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Elders/Pastors and Financial Benefits: Introduction

Posted by on Feb 27, 2012 in elders, office, scripture | 5 comments

Elders/Pastors and Financial Benefits: Introduction

In the church today, it seems that elders/pastors and money go hand-in-hand. I’ve written several blog posts and series related to financial benefits and church leaders, especially for those who are hired as pastors, elders, or other positions among the church. Personally, I do not believe that Scripture justifies paying someone a salary in order for them to be an elder/pastor. (For a summary of my view, see my post “Summary – Should elders/pastors be paid a salary?“)

In this series, I do not plan to rehash my argument concerning elders/pastors and salaries. (By the way, I will primarily use the term “elders” in this series. However, if your traditions uses “pastor” or “bishop” or “minister” or anything else, you can assume that I’m referring to those people also.)

Instead, I’m going to look through several passages of Scripture that connect elders and financial benefit. Interestingly, there are only a few passages of Scripture that mention elders at all. And, among those, only three discuss elders and finances together. I’m going to discuss those three passages in canonical order in four posts:

  1. Acts 20:33-35
  2. 1 Timothy 5:17
  3. 1 Timothy 5:18
  4. 1 Peter 5:2

Now, in reality, 1 Timothy 5:17 and 1 Timothy 5:18 go together. However, I will examine them separately, but bring the connection together in the post on 1 Timothy 5:18. Also, all of the passages are part of larger contexts, and, in each case, the larger context will help us understand what the author is saying.

I think that it is important that these three passages (Acts 20:33-35, 1 Timothy 5:17-18, and 1 Peter 5:2) were written by 3 different authors and were written to three different audiences. However, I think the teachings regarding elders and financing is quite consistent.

Finally, in a sixth post, I’m going to write a conclusion for this series that puts together everything that we find in those three passages. In the conclusion, I will explain my understanding of the connection between elders and financial benefits. As I said earlier and in other posts, I do not believe that a salary correctly explains this connection. But, I do believe there is a connection that explains what is consistently taught in Scripture (both in these passages and in others that are not directly related to elders).

Obviously, many Christians throughout history – including today – disagree with my conclusions. I understand that. However, I have found that many commentaries and studies agree with my analysis of the various passages, even if they do not synthesize the results in the same way that I do. I think some of these conclusions actually contradict the analysis of the various passages. I’m seeking consistency, even if it means that my conclusions disagree with what has been accepted practice in the church.

So, I welcome discussion, and I welcome disagreement. I ask, though, that in this series we keep our discussion to the passages at hand. It is only by studying (analyze) the individual passages and understanding what they can and/or cannot mean that we can begin to put together (synthesize) the passages into a consistent conclusion.

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Elders/Pastors and Financial Benefits Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Acts 20:33-35
  3. 1 Timothy 5:17
  4. 1 Timothy 5:18
  5. 1 Peter 5:2
  6. Conclusion

Replay: Examples and Models of Ministers

Posted by on Dec 10, 2011 in discipleship, elders, office, service | 4 comments

Replay: Examples and Models of Ministers

Four years ago, I wrote a post called “Examples and Models.” I’ve added the phrase “of Ministers” to the title here, because that was the original point of the article. What does the term “Minister” mean to you? If you see a special type of Christian, then this article may be for you. You see, that’s what I thought a few years ago when I knew that God was leading me toward something… more? But what? “Well,” everyone told me, “you have two choices: pastor or missionary.” In fact, there are as many ways to serve (minister) as there are followers of Jesus Christ. I think the church needs more and more examples and models of these different kinds of “ministers.”

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Examples and Models

I love the latest post by a new blogger, Trey from “One Man’s Journey“. The title of the post is “Walk Away for the Love of Christ?” I love his honest reflection and life-changing questions. I also see in his questions many of the questions that I started asking myself a few years ago. Here is an excerpt from Trey’s excellent post:

As my family and I sunk into a financial pit of despair, I began to read much in the realm of finance, investing, financial planning, and biblical financial stewardship. I grew to love this and can see many ways in which the average Christian and also the average church misuses the resources provided by God. I began to see myself as doing this sort of consultation work to families, small businesses, churches, and parachurch ministries once I gained the proper training. But what about seminary? What about my calling? What will my family think?

