Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Leader" or "Leaders"?

Several weeks ago I was talking with a friend of mine who has been a salaried pastor for a several years. Please let me say at the beginning of this post that this man has faithfully given of himself as he has served the church through good times and bad. My intention is not to say anything negative about him. Rather, I simply want to point out two different ways of thinking about leadership within the church.

We were talking about my resignation from the professional pastorate. The two of us (obviously) have different opinions on this issue. As we were talking, the subject turned to leadership within the church. After a few minutes, I realized that we were saying two very different things. While my friend repeatedly used the term "leader," I kept saying "leaders." This may at first seem like a small difference, but in reality it is a large one.

I know that my friend believes in strong pastoral leadership. In particular, the "senior pastor" must lead the church as it strives to follow Christ. Therefore, when he says "leader," he is referring to the senior pastor. I, on the other hand, was saying "leaders" because I was envisioning people within the church (both elders and non-elders) who lead through servanthood and holiness of living. They lead by example.

The conversation was pleasant enough, but I'm not sure that it accomplished much. Since our views of church and the pastorate are so different, it was almost as if we were speaking two completely different languages.

The more I ponder this conversation, the more I see what the confusion was. We were thinking of leadership in terms of how we think of the church. If the church is what the bible describes plus additions such as the big building, the programs, the budgets, etc., then leadership almost has to come in the form of one strong senior pastor. Someone has to be in place to keep track of all of the stuff that the scriptures do not talk about.

However, if church is what the bible describes and no more, then leadership can fall into the hands of multiple people. In fact, each person in the body can show leadership in his or her particular areas of giftedness. The elders should primarily display leadership through being sacrificial examples of servanthood to the body. No one man is needed to take care of all the extra stuff.

How we view leadership in the church necessarily stems from how we view the church itself.

In the end, the church does have one man as senior pastor. This is always the same man. His name is Jesus Christ. No one else need apply. The rest of us instead have the joy of together leading as servants under the benevolent rule of Christ.


Jason_73 said...


You've struck a chord with this and I need to share somewhere my thinking about this topic.

What is a leader...? Here is my definition. "Someone that helps, assists via service, someone else."

Whether by example, through teaching, through establishing protocols and best practices...

I know I risk losing people by such a simple definition, but it makes SOOO much sense to me. If the Sargent is leading the troops through battle, he is helping them stay alive, healthy, to win etc. If someone is teaching scripture the ultimate outcome is helping people grow in their relationship and understanding of God. A "worship leader" helps the congregation, people, worship together. The pastoral types are helping others find more spiritual life and sustenance and grow.

Ultimately leading(helping) is directing others, via our spiritual giftings towards loving and glorifying God in every aspect of life.

Leaders that do not "help" people aren't leading people in the right direction.

Leaders aren't necessarily leaders solely based on title or positions

I believe some are better at it, but I think others could become better leaders if we think in simple terms of helping others with our giftings achieve beneficial outcomes.

Sorry to rant, It's just something I've been thinking a lot about lately. Thanks for the room Eric!

Eric said...


Leadership is a tough issue because, at least for me, I sometimes struggle to break away from man-made ideas of what leaders are. Too often I think of leaders as being people who make decisions for others and then tell them what to do. As you have said, in the church we should use our gifts to help others as we all grow up together in Christ. The bible's ideas of leaders and the world's ideas of leaders are, not surprisingly, very different.

Jonathan said...

Thanks for the post. It fits well with what I've been blogging about lately. I expect what I have to say will be misunderstood by some who read it. They will think I'm crazy thinking we don't need some appointed to make decisions for the church... but yes, it depends on how we view the church.

Aussie John said...


The church has grasped the worlds concept of leadership, discarding any understanding of "leadership" as servanthood.

How can any "leader" place himself in a position that Jesus never claimed for Himself?

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great (first or leader) among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

There is no pecking order in the Christian family; Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.

Anonymous said...

Eric, I like what you have written but still think it is back to front in what you conclude.
You said."We were thinking of leadership in terms of how we think of the church. "

I believe we establish church on what we think of leadership. What we think of leadership is exactly what we import from the world, hierarchy.

Every organisation in the world HAS to have a hierarchy to function. Hierarchy passes commands down from the HEADquarters (Boss) and passes information up from the MEMBERS (Staff). Without hierarchy there would be chaos, because the boss is not omnipresent nor omniscient nor do the staff have any ability to know the bosses mind. IF ONLY THIS WAS POSSIBLE.

Mmmm, maybe it is possible?
Maybe that was how Jesus intended the church to function. Maybe, that was what he meant when he slammed James and John over them wanting to set up a hierarchy. Of course James and John would need their own thrones! I seem to remember Jesus's response, "IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONGST YOU."

Sorry Jesus, you got it wrong, your way and Paul's way doesn't work. We have to have leaders.
Therefore, "give us a King like the nations (organisations) around us". (1Sam8) We need to structure our church just like them, because we can see how good they are.


You cannot have two or twenty thousand heads over the body. No wonder we have a schizophrenic church.

Eric said...

John and Frank,

You both hit the nail on the head. Christ clearly contrasts His servant leadership with that of the world.

How interesting (and sad) it is that so many "powerful senior pastors" actually think of themselves as servants.

Jack Watkins said...

I like the what you have to say Eric. You make some critical observations.

I am coming to believe that outside of our understanding of salvation, our ecclesiology has to be the most important foundation we have. If we don't understand that the church/gathering of the saints is about mutuality and edification, then of course the current clergy laity system will predominate.

It is hard to understand how the scripture in Mt 20 that Aussie John quoted is just discarded by the senior pastor mentality. Our ecclesiology has to be Kingdom of Heaven oriented not man oriented.

As humans, God has given us tremendous capacity to manage, create,and organize things. We can do those things, I believe, without His guidance,but we cannot lead in the Kingdom, without His guidance.

His Kingdom is upside down in relation to what man wants to do. We want a king to lead us; He wants us to just follow Him. We want to lead out front and be recognized, he wants us to lead from below.

Jesus asked, "For who is the greater, one who reclines at the table or one who serves?" His answer says it all. Check it out Lk 22:27

Eric said...


Thank you. I like what you said about God's kingdom being upside down from ours.

It's interesting that when we adopt biblical church practices, then leadership issues don't seem to be much of a problem. The farther we deviate from scripture, the more problems we will have. When we introduce man-made structures of leadership, the problems really begin to increase.

Anonymous said...

I often meet brothers who wax lyrical about their church and pastor. "Our pastor has such a servant heart"

What happens if you have something to bring for the congregation, maybe a scripture, prophecy or vision," I ask. "Oh we only have to ask the pastor if he thinks it suitable to speak it out".

Mmmm. Interesting I think. I wonder, other than in the church, when was the last time someone had to ask their servant's permission to do something?

When will we stop playing this deceitful game, and start describing things honestly. The pastor is the boss and they know it.

1Cor11v4. Any man who prays or prophesies having his head covered dishonours his head (Christ).

I will, as a matter of principle, not allow any other man to be between me and Christ.