In our denomination when elders are put into office they are charged with the statement below in regards to the office they are taking. We have been looking at the role of elder in the church and realistically what I would love to see the church do is expand this role beyond the few people they charge this with who hold an elected position. In fact it feels like a charge that could be applied more broadly over those seasoned veterans, that I wrote about a couple weeks back, or how about the idea of spiritual parents… what do you think???
I charge you, elders, to “guard yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Be a friend and Christlike example to children. Give clear and cheerful guidance to young people. By word and example, bear up God’s people in their pain and weakness, and celebrate their joys with them. Hold in trust all sensitive matters confided to you. Encourage the aged to persevere in God’s promises. Be wise counselors who support and strengthen the pastor. Be compassionate, yet firm and consistent in rebuke and discipline. Know the Scriptures, which are “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Pray continually for the church. Remember at all times that if you would truly give spiritual leadership in the household of faith, you must be completely mastered by your Lord (1 Tim. 3:2-7).
So let’s take another run at this important topic of leadership in the church. Before I do so… let me put before you one truth that I think needs to drive the process of becoming and being leaders. Nobody is really able to opt out!! That is if you are married, have a family, work in any capacity (especially in the church world or His kingdom), but also in this world you are a leader (which certainly seems to encompass that charge to overseers)!! We can talk more about that as well… but I sense one of the biggest areas of discrepancy in our world is the number of people who don’t think they are leaders.
Now in the church world one area where this often falls is the difference between positional leaders verses functional leaders. Now the lines can be very much blurred between these, and probably should. But let’s face it, often when we speak of church leadership, it seems people are referring to the board, the council, elders and deacons, etc…. which most often are elected or appointed positions within the church body. However, I am sure we realize it takes much more leadership to carry out the work or better yet the mission/vision of that local church. I do wonder though how the amount of time and effort put into choosing and developing leaders for those positional leadership areas compares with those in what I am calling the functional leaders of the church (that is the people who oversee and lead all the different areas of ministry in the church)? And I would follow up that question with a similar one… how much value does the church attribute to either of these leadership areas?
Another issue that can challenge this kind of overseeing leadership in the church is that of power vs. humility in this office. Then we hear these important words from I Peter 5…
2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
In fact further on in this passage is a pretty powerful warning about how the adversary could twist this important office / role in the church….
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
The devil seems to have a strategy… and unfortunately it seems to work too well and too often. This strategy puts a target on leadership and more specifically on those who would lead and take on the role of being an example to others. Obviously, if they are called to be examples the striving is to have others take up the banner of leadership as well.
What does power most often lead to … a grab for more power… not really targeted on sharing the leadership responsibilities in a way that has others taking up the role of leadership well within their own families… including that of the church family.
Henri Nouwen in a book that I feel answers the way of Christian leadership more than any other I have read – In the Name of Jesus says this about power:
“Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”
I think we would agree (and by we I mean those of us who call ourselves Christ followers and see the importance of the local church in our world) that the bottom line of the Church (mission of the church) compared to the bottom line of any other organization/business in the world is much more important. But, then if we would take a look at how we are doing with developing and sustaining leadership in the local church and especially in this area of functional leadership in all of our ministry areas one might wonder how important it really is. (let that sink in a bit and chew on that for a while)
“The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world. It is a servant leadership…..” Henri Nouwen (In the Name of Jesus)