As previously, most issues discussed here have not been settled in my mind completely. I have been reminded in my prayer times that God certainly does not need me. He has managed eternity just fine before me and will do so long after I become one of saints on high. Also, why do I need the spotlight of an official pastor-elder of a local congregation? Can I not teach and serve in other ways just an important to the kingdom?

Several years ago, I also had this “calling”. Looking back, I think that God was calling me to a more committed life of serving himself and others – he was calling me to full-time ministry, although I don’t think he was calling me to “full-time ministry”. At the time, though, I only saw two options: 1) become a vocational pastor, or 2) become a missionary.

Why did I only see these two options? Well, those were the only two options that I saw modelled. These were the only examples that I saw of what it meant to serve God full-time. So, I picked one – vocational pastor – and did what I was supposed to do: I went to seminary. But, as my family will tell you, I struggled with the idea of being a full-time vocational pastor from day one. I did not think that this accurately reflected what God wanted from me, but I did not have any other categories, models, or examples to compare to.

I knew what God wanted from me: he wanted me to serve him and serve others in everything that I said and everything that I did. But, this couldn’t happen if I worked a regular job, right? I mean, regular people are distracted by work and commuting and co-workers and business trips and office parties. But, God didn’t want me to be distracted by these “secular” things, so I needed to give all of that up, go to seminary, get hired by a church in order that I could concentrate on “spiritual” things.

As Trey expressed in his blog post, I thought that the real work of God was done by those people who prominently stood before me each Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, etc. These were the people who knew God and what God wanted from me and others and how to teach the Bible and how to put on Bible studies and where to find the lost people and when to schedule the Children’s program.

A strange thing happened on the way though. As I was happily preparing myself for just this type of “spiritual” vocation, I took my professors seriously, and I read Scripture to find the answers to my questions. It began with recognizing that Scripture does not call the Sunday morning routine “worship”. I asked myself, “If that’s not worship, then what is worship?” Again, I turned to Scripture for answers. From those answers, I was forced to ask other questions and search for more answers.

In fact, the more I studied and read and asked questions, the more I realized that the type of “spotlight servants” which Trey mentions – and to which I was aspiring – was not described in Scripture at all. In fact, I would suggest that “spotlight servants” are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, Paul, Peter – in fact, all the books of the New Testament. Instead, Jesus calls all believers to be servants – not “spotlight servants”, but servants.

And, slowly, I began to understand that “vocational pastors” may be necessary to carry out what we typically see associated with church today. However, when we examine church in Scripture, we see that “vocational pastors” seem out of place. Instead, we see people shepherding as they work, and discipling wherever they are, and teaching in any context, and caring and comforting wherever they find people who are hurting. We find leaders who lead by example, not from the spotlight. We find elders who are mature and wise and known, not hired for their education and speaking abilities. We find prophets and teachers and apostles who are willing to dialog instead of monologue. We find disciples who are constantly and consistently attempting to live for Christ with the help of other brothers and sisters. We find that there is no secular and sacred divide. Through the indwelling Spirit, all things become sacred – every place becomes a sanctuary – every believer becomes a priest and a temple.

In other words, God can use me as his full-time servant when I am selling cars, or writing code, or running a business, or seeing patients. I can pastor while I am teaching in a school or college, or taking care of the home, or packing boxes, or delivering mail, or selling clothes. I can meet with other believers as the church in a church building, or in a restaurant, or in a park, or in a home, or in a car, or in an office. God was calling me – and he is calling others – into full-time service, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing.

It is my desire to live the rest of my life as an example of following God and serving him full-time in whatever vocation he provides for me. I hope that the believers who come along after me will see my example as another option when God calls them also.

