seem to be borne out by the text!

    Rather the Body has one Head, the people of God have one Lord, the kingdom has one King. He never went looking for leaders but rather called followers! “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

    Is it possible that our emphasis should be on “followership development”? Is that not what Paul’s concern was when he wrote “be ye followers of me even as I also am of Christ”?

    A brother in Christ,

  10. 8-31-2013


    I think “follower development” is a good thing to consider, especially since we are all disciples (i.e., followers) of Jesus Christ. We should all work together to help each other follow him.



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