Jesus gives us the most important aspects of church leadership
The first aspect of leadership is found in the Gospels. Jesus emphatically told us:
Don’t let anyone call you teacher, for you have one teacher—the Messiah [Matthew 23:10]
We need to keep this at the forefront of our minds as we study church leadership. For Jesus is the leader. He is the head and we are merely the body—His Bride. At best we are stewards of gifts the Lord has given to us. For us to exalt ourselves as leaders is as silly as Angelina Jolie being elevated to leader because of her lips and body.
However, Jesus clearly calls and appoints leaders in the Body. Churches and ministries all have and need this leadership. The only issue is whether that leadership is godly or worldly. It does a ministry no good to have leaders chosen by the world in a worldly manner. There are several principles to define all of this.
- This is not a democracy: we do not elect our leadership, God gives it to us. Democratic choices only work within the context of sincere prayer of the type called for by Paul in verses 2:1–4. Most churches do not take this call to prayer seriously.
- This is not a human institution: this is the Body of Christ, headed by Jesus. We are part of a spiritual being—all tied directly to the Messiah.
- This is not an organization: the Body is an organism, growing as a whole. Ministries are organs in that body. Huge growths gathered around a human are more like tumors than vital organs of the body.
Religion versus relationship
Religions are human organizations. Religion is defined as a group of people “adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices”. In a very real way, God abandoned religion at the cross in favor of relationship. The Lord deals only with personal one-on-one relationships. Jesus could not have made that more clear than in John 17:3 where He said that eternal life is knowing God and Jesus whom He has sent. A religion does not give us that life—a relationship does.
Religions have no way to interact as an organism where the controlling head of the organism has direct deeply personal minute-by-minute interaction with every member of the organism. The head of a religion is seemingly a human. But in reality, a religion is a set of doctrines and policy statements implemented and governed by groups, committees, and so on. How many times have you heard that the United States is led by the Constitution? Episcopalians have the 39 Articles. The Lutheran Confessions are all in the Book of Concord. There are churches that have elevated the Word to this level of primacy—some going so far as to specify the King James Version as the only holder of the truth.
The only hope for an organization is found in its leader. The only hope for a religion is a leader who is truly called by God for the position he or she is filling. Only then can the leader guide us into a relationship with the creator of the universe. The only leader anointed and appointed by God is Jesus of Nazareth. It all goes back to Him.
- This is not a hierarchy: all pieces of the organism are tied directly to the head, Jesus. We all have our place within the organism; and we put ourselves in proper relationship to those called to lead us. But we all get our orders from the head via the Holy Spirit.
The kosmos is a hierarchy
Satan is a rigid legalist. His world system (kosmos) is strictly set up with chains of command and master/servant relationships. There is no direct contact to the head by ordinary members in this system of things. In fact, it is almost impossible to get any direct contact with the upper levels of the hierarchy. You must follow the chain of command.
As usual,the Kingdom of God is in direct opposition to the kosmos. God does things very differently. Here we all have direct and constant interaction with the head of the organism. We get our orders from Him directly. It is true that He often (even normally) tells us to submit to a human leader. It is true that we are expected to honor and support the human leaders that He gives to each of us. But the orders to submit and serve all come directly from the head of the organism: Jesus our Messiah through His Holy Spirit.
- This is a theocracy: all leadership and all members of the Kingdom are tied directly to the Lord. He is the source of authority. He raises up all leadership.
The second aspect Jesus gave us about leadership is truly radical. He says that we are not to be like worldly leaders at all.
But Jesus called them to him and said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” [Matthew 20:25–28]
The servant/leader is uniquely Christian. Jesus instituted this idea and told us this is how a Christian leader works. The problem, of course, is that this is impossible for a human to do unless he or she is truly anointed for the task by the Holy Spirit. We cannot even use servanthood as a method to elevate ourself. Only God can lift a leader up in a manner that glorifies Him and transforms the lives of the people given for that leader to serve.