Where there is no vision, the people perish

Posted by on Oct 5, 2011 in discipleship, elders, office, scripture | 8 comments

Where there is no vision, the people perish

The title of this post comes from the KJV translation of Proverbs 29:18 – “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” The KJV translators included a note that “perish” literally means “to be made naked.”

Other translations render the verse a little differently: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” (Proverbs 29:18 ESV)

The LXX translators (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) made an interesting interpretation for this verse: “In no way should there be an interpreter for a lawless nation, but the one (nation?) who keeps the law is blessed.”

I typically hear this verse brandished whenever a church leader (usually the senior pastor or head elder) is attempting to make certain decisions or plans for the church. The leader will present his or her plan as “God’s vision,” and the church is expected to adopt the plan and carry out the plan, usually by volunteering to serve in various positions.

But, is this the point of Proverbs 29:18? I don’t think so.

First, we need to consider the purpose of the Proverbs. Proverbs are general principles for life. They are examples of wise living in general, but they are not always absolute. This is clear when we consider Proverbs 26:4-5 and other similar proverbs.

Second, this verse seems to make a distinction between those nations/people without God’s law and those nations/people with God’s law. The “vision” in this case is revelation from God. The people who do not have God’s law (revelation from God) are “naked” or “without encouragement” (as some translate it) or “without restraint.” On the other hand, the nation that has and observes God’s law is blessed (presumably by the restraint that comes from keeping the law). In general, then, those people who have and obey God’s law will have a better life than those people who do not know or follow God’s law.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the idea that God presents his vision for a group’s service through a single individual (i.e., a pastor) is not found in the New Testament. There is no indication by the NT writers that a pastor or elder or other leader is responsible for telling a group of people how to serve God and others.

Even when Paul presented his own life and service to the gospel as an example to others, he did not tell them exactly how to serve God for themselves. Instead, Paul clearly tells his readers that through God’s grace each of his readers are given gifts, opportunities, and ability to serve God through serving one another and others in different ways. As Paul followed the Holy Spirit in serving others, he expected others to follow the Spirit as well.

Instead, those who are more mature in trusting God and following Jesus Christ should help others seek how God wants them to serve him and others. This does not mean that the mature tell others what to do, but helps them discover this for themselves.

This plan may not help someone fill positions in their church programs, but I believe it will help build up the church toward maturity in Christ and expand the kingdom of God.

Replay: Following Ignatius instead of Scripture

Posted by on Oct 1, 2011 in church history, elders, office, ordinances/sacraments | 12 comments

Replay: Following Ignatius instead of Scripture

Three years ago, I wrote a post called “Following Ignatius.” When I first read Ignatius’ letters, I remember being encouraged by his focus on the gospel. But, I was perplexed by the weight that he put on the monoepiscopacy (single bishop, multiple presbyters, and multiple deacons in each city). Ignatius admits that he did not learn this from any of the apostles or any other men, but it was instead revealed to him directly by the Holy Spirit. But, I don’t know why I was surprised by the focus Ignatius placed on the bishop, since I had seen that same focus in all the churches I’d ever been part of. Oh, they didn’t focus on the bishop… but on the “senior pastor.”

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Following Ignatius

Ignatius of Antioch was one of the earliest Christian writers following the apostles. He died sometime around 110 AD in Rome. After being arrested in Antioch, he was led to Rome through Asia Minor. On the way, he wrote seven letters, six to churches and one to Polycarp.

Ignatius was very interested in the gospel. Ignatius’ gospel was a literal interpretation of the historical events and persons surrounding the birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, and continuing ministry of Jesus Christ. His desire was to see Christians living in harmony with the one gospel.

In order to exhort Christians toward harmony with the one gospel, Ignatius also encouraged them toward a three-part church leadership structure that included one bishop, multiple elders, and multiple deacons per city.

