Pondering Leadership

In a recent post I asked you to ponder this:

Let’s reflect by asking the following questions: “What is the role of leadership within the body of Christ?”, “How does the modern church define leadership?”, and “How do we move from the current leadership model to an Ephesians 4 ideal?”.

What is the role of leadership within the body of Christ?

It is pretty clear from what Paul taught and from what we see in the first century church that leadership was about discipleship. A key text is in Ephesians 4 where Paul tells us that God has given the body of Christ, “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to [become mature], to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:11-13, ESV).

It is plain that Paul sees the role of these “leaders” to be that of equippers (ESV, TNIV), perfecters (KJV, Amplified), trainers (The Message, Holman). He sees them in the role of disciple makers fulfilling the commission given to them by Christ himself (Matthew 28:19-20). Because they took seriously their task of equipping the saints for the work of ministry, when a problem arose, they were able to confidently turn to the saints and have them select people who could deal with the issue. Acts 6 is a classic example.

We see that the role of leadership is discipleship – to equip, train, and perfect the saints who then become leaders able to do the work of ministry.

How does the modern church define leadership?

Unfortunately, the modern church (and maybe even the church from the time of Constantine) has define leadership in terms of a hierarchical organizational model where the pastor is the CEO with paid assistants who deal with the programs and problems. Any discipleship that occurs is done using some programmatic methodology which tends to focus on imparting information.

And where are the apostles, the prophets, and the evangelists in the leadership of the body? Why is the pastor considered the only valid leadership gift?

Is it any wonder that in the modern church so few of the saints are involved in any work of ministry?

How do we move from the current leadership model to an Ephesians 4 ideal?

Within an existing congregation full of consumer driven saints who only know the CEO leadership model, I don’t think it is easy to move to an Ephesians 4 ideal. But I do believe it is possible to make some progress over time.

The first step is to make a commitment to doing personal discipleship. Identify a small group of saints who you can begin to equip, train, and perfect. My suggestion is that you start with those who already have influence, like your elders or deacons. As they grow and mature, it is going to be much easier for you to wean yourself from some of the organizational maintenance responsibilities and their dependence on you being in such a role. They will have understanding and can support such a transition.

Don’t expect this to be an overnight transition. Expect it to take years.

Understand that making disciples is not a matter of more or correct biblical knowledge. Having classes where you impart more information is not enough. You have to move out of the classroom and get them involved in right actions. For more on this, read what Alan Hirsh has to say about acting our way into a new way of thinking.

I know most pastors by nature seek to ensure that there are no “messy situations” or conflicts within the body, but in the process of disciple making you are going to have to trust the people you are working with knowing full well that they will make mistakes. Use such situations as a training time. Don’t back away from empowering them to act and do ministry.

Finally, you need to begin the process of expanding your leadership to include the apostle, the prophet, and the evangelist. The team is incomplete without these gifted people.

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19 Responses to “Pondering Leadership”

  1. Alan Knox says:

    Rick,

    I agree that groups of believers should “expand” to includes the gifts of apostleship, evangelism, and prophecy. I wonder though, why do you see these as “leaders”? If it is based on the noun “to equip” in Eph 4:12, how do you explain the many times that the verbal form is used in relation to all believers? If Paul had included “helpers” in this list of necessary leaders, do you think this would have been out of place? How does your view of these necessary leaders reflect Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 12 that all gifts are necessary and that the seemingly unimportant gifts are more necessary?

    Again, my questions are not meant to diminish the roles of apostles, evangelists, and prophets. On the contrary, it seems that all gifts and gifted individuals are necessary for the equipping and the maturing of the church.

    -Alan

  2. […] The Blind Beggar: Ephesians 4 leadership […]

  3. Rick Meigs says:

    Alan: Good questions. It may be that our understanding of what a leader is needs to be looked at. In the modern church, it is equated with manager, ruler or overseer in the sense any business would understand. I’m not sure that servant wouldn’t be a better biblical understanding. As servant leaders, these people have a specific role — that of equippers, trainers and perfecters. They are not officers of an organization who manage organizational structures around functional areas and programs.

    One other point. Eph. 4 doesn’t talk about “the gifts of apostleship, evangelism, and prophecy.” Instead, they are individuals whom God has given his body.

  4. Alan Knox says:

    Rick,

    I completely agree about the difference between a worldly understanding of leadership and a biblical understanding! “Servant” is a much better way to understand “biblical leaders”, in the sense that believers should follows those who serve.

    However, Eph 4 does talk about “gifts”, in Eph 4:7 and Eph 4:8. Paul often switces from gifts to gifted individuals. He does this in Rom 12:6-8 where he lists 2 gifts and 5 gifted individuals in the same list. Similarly in 1 Cor 12:28-30 Paul easily switches back and forth between gifts and the individuals who exercise those gifts. Indeed, God gives gifts through individuals.

    Again, I don’t see a distinction being made between these gifted individuals and other gifted individuals. Why are the gifts of Rom 12:6-8 not necessary for church leaders? What about the gifts of 1 Cor 12?

    Again, I’m suggesting that all gifted indivduals are necessary for the church to be equipped and edified and matured – including, but definitely not limited to apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors/teachers. I would think that separating these into special leadership giftings would acutally work against the idea of leaders being those who serve.

    -Alan

  5. Rick Meigs says:

    Great discussion Alan. I completely agree with you that all the gifts are necessary for the church to function as God intended. I think the distinction in my mind is that Paul in Ephesians 4 is not talking about gifting as we find in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12, but calling. There are individuals who are called to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These individuals are a gift from God to his body. Each of these called ones will function within the Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 gifting God has given them.

