Ekklesia values 6 (leadership and hierarchy)

Continuing in the “Church Values” stream today, and extrapolating a bit from the nondenominational, nonsectarian ideals  now.  My ideal church will employ

==> Non-hierarchical leadership

and is

  • mutually pastoral in terms of ministering to one another

and uses no

  • no extrabiblical (or reappropriated biblical) religious titles.

In the NC scriptures, I see contraindications of positional authority in the church.  Put negatively, I see no hint that there were, or were to be, hierarchical leaders.  Positional leadership is ubiquitous in churches these days–seen most starkly in such figures as the pope, but lived out in virtually every church I’ve ever been with, known of, or read about.

If we must have the “pastor” as a role, understood as most Christians understand that job today, let us at least not have “senior pastor.”  “Lead pastor” is more functional than positional, and I would rather see that modifier than “senior.”  In the eyes of some, as I’ve come to understand it, Timothy and Titus may have filled precursors of the modern-day pastor role.  But this is an assumption, an inference; it’s not particularly explicit.

In the CofC grouping, we tend to believe and write one way, and live out our polity another way.  If we really believe elders are pastors are shepherds are bishops, well, let’s do church that way.  Let us not have our preachers/ministers/evangelists in charge of everything.  Let us not conceive intellectually of an upside-down pyramid with elders at the top.  And by all means let us not live as though it’s a regular pyramid with the minister at the top, the elders in the middle, the deacons at the bottom, and everyone else referred to as “you” instead of “we.”  And, by the way, let us avoid the perception that eldering/pastoring happens primarily in the humanly invented institution called the “elders’ meeting.”

Although I’ve been taught it all my life, I’m not sure the NC scriptures really equate the bishop (episkopos) with the elder (presbuteros) with the pastor (poimein).  These may be describing similar, overlapping, but not identical functional roles.  Perhaps the ideal is more fluid than many of us have come to understand:  could it be that Timothy was primarily a functioning evangelist, and there were no deacons or elders or head “pastor” in Ephesus, while Titus was more of a “lead pastor” in Crete?  And further, could it be that

  • the churches in Galatia had neither a head pastor nor elders
  • the groups in Corinth and Colosse and Laodicea had several poimenoi each, like most CofC groups, and
  • the church in Rome had none of the above, because they had an apostle?

It deserves mention that the early church in Jerusalem appears to have been led by few apostles/elders, and James the brother of Jesus seems to have had executive influence (see Acts 15).  The Acts 6 precedent leads us to select servants to fulfill needed tasks–giving rise to modern-day “deacons” (same word as “minister,” by the way).  Let it not go unnoticed that deacons have jobs to do.  There is no deacon, biblically speaking, who simply has the title but no designated function in the local church’s work.

Nashville’s Belmont Church (which has Restoration Movement roots but left any real association behind years ago), at least at one point, separated its elders by function.  Some were executive, and some were pastoral (caring for sheep).  Some were paid, and some were not.  This devised arrangement made some sense to me, given that no particular hierarchy is specified in the scriptures, and given the size of that particular church.  But when all’s said and done, it’s more important that people not attempt to assert or exert authority based on position or salary.  Given that we are not in the apostolic age, spiritual authority should arise naturally, along the lines of relational, respected influence.  It should be invited by people, not inflicted on them.  “Having authority,” by the way, is different from “acting authoritatively” or “being authoritarian.”

In sum:  my church won’t obviously deal in positional leadership.  Not that there won’t be leaders.  There must be leadership, and leaders will emerge naturally!  But it will not be because of some mail-order license, or a degree-granting institution’s blessing, or a denomination’s “call” (whatever that is).

Leaders serve, their leadership is respected as an outgrowth of their service, and ideally, they begin to have spiritual influence because of recognized insight and genuine relationship.  Leaders are marked by service to humankind, beginning with the household of faith, in the name of God.


5 thoughts on “Ekklesia values 6 (leadership and hierarchy)

  1. landsway 05/07/2010 / 6:25 am

    We could have a good time talking about the structure of the modern day church. In my post today I am talking about the mission of today’s church and how it seems most have lost their way. I also see a huge difference in the way the NT speaks of pastoral authority and the way it is commonly shown in the church today. I am not altogether certain that Jesus or Paul would recognize the modern day church. I am also not certain that either would be allowed to preach in most churches.


    • blcasey 05/07/2010 / 12:18 pm

      So would either of us want to go on record as saying the modern church is largely apostate? 🙂 We’re in complete agreement Jesus and Paul would be either unrecognized in, or banned from, many churches today.

      Brian Casey ~ Confidently engaged in restoration, not comfortably ensconced in orthodoxy ~


  2. landsway 05/07/2010 / 12:43 pm

    That is a big statement to say but I will go on record. My post today detailed the help that the local churches recently gave in our community when struck by floods. It was not much to report. It was disgusting that only a few churches did anything to help displaced people and many did not even know what was going on outside of their own walls. Christianity is supposed to be about outreach. It is supposed to have a practical application to us in our daily lives; but so many are just playing games and happily and firmly ensconced in tradition, religion, and self-promotion.


    • blcasey 05/09/2010 / 8:04 pm

      I live in relative isolation in western NY and had no idea about the flooding until a conversation a couple of days ago with my parents, who live in AR. Definitely, such times present opportunities for no-strings-attached Christian service.

      Brian Casey ~ Confidently engaged in restoration, not comfortably ensconced in orthodoxy ~


  3. landsway 05/07/2010 / 12:45 pm

    Actually I just wrote my post for tomorrow and that is the one that details the lack of help from the local churches. Sorry about the mis-statement but it was hard to see from way up on my high horse.


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