Evangelicals are proud of the fact that we follow Scripture and not traditions such as those espoused by Ignatius. But, do we follow Ignatius over Scripture? You can judge for yourself…

By being subject to the bishop and the elders, you might be sanctified concerning all things. (Ign. Eph. 2.2b)

Let us make every effort then not to oppose the bishop in order that we might submit ourselves to God. (Ign. Eph. 5.3b)

Therefore, as the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united with him, neither by himself nor by the apostles, in the same way you must do nothing without the biship and the elders. (Ign. Mag. 7.1a)

The one who does anything without the bishop, the elders, and the deacons, such a man is not clean in his conscience. (Ign. Trall. 7.2b)

Let that Eucharist be considered proper which is either by the bishop or by the one he permits. (Ign. Smyr. 8.1b)

It is not proper to baptize or to have a “love feast” without the bishop. (Ign. Smyr. 8.2b)

The one who honors the bishop is honored by God; the one who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop serves (worships?) the devil. (Ign. Smyr. 9.1b)

It is fitting for men and women who marry to make there union by the approval of the bishop. (Ign. Pol. 5.2b)

These are only a few of the passages. I left out passages where Ignatius said that same thing to different churches. So, according to Ignatius, believers should do nothing with the consent of the bishop and elders. In fact, those who do anything without their leaders obviously have impure motives (unclean conscience). No one should have a love feast (Eucharist, communion) or baptize without the bishop’s approval. No one should get married without the bishop’s approval. If believers stay within the bishop’s will, then they are sanctified. If they move outside the bishop’s will, then they are in trouble, actually going against God himself to serve the devil.

Change “bishop” to “senior pastor”, and I think this fits very closely with many modern teachings concerning church leadership. You can especially find these types of teachings under topic of spiritual “covering”. But, I don’t think you’ll find these in Scripture.

Are we willing to admit that in many of our leadership concepts and practices in the church we follow Ignatius more closely than we follow Scripture?

Comment Highlight: When pastors/elders work a full-time job outside the church

Posted by on Sep 28, 2011 in comment highlights, elders, office | 4 comments

Comment Highlight: When pastors/elders work a full-time job outside the church

Marc from “Back to the Master” left a good, thought-provoking (I hope) comment on my old post “Pastors and Churches and Salaries.”

I think Marc makes a valid point that church leaders should consider. What do you think?

Here’s his comment:

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Years ago, I served as the preacher for a church with about 150 members. One of the wonderful things about this church is their willingness…and just about mandate…that I have outside employment. This worked out for several reasons.

1. It freed up funding to be used for foreign missions
2. It encouraged members of the church to become involved in ministry and not just rely on the preacher
3. It made the elders take a leadership role.
4. It allowed me to preach what I felt the Spirit was leading me to say, without fear of being fired.

I’m ALL for the idea of having pastors/preachers work in a full-time job outside of the church. Makes sense spiritually and financially.

Replay: A Series on Elders in the Church

Posted by on Sep 24, 2011 in elders, office | 4 comments

Replay: A Series on Elders in the Church

Four years ago, in September 2007, I wrote a seven part series on the topic of “Elders.” Below, I re-post the conclusion which was originally called “Elders (Part 7) – Conclusion.” At the bottom of this post, you’ll find links to the other posts in the series. I hope you enjoy these posts.

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Elders (Part 7) – Conclusion

In this series, I’ve suggested that Scripture does not hold elders to a higher standard of character, leadership, teaching, shepherding, or oversight. Also, I’ve suggested that Scripture does not add any responsibilities to elders in these areas above the responsibilities of all believers. Instead, I’ve suggested that, according to Scripture, all believers have the same responsibilities in these areas.

Does this mean that elders are unscriptural? Does this mean that elders are unimportant?

No. Elders are both scriptural and important. Scripture teaches that the church in Jerusalem had elders. Scripture teaches that Paul appointed elders in the cities that he visited. Scripture teaches that Paul told Timothy and Titus how to recognize elders. James and Peter both expected elders in the various churches to whom they wrote.

