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Guest Blogger: Leadership by the laity in traditional churches – Part 1

Posted by on Sep 12, 2011 in discipleship, elders, guest blogger, office | 5 comments

Guest Blogger: Leadership by the laity in traditional churches – Part 1

I’ve invited several people to write “guest blog posts” for this blog. There are several reasons for this: 1) To offer different perspectives. 2) To generate even more discussion and conversation between blogs. 3) To introduce other bloggers to my readers.

(If you are interested in writing a guest blog post, please contact me at aknox[at]sebts[dot]com.)

Today’s post is part 1 of a 2 part series and was written by Art. Art lives in the Raleigh area, and we’ve met in person several times. You can follow Art on Twitter (@Art_n_Deb) and Facebook.


Recently, Alan posed the question:

In the church, how does someone lead without exercising authority? 

For me, this question assumes an environment where it will be OK for you to lead without exercising authority because in your congregation no one is exercising authority (thus, no-one’s position or value is threatened by you serving others). Everyone is expected to function and interact, and most do.

But within the typical church tradition where authoritarian leadership is the norm, the answers to the above question speak best to only about 1 in 85 Christians, to those who are “Pastors” and who can choose to set aside their authority and seek to lead by example. This has danger for the church because in doing so, most Pastors will ultimately lose their job or leave it. The laity has bargained for and expects the Pastor to take on positional authority (and therefore, their responsibility). If you as a lay person begin functioning outside the expectations of the pastor and the congregation (i.e., “leading without exercising authority”), in time you will frequently create a perceived danger to the church that will result in power struggles and divisions.

Therefore, let’s reframe the question to consider this issue from the perspective of the typical Christian (the “laity” if you like) sitting under the authority of a Pastor or Pastors with the explicit acceptance of the rest of the church members—in other words, everyone in “this church” accepts the clergy/laity power arrangement as normal, good, and right. Let’s also make the question personal as we include the setting by now asking,

In the church, how can I lead without exercising authority, under inappropriately granted and exercised authority?

Here is the first step: some of us most exercised about this issue don’t realize it isn’t our pursuit of Truth that energizes our passions on the clergy-laity issues, but our own ego and pride. Deep in the recess of our heart we want to lead more than to serve; to be esteemed, more than to esteem others better; to be loved by others, more than to love others. Of course, we know better than to say this out loud, or even to think it, but for some of us (and for far too long), this drive motivates our actions and distorts our thinking. Just as the traditional church is blind to its error, we, too, are likely to be blind to this fault. But God isn’t. Maybe if we can feel safe enough in His arms we can ask Him to help us examine our heart?

Imagine with me that you are sitting in the pew on a Sunday morning. Tilt your head and listen. Hear the sounds of people talking, feet shuffling, their laughter carrying across the room. Look around. You see people smiling and nodding in greetings. Others are quiet and alone in the crowd.

1. As you watch the saints, does your heart swell with love for them? Does your breath deepen? Do you look into their faces and feel genuine affection? Most likely, yes.

2. Now look at the pastor as he goes to the podium and says “Good morning,” pausing for the audience to murmur a response. “This morning, please turn in your bibles to…” Everyone else—You—week after week sitting in silence, unable to function. Are your feelings for him (or her) the same as for the saints gathered here? Is your heart swelling with love for this man? Or, did a cloud overshadow the scene as you watched him take the pulpit? Listen to his voice as the sermon begins. How many different thoughts and feelings are going on in your heart at this moment?

3. Now, don’t dismiss this. Do you feel something else mixed in when you think of the Pastor? Something like anger, frustration, envy? I’m not asking you if you can justify these feelings, if you see how much this structure hurts the saints and enfeebles them. I’m not asking if you also feel love and appreciation towards the Pastor. I am asking to consider if in the mixture of your heart you find something dark towards the Pastor that you don’t generally feel towards the rest of the saints.

Where does this come from? Those most gripped by these truths of biblical leadership without authority and who know influence is based on relationships and demonstrated lifestyle that others trust and follow, often have the most animosity towards the clergy. I’m asking you not to hide from letting I Jn 2:9-11 pierce your heart.

Count the Pastor as an enemy if it helps to get on with doing what Jesus told us to do with our enemies (because this Pastor “oppresses” and suffocates us). Love him, and love his family, and every time you feel belittled or hamstrung by the Pastor’s position, count it as joy. God will work with us to bring light and healing to an unresolved root of pride that produces resentment, envy and jealousy and we’ll find His cleansing (Heb12:14-15). Pastors are hurting in many areas, as we all are, but they are also isolated from others helping them bear their burdens. They have public acclaim but few intimate friends in a typical congregation. Forgive the Pastor and accept him. Go all the way and find thankfulness for this man, and for his family. They sacrifice much. Forgive the congregation if you find their complicity frustrating. Even forgive God for allowing such a mess in His house! Yes, I’m serious. God, too. (I certainly had to do all of this.) He …is patient with us. But you have got to get rid of the bitterness and unforgiveness and find contentment and thankfulness in its place.

Listen, it is called by God a “good thing” if you want to serve others (I Tim 3:1). I do not want to discourage you from laboring in His vineyard! There is no higher calling than to be a simple servant (as was Jesus Matt 12:18) and there is no reward (nor fruit) in feeding our ego and pride. Examine your heart in His safety and allow Him to over and over peel away the layers of our deceitful and desperately wicked hearts, each new step bringing forth His new life as rivers of living water.


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

  1. 9-12-2011

    Thanks for the good questions and sensitive statements. Keep it up. Serving saints who think you are a kook for thinking that men who claim to be Pastors are not to be obeyed and followed is a humbling work that involves much long-suffering.

    You gave one of my favorite scriptures: ” If ANYONE ASPIRES to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”
    1. Tradition says “If you feel you are of the few chosen by God to never work a job and take all your needs out of an offering plate, wear a special title, etc, then you are noble. This is so far fetched from if ANYONE ASPIRES.
    2. Tradition says the word “office” should be there even though it is not present in the greek text. It is rationalized in to keep tradition folks feel like their beliefs are validated by the Bible and so the Bibles will sell.

  2. 9-12-2011

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    The traditional church also has a different response than I Tim 3:1’s encouragement when they discourage anyone who feels “called” to the “Pastoral office.” I’ve heard many recommend to those with this passion to do anything other than going into the pastorate “if you can.” I know the intention is good, to discourage those who might be pursuing that position for the wrong reasons. But it also reveals how we exalt the “office of the Pastor” and see it as being a special calling for only a select few. Paul seems to have a different view: that anyone wanting to do “good work” was a good thing.

    Maybe we respond differently because we see the work as an office/position. If we saw it as men coming forward and saying they want to be good at laboring as a servant, perhaps we would respond the way Paul did.

    Paul encouraged this desire in others, simply pointing out the character needed to do the labor of a servant without worrying about whether they had “The Call” or not.

  3. 9-13-2011

    I love the way you asked the question: “In the church, how can I lead without exercising authority, under inappropriately granted and exercised authority?”

    Always love “sitting at your feet,” Art.

  4. 9-13-2011

    I love the way you guys continue these discussions in the comments. Too bad so much good stuff is in the comments and most people will never see it.


  5. 9-13-2011

    Hey Doug,

    I’m planning on seeing you again one of these days soon. Last time I visited, I got to sit at your feet, and watch you work with the saints. Inspiring, my friend.