Some lead the church. Others lead as the church.
Popular evangelical literature on leadership tends to fall into one of two extremes. The first extreme focuses on those who lead the church positionally (elders and deacons). While this extreme incorporates robust and weighty theology to discuss leadership it fails to engage the full breadth of leadership as it is revealed in Scripture.
The second extreme focuses on leadership from a business or personality model. While this extreme includes more than just church leaders, it fails to argue from a solid theological foundation and thus skews the person and purpose of leadership.
Both extremes fall short of how Scripture speaks of leadership. Both extremes, when they become the primary lens for defining and implementing leadership, have severe adverse effects on the local church.
“Both extremes create deformed church leaders and churches.”
When the first extreme is held, leadership becomes purely a role within the church structure and thus has little to no impact in the culture and community in which the church exists. This view limits leadership within the church to those who have a “pastoral” gifting or who can serve the programs of the church. Little to no attention is paid to those who lead outside of the organization of the church, and the leadership pool within the church shrinks significantly.
The second extreme attracts those who lead outside of the church structure, yet it fails to equip and empower them to lead as biblically faithful Christians within their spheres of influence. Because, at best, the theological depth of this extreme stops at prooftexting, and those who fall into this extreme lead their churches to address surface issues within their people and their community while never seeing deep and total heart transformation. The gospel fails to be central and powerful, while leadership axioms are given the same weight as Scripture.
Both extremes create deformed church leaders and churches.
To avoid the extremes, one needs to have a Biblically accurate definition of leadership. Doing so allows a leader to faithfully leverage the benefits of the literature and practices of either extreme while guarding against their dangers.
Scripture speaks of leadership as both positional and as influential. Positional leadership is perhaps the most common way church leaders understand leadership (the first extreme). Acts 20, 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, Hebrews 12, and 1 Peter 5 outline how positional leadership should be understood. Positional leadership is for some. It is a role that God has ordained and calls particular people to. Those given positional leadership within God’s kingdom and over his people are men and women whose character is that of Christ’s (1 Tim. 3), whose behavior reflects their identity (2 Cor. 5:14–17), who have the necessary skills and abilities to lead the church on God’s mission (Eph. 3:10, 4:11; Titus 1), and who have been called by God—thus empowered by his Spirit—to do so (Acts 20; 2 Cor. 5:14–21; Heb. 13:17). The positional roles of leadership within the church are deacon (for men and women) and elder (for men only). These persons should lead in a way that reflects how God has led his people through history: through his Word, by the power of his Spirit, and as selfless servants.
A second way in which leadership is described in Scripture is that of influence (the second extreme). Similar to those who lead from a position, those who lead through influence are called by God to himself and participate in his mission to reconcile all things to himself (2 Cor. 5:17–18; 1 Peter 2:9). These leaders are empowered by the Spirit and equipped by those in positional leadership (Eph. 4:11–16) to be ministers of reconciliation in whatever sphere of life they operate.
The consistent elements are calling and character, with some overlapping competencies. What differs is the role within the body and immediate context. Some are called to lead the church. Others are called to lead as the church.
God Calls Leaders
The mission of God is to glorify himself through the reconciliation of humanity—of every tribe, tongue, and nation (Rev. 5:9)—and creation (Col. 1:20) to a right relationship with him (2 Cor. 5:14–21) through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:9–10). Christ then is the hope of the world. The church is simultaneously a goal and a means of the mission as God’s reconciled people given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18–20). If Christ is the hope of the world, the church is the instrument by which that hope is made manifest (Eph. 3:10).
Therefore, a Christian leader is . . .
A person called by God, given and pursing the character of Christ, so as to influence people towards living in relation to God, others, and the world as God intends.
A Christian leader is first called by God—called out of darkness and sin and into life as a new creation given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:14–21). A Christian leader is then given and pursuing the character of Christ (2 Peter 1:1–11). A Christian leader is to influence through the authority of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of fulfilling the mission of God (Eph. 4:11–16; 1 Peter 2:9).
Many Means, One Glory
Whether you are leading the church as an elder or deacon or leading the church in your home, workplace, or sphere of influence, the charge is the same: through the gospel, seek the reconciliation of all things to God the Father. The exact means of leading towards reconciliation may differ, but the goal does not. Similarly, the roles and competencies may differ but the calling and character of Christian leader leading the church or as the church does not.
If this is your foundation for understanding leadership, then you can avoid the extremes that are pervasive among evangelicals today. Go then and faithfully lead to the glory of God!
~ Jeremy Pace
~ God Bless – PT