Elders are scriptural and important. When we recognize elders, we should recognize those who best exemplify the character, leadership, teaching, shepherding, and oversight required of all followers of Jesus Christ. When we think of people who are best following Jesus Christ and who are best serving other people, elders are the ones we should think about. When we want to see a flesh-and-blood example of what it means to live for Christ here and now, elders should be our best examples. These are the people who point us toward maturity in Jesus Christ – not toward themselves. When we need help in understanding something, or when we need assistance, or when we need comfort, or when we need exhortation, or even when we need correction, we should think of elders – not because they alone are responsible in these areas, but because we have observed how they live in obedience to Christ in these areas.

Again, this does not mean that elders are more responsible. It means that elders have demonstrated that they are more faithful in obeying Christ the way that all believers should obey Christ. However, elders who recognize that it is important for all followers of Jesus Christ to live this kind of obedient life will not always respond to requests for help from other believers. Instead, they will recognize that it is necessary that other believers have opportunities to demonstrate their character, to lead, to teach, to shepherd, and to oversee. Thus, elders who are interested in maturing all believers toward Christ will often defer an opportunity to serve to other believers, because those elders know that it is more important for the other believers to grow in maturity than it is for the elders themselves to do something, even if the elders might do it better.

In many contexts, people believe that elders lead best when they are visible and vocal. However, this is not necessarily true. Yes, there are times when mature believers (any mature believer, not just elders) should make themselves seen and heard in order to protect the gospel (not to protect our pet doctrines, but to protect the gospel). I have personally never been in one of these situations. I believe that they are rare, but the situation could come up. However, for the most part, I believe that elders demonstrate their maturity and Christlikeness most when they are not seen and not heard but are instead serving in obscurity by leading, teaching, shepherding, and overseeing in ways that demonstrate the humility and gentleness of the Spirit of Christ. If someone must be “in the limelight” – if they must be noticed – if they must be the main speaker – if they must make their opinion known – then it could be that this person is not demonstrating the character of Christ – who humbled himself taking the form of a servant – and reliance upon God, but is instead revealing a character of pride and self-dependence.

I recognize that there are serious implications of my views concerning elders. I hope to discuss many of these implications. However, I also want to give you an opportunity to discuss these implications. So, for the conclusion of this series, I am asking you – my readers – to help us understand the implications. Later, I will publish another post in order to discuss these various implications. Here are my questions for you:

1. Am I missing something in my understanding of elders?
2. What are the implications of this view of elders?

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Series on Elders
1. Elders (Part 1) – Introduction
2. Elders (Part 2) – Character
3. Elders (Part 3) – Leadership
4. Elders (Part 4) – Teaching
5. Elders (Part 5) – Shepherding
6. Elders (Part 6) – Overseeing
7. Elders (Part 7) – Conclusion

Guest Blogger: Leadership by the laity in traditional churches – Part 2

Posted by on Sep 13, 2011 in discipleship, elders, guest blogger, office | Comments Off

Guest Blogger: Leadership by the laity in traditional churches – Part 2

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 2 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.

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When we last left off, our question had become (See Part 1):

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

May I change our question once more? Now that we have examined our hearts around the issue of “leading,” the question might be more enlightening if we ask,

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

Better question? But love costs, “For God so loved, that He gave His only Son…” It pays, too, in surprising, freeing ways, “…for the joy that was set before Him.”

Love costs time

Giving other people time is an incredible gift to you both. You are free to invite others over to your home, or out to a restaurant, or to accept their invitations to their homes for dinners and breakfasts and lunches. We often think of episodic things to do. Things like going over after work to help someone repair a stuck window, or helping them clean their sick neighbor’s yard, or comforting a family whose son is in the hospital, or sharing with a husband who is struggling with loving his wife. It doesn’t have to be so dramatic. Simple time shared together apart from some purposeful ministry can be the most selfless gift. Just play cards. Play Scrabble. Parchesi. Sorry (the game, I love it by the way). Just hang out and talk (especially, listen). It is the relationships and encouragements shared over a long period of time that are very important and effective, but not very strenuous. Consistently give others your selfless attention and you will find joy and peace as you discover fascinating people all around you. But loving others costs our time, and their needs come at inconvenient times. Even when unable to be with another, you will spend time in prayer on their behalf. The more we understand ourselves as a servant to Christ and to all, the more we realize we have no time, or possessions or rights of our own, and the more we find that when we are slaves we are the most happily free.

