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The role of leaders and mutual edification

Posted by on Nov 1, 2012 in edification, gathering | 5 comments

The role of leaders and mutual edification

When the church gathers together, Paul says that everything should be done for edification. And, previously, I’ve argued that the kind of edification that he’s talking about is “mutual edification.” I defined mutual edification as all (or many) working together to help all grow together in maturity in Jesus Christ.

Now, when we study most church gatherings today, we find something different. Instead of all (or many) working together to edify everyone, we typically find one, two, or at most a few leaders working to edify everyone. As I’ve mentioned before, this is a form of “solo-edification,” not mutual edification.

But, we know from Scripture that there were leaders among the earliest churches. So, what would be the role of these leaders when the church gathers if it was not to do the edifying?

In the New Testament, leaders were not chosen based on their spiritual gifts, and they were not place in positions of authority. Instead, leaders were recognized because they were exercising whatever gift God had given them, and because they were more mature (while still maturing) followers of Jesus Christ, and because they were good (living) examples for others to observe and imitated in life, faith, service, etc.

Thus, these leaders would certainly be edifying others when the church gathers together, using whatever gifts that God gives them as well as working through other opportunities that God provides (i.e., gifted teachers are not the only Christians responsible for teaching). However, this is not the extent of their leading. Why? Because while it is important for leaders to edify others, if all they do is edify other then they are several things missing from their role as leaders during the gathering of the church: 1) they are not allowing others to edify them (part of the “mutual” aspect of mutual edification), 2) they are only teaching others to be edified and not teaching them to edify, and 3) they are not providing examples of what it means to be edified by others.

So, while leaders should certain edify others, they should also allow themselves to be edified by others. This is important both for the continued growth and maturity of the leader(s) as children of God and followers of Jesus Christ. But, it’s also important for the continued growth and maturity of the whole church. Unidirectional edification (i.e., edification that is only done BY the leaders) is not as healthy for the church as mutual edification (i.e., edification that is done by the whole church).

There’s another way to think about this. Someone who feels he/she must be in control of a church gathering or who must be the one speaking, teaching, preaching, whatever, then that person is not actually leading in the way that leading in described in Scripture. This is true even if that person has be placed in some type of leadership position.

A leader among the church will both edify the church and will give plenty of opportunities for others to edify the church as well.


5 Comments

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  1. 11-1-2012

    Very well said Alan. Jesus even refused to exercise
    civil or executive power in domestic disputes, which
    is one of the key spheres most leaders draw attention
    to their gifts. By refusing to settle the matter between
    brothers quarreling over an inheritance, forbidding his
    followers to publish his deeds & not allowing
    the people to make him a king, the question needs
    to be asked ‘Is the servant above his lord?’
    Leaders worth following lay down their own
    lives daily to empower followers to find their own
    gifts. A leader that doesn’t deliberately refuse to
    be corronated, & doesn’t teach follows to look past
    them to God who gifted us all, keeps their followers
    from maturity. I believe this is the reason NT scripture
    is glaringly quiet on leadership in the church. I also
    suspect one of the qualities that made John the Baptist
    the greatest OT prophet is that he said & followed thru
    on his statement to decrease as a leader so that Jesus
    might increase. That’s the greatest and only leadershp
    model in the scriptures & leaders should say so loud
    clear so that we can move past the logjam the church has
    been caught in for the last millenium.

  2. 11-1-2012

    Well done once again Alan! it’s posts like this that keep me coming back to your blog time after time ;-)

    A human body, when some members are not functioning, is called cripple or disabled. It’s strange that we think the Body of Christ is any different when we have a “one man show” in most churches on Sunday mornings.

  3. 11-1-2012

    When it comes to leadership and building up, what I remember instantly is Aaron’s budding rod. Who’s the leader? Who has authority? It is he who enjoys the Lord, knows the Word, is mature in life, and he lives by resurrection life (the dead stick budded in resurrection) and he gives forth fruits for people to eat and be nourished. To be a leader or responsible over other believers means you have the stature of the growth in life which enables you to minister life to them.

    And the second thing is, as you shared in this article, that a leader is not leader because he chose to or others chose him / assigned / ordained him. No, it is from God, it is organic, it is in the Body, and it can be removed if the Lord so wishes. That’s why Paul was buffeting his body, so that while he was ministering to others he would not be put to shame himself!

    So… all we have to do is grow in life, enjoy the Lord, be filled with His word, let the word dwell in us richly… and it will be manifested what our function is. We all have a function, and if the Lord chose some to be leading ones, they have the growth and maturity required to help others grow in life by feeding them, shepherding them, and nourishing them with the words of life and also with the word of righteousness.

  4. 11-1-2012

    Leadership in the church is much like leadership in and management of a family. Godly, faithful fathers and grandfathers seek to instruct their families from the word of God, verbally and by example. However, they do not do this as lecturers or professional ‘pulpiteers’ — at least not if they want to be effective family leaders. ‘Preacher dad’ doesn’t work well at all. I know because I’ve tried it (more than once).

    In his first letter to Timothy, Paul includes in his list of qualifications for church leaders that they must be able to manage and lead their homes faithfully and effectively (1 Tim. 3:4). Before they become church leaders, they need to have ALREADY demonstrated over time (a significant number of years seems logical) that they are actually ABLE to do this. He then reasons, “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 TIm. 3:5).

    Why do church leaders try to lead God’s household differently than they do their own households — like an institution instead of a family? Why not lead as a family leader — by example coupled with regular verbal instruction and discussion, like a father would do with his own family? Paul likened his method, even as an apostle, to “a gentle father” and “a nursing mother” (1 Thess. 2:7, 11-12). Likewise, why not include the other family members? Why not let them accept responsibility and learn and grow by DOING as well as by listening? “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

    Squelching significant and meaningful participation by others in a family or any other organization, whether intentionally (by trying to be Mr. Know-it-all-and-do-it-all) or unintentionally, is foolish, wasteful and often egotistical. This is especially true in the church. The NT makes it very clear that “the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Cor. 12:24). Christ designed HIS church to work as a body with real moving and working parts (Eph. 4:16). To substitute our own model for our Lord’s pattern is to go against our Master’s will. Ignoring or opposing the Lord’s will is a very contradictory example for a church leader to set.

  5. 11-1-2012

    Greg,

    I really like this: “Leaders worth following lay down their own lives daily to empower followers to find their own gifts.”

    Andre,

    Yes, exactly. Neither a one-man-show or a few-men-show is the same as mutual edification.

    Stefan,

    I agree. Real leaders are leaders even before they are recognized as leaders, and being recognized as leaders does not change their service to the church.

    Rick,

    I like the part about family leadership very much.

    -Alan