Love costs possessions

Loving others will impact your finances. (II Cor 8:2-5; Gal 4:14-15; Col 4:12-13; Phil 1:7-8). You will always be losing your stuff by giving it away. You become aware that all the things in your life are temporarily in your care and that He expects you to pass them along. Doing so breaks the exhausting and pointless cycle of accumulating and protecting things (often at the expense of time with family and friends). The day comes when you see another struggling without a car, and you look at the two you have and figure out how to make do with one. It all becomes such a wonderful privilege to share, and it starts with little things, and it grows until you are free.

Love costs rights

You lend things without expecting (or requiring) them to be returned. When someone says something bad about you, rather than defend yourself, you can consider how you might have contributed to their thinking, and go and humble yourself as you confess wherever you find fault. Especially with “leaders.” Could you have been more open? Could you have informed the Pastor, and even asked for his permission and advice? In the traditional setting, the Pastor may very well be threatened by your actions. What are you doing to minimize his concerns? Does the pastor feel safe with you, or does he fear you are undermining him and that as you get to know him, you will use the personal knowledge gained to wound him some day? Have you found ways to love him and his family? Of course, this goes for every person in the church, but the Pastor is the one whose position and power will be most threatened.

But, to really check our hearts on the ego and pride thing, does the tightly controlled, formal meeting times of your church put into practice the examples we see in the scriptures when the saints gathered? No. Do you have a right to speak or bring a song when the saints gather? Say it: No. We have NO rights. If it will cause so many to stumble where you gather, among those you love, you will give up your right to the “right” way. But you won’t feel oppressed. You’ll feel privileged.

When we see these traits and actions working out in the lives of others, esteem them very highly. Look up to them and follow them. If you look closely, you are likely to see these traits developing in the Pastor.

If these things are working their way into your life, you can do some good in an imperfect system. That is, until that system asks you to leave, which it will do in many cases. However nicely and kindly you serve others, you are breaking rules by your activities, and your kindness and care will naturally develop alliances among those you serve and these will look like cliques and power grabs to many and threaten the equilibrium. Just be sure the tensions that erupt in division aren’t triggered by your own heart’s pride and desire to lead (and to have the benefits of power and position), I Pet 2:19-23

Love does no harm

For others, you will have to leave because you can’t sit by while the system is so badly broken (and the saints so under developed). You know if you stay doing the “right” things will do more harm than good. On the other hand, real change might take place within the congregation and the pastor in the process. Let’s not be naïve. Then there will be a split, within the church or from the denomination. Families will leave at the least. Pretty much, if the system is broken and you do the right things, the system will hate you and “kill” you. We are not above our Master, but we learn to rejoice in suffering for Him (John 15:17-19; Heb 12:2-3; I Pet 4:1)

When you leave, and whenever you have opportunity, you will only rehearse to others all the good things, all the good people, all the good times. It is more than enough that God knows any slights or wounds, and of course, you will have forgiven those and prayed (and mean) that God will not lay anything against you to their charge. Perhaps wisely, you will also ask God to forgive you for all that you did poorly and for all that you could have done but didn’t.

So, where are you today? As long as He leads you to remain within the traditional church (and they don’t throw you out), what sorts of things do you find you can do in loving others even within the confines of the clergy/laity structures? Among the saints, what sorts of things get you in trouble and what can you do to avoid or minimize these problems?

Finally, love risks doing good

1. If you have left the traditional church, have you thought much about what defines the local church (say, for example, by locality rather than by incorporation with the US government or by a group of people declaring themselves “independent” of other Christians)? If so, how has that helped you approach this problem differently?

2. Have you thought about the impact that seeing examples of another way for the church to function and for leaders to serve might have on the local church? How are you (or could you) act on that?

3. Have you thought about ways for the disconnected church to build mutual relationships and efforts? How and where is He leading you in these things today? For example, “parachurch” organizations often connect churches for specific tasks where they would otherwise remain at odds with each other. How can this working together and getting to know one another be used to bring about change?

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.

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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.

Addendum on authority: The most pervasive argument against positional authority among the church

Posted by on Sep 6, 2011 in discipleship, elders, office, scripture | 15 comments

Addendum on authority: The most pervasive argument against positional authority among the church

Last week I published a five-part series on authority among the church. (Read the “Introduction” post here, and links to the other posts can be found at the bottom of each post in the series.)

In the series, I began my discussion with Jesus’ statements to his apostles concerning positional authority. Then, I showed that leaders in Scripture were not told to lead by authority but to lead by the example of their lives. Next, I said that the appointment of elders was not to a position of authority, but as recognition of their maturity in their walk with Christ. Finally, I argued that shepherding and overseeing do not indicate positional authority because the “troubling” parts of admonishing, correcting, rebuking, etc. are actually the responsibility of all believers.

Now, I think the scriptural evidence that I presented in that series is pretty strong. However, believe it or not, I do not think that is the strongest evidence against positional authority in Scripture. In fact, I believe there is another type of evidence that is even stronger against positional authority and is pervasive, being found throughout the New Testament.

However, you cannot find this evidence by quoting chapter and verse. Instead, you must look at the New Testament books as a whole. When you examine each book, you find the evidence against positional authority.

What evidence am I talking about? Well, to begin with, almost all of the books are addressed to all the believers in a city or region (church or churches). Even those books that are addressed to individuals appear to be written with a group (church) in view.

For example, when Paul wrote to the church in Thessaloniki, he addressed several different problems in his two letters. But, he did not address the leaders in the church, although there were certainly leaders (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). He addressed the whole church. He did not expect the leaders to exercise their authority in order to correct the problems. He expected the whole church (including the leaders) to work together to address the problems.

When Paul wrote to the churches in the region Galatia, he wrote about very severe problems. In fact, he had very strong words for these believers because they were walking away from the true gospel. Paul knew that there were both those who were “spiritual” (Galatians 6:1) and those who “taught” (Galatians 6:6) among the churches in Galatia. But, he did not appeal to them to exercise their authority to correct the problems. He expected all of the believers to work together to deal with these issues.

Paul had many great things to say about the church in Philippi. But, he was also concerned about some issues, including discord between two women who were part of the church. Once again, Paul did not appeal to the leaders, even though he knew there were both “overseers and deacons” among the church (Philippians 1:1). Instead, his letter appealed to the whole church to work together for gospel and for the unity of the church, including bringing together Euodia and Syntyche.

I could have started with the church in Corinth. There were so many problems among the believers in Corinth that it’s a wonder that Paul didn’t give up on them. But, once again, he did not appeal to their leaders to exercise their authority to correct very dangerous issues. Instead, he constantly appealed to all the believer to work together to correct the issues.

Even a personal letter like the one Paul wrote to Philemon was actually addressed to all the believers he met with (Philemon 1:1-2). Even 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus seem to be intended for the church, not just for the individual addressed. (Consider Titus 2, for example.) The same arguments above could also be presented for James’, Peter’s, John’s, and Jude’s letters.

Perhaps the letter with the strongest argument against leaders exercising authority is the one in which we find a verse that seems (at the surface) to support the idea of positional authority: the Book of Hebrews. Hebrews 13:17 is often presented as the standard for leaders with authority over the church. However, this sentence is presented within the context of a letter in which all believers (not just the leaders) are instructed to “encourage one another daily” against the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13), to “stir up love and good works” by encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25), and strengthening one another by looking into one another lives for evidences of bitterness or immorality (Hebrews 12:12-17). Again, these exhortations/commands are given to the whole church, not to the leaders.

When the authors of Scripture wrote letters to address problems, they did not appeal to the leaders among those churches to use their authority to correct the problems. They addressed the entire church and expected the entire church to work together. Were there leaders among these churches? Yes. In some cases, it’s obvious that there were leaders, while in other cases it can be assumed.

But, in all cases, the authors did not expect these leaders to have any type of positional authority among the churches. To me, this is the most pervasive and strongest argument against leaders exercising authority among the church.

(Actually, there is one case in which an author of Scripture knew of a leader who was exercising positional authority. His name was Diotrephes, and John wrote about him in 3 John 1:9-11.)

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“Authority Among the Church” Series

  1. Authority among the church? Starting a new series.
  2. What did Jesus say about positions of authority under his own authority?
  3. In the church, how does someone lead without exercising authority?
  4. Does the existence and recognition of elders indicate that they have positional authority?
  5. Does shepherding and overseeing suggest exercising authority?

Addendum: The most pervasive argument against positional authority among the church

Does shepherding and overseeing suggest exercising authority?

Posted by on Sep 2, 2011 in discipleship, elders, office, scripture | 9 comments

Does shepherding and overseeing suggest exercising authority?

This is the fifth post in my series on “Authority among the church.” In the “Introduction” post, I simply laid out the series of questions and issues that I plan to cover in this series. In the second post, I pointed out that Jesus responded negatively when asked about “positions of authority under his own authority.” In the third post, I answered the question, “How does someone lead without exercising authority,” by stating that among the church people lead from the influence of the life as an example to others, not by positional authority. In the fourth post, I ask the question, “Does the existence and recognition of elders indicate that they have positional authority?

To begin with, elders are instruct to shepherd (“pastor”) and oversee. We see this in Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5:

[To the elders from Ephesus] Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28 ESV)

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight… (1 Peter 5:1-2 ESV)

“Shepherding” and “overseeing” including watching and caring, but these are not the functions that typically bring out the big authority guns. Instead, as is often pointed out, “shepherding” and “overseeing” also include the ideas of correcting, admonishing, and rebuking. The idea is that if someone can point out that someone else is wrong and then correct that person, then authority is exercised.

But, there is a basic problem with this idea: as we’ve seen many times, ALL believers are instructed to correct, rebuke, and admonish others. These types of functions are not limited to elders or other leaders.

I’ve already pointed out 1 Thessalonians 5:12, so I’m not going to list it here again (mouse over the reference to see the verse). But, there are other similar instruction given to all believers:

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct [admonish] one another. (Romans 15:14 ESV)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom… (Colossians 3:16 ESV)

I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct [admonish] one another. (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 ESV)

The Book of Hebrews is filled with exhortations for all believers to look deeply into each others lives and to help and correct where needed. Here are a few examples:

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13 ESV)

And let us consider [one another] how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it [this is actually the verb "oversee"] that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy… (Hebrews 12:12-16 ESV)

Remember that the Book of Hebrews includes two passages that are usually presented as indicative of the authority of leaders: Hebrews 13:7 and Hebrews 13:17. But these passages MUST be interpret within the context of what the author has already said to the whole church.

In fact, this is the point of this whole post. While elders/leaders are told to admonish others, all believers are told to admonish others. While elders/leaders are instructed to look into the lives of others, all believers are instructed to look into the lives of others. While elders/leaders are urged to correct sinning believers, all believers are urged to correct sinning believers.

Thus, the functions of admonishing, correcting, and rebuking (as part of shepherding and overseeing) cannot give special authority to elders/leaders, since ALL believers are supposed to carry out these same functions.

(As an addendum, Hebrews 13:17 says that leaders will give an account for the way they care for others. Of course, this is true for ALL believers as well. In other words, the answer to God’s question to Cain in Genesis 4:9 is, “Yes! You are your brothers’ and sisters’ keeper!” All believers, including leaders, will give an account to God for how we care for our brothers and sisters, which includes teaching, correcting, rebuking, and admonishing.)

———————————————-

“Authority Among the Church” Series

  1. Authority among the church? Starting a new series.
  2. What did Jesus say about positions of authority under his own authority?
  3. In the church, how does someone lead without exercising authority?
  4. Does the existence and recognition of elders indicate that they have positional authority?
  5. Does shepherding and overseeing suggest exercising authority?

Addendum: The most pervasive argument against positional authority among the church