  6. Peggy says:

    Interesting conversation, Rick and Alan….I’ve been following Alan Hirsch’s related thread, as well. I think it might be helpful to consider that these five categories are not just for those called by God and given as gifts to the church to equip the saints (good distinction, Rick). They are categories into which all the saints are to find themselves–along with all the various gifts the Spirit gives each one to serve and build up the Body of Christ.

    Hirsch and Frost have an interesting chart where they place the totality of the Body into a kind of pie chart with these five pieces in it…and the tip (nearest the center) of each piece is made up of those called to serve/lead/equip the rest of those in that group to grow and mature into servant leaders themselves.

    I would like to see how they (Hirsch/Frost) intend to help the saints discern to which piece of the pie they are to belong! And I can see that these pieces of pie are more than separate pieces–that folks might find themselves functioning in more than one piece…just as one person might function as prophet and apostle and teacher, or shepherd and prophet or teacher and apostle, etc.

    It is definitely not an easy concept to introduce and the institutional model doesn’t “get” this readily…

    Blessings….

  7. Alan Knox says:

    Rick,

    The idea that those listed in Eph 4:11 are callings, is not found in the text of Scripture. Instead, this list is introduced in Eph 4:7 much like the lists in Rom 12 and 1 Cor 12 are introduced. They are not introduced as callings but as gifts given by the grace of God and according to his will – just as the other lists are introduced.

    -Alan

  8. Webb says:

    There is something I find interesting the more I immerse myself in the music community in Nashville that I think may shed some light on this debate. The community of musicians there is, from an institutional viewpoint, a loosely, unorganized community with no physical leadership–more of an aggregate than a collective.

    Yet, they do look after their own. They rally when one is fallen, and they help each other find work, and out of it, some stand out as true leaders of the community, though not appointed. While it’s not church, some simply have pastor’s hearts and tend to function as such. Others are advocates. Others are teachers. Some are outspoken about the business and seem to play the prophetic role quite well–they see the problems that are facing the community and warn others. Some have been quite good at welcoming me into the community, encouraging me, finding me opportunities to perform, helping me to find my way around, etc–you know, like discipling me.

    The bands that supply the entertainment on a local level are made up of musicians who play for the big artists who are not presently on tour, so their lineup changes constantly. Yet, some how, those with administrative skills, ensure that their band will have the musicians it needs to perform every show they are scheduled for. When you consider that you can have your choice of around a dozen different bands playing simultaneously within a 3 block area every day from around noon until 2am, with very little organization to the whole thing, that is simply amazing.

    What’s more is that the only source of income for those bands comes in the form of tips. They pass around a jar which the audience throws money into. So in a sense, it’s like taking a collection at church. Now for granted, most of these guys make enough playing with the big artists that they don’t rely on the tips. But some do, and somehow, everyone makes out just fine. There is no overhead for administrative salaries, no building funds or anything of the kind, so 100% of the money that comes in goes directly to those who have earned it. No one goes without, and if someone has their equipment stolen or it is broken, someone else gladly supplies them with what they need to perform. The shows go on–no committees, no meetings–the job simply gets done because everyone plays their roles effectively.

    My point is that when it come right down to it, the 5 fold ministry is alive and well, in a very natural, organic, non-institutionalized form in the Nashville music community without appointing anyone–or for that matter, without even knowing that 5 fold exists. New members, like me, are discipled without anyone saying, “I am going to disciple you.” Now it has always been my beef that this is a lot more how things should go with the church but it seldom happens that way. Why? Because we can’t let well enough alone and actually trust that God has all this stuff worked out by the Holy Spirit. I think that if we simply all went about the Lord’s business, being his hands and feet to the world in the best way we know how, that we would suddenly realize that it is a whole bunch easier than we make it out to be, and we might even find that we are already functioning quite well with those gifts.

    I wrote a book about miracles some years ago. I went through a time in my life when things were so bad that that I had no choice but to trust that God would work them out. And to my surprise, He did. I saw miracles happen every day. One day I realized that God had been there throughout my whole life with those miracles to help direct me, but since I didn’t trust Him I often missed them even when his divine providence was standing right in front of me.

    When people read my book, they would be struck with the same revelation, and the stories that they shared with me about their own newly-discovered miracles was one of the most thrilling blessings I’ve ever had.

    Someday, hopefully, we will realize that our spiritual gifts are wonderful miracles given to us be God himself. The 5 fold ministry is not part of some organized man-made, man-ordained institution, but rather, they are miraculous powers, endowed and distributed to us by our creator.

    My wife has the gift of mercy. We were walking down the street the other night and some homeless guy asked if we could help him out. I only had a few dollars in cash on me, but I always use that as an opportunity to talk to homeless people and I try to encourage them. But, Stacey reached into her purse, pulled out a pack of Pepto-Bismol tablets and handed them to him. I wondered why she would do this, when I saw the tears well up in the fellow’s eyes. He said, “I can’t believe this. Who are you guys? How did you know that I needed these? I was just praying for relief for my stomach, and somebody hands me Pepto Bismol!”

    Stacey’s faith is simple. She uses her gift of mercy in simple practical ways without ever thinking about it. She doesn’t stop and say to herself, “Okay self, how can I use my gift of mercy today?” It just happens. God knew she had those tablets and that one of his kids needed them and the Holy Spirit set it all up for them.

    I’m not saying that we should forget about the 5 fold gifts all together. But what I do think is that we should start acknowledging that perhaps God already has them distributed to the right people in our midst–which, knowing God, they would be given to people that we would never have chosen ourselves–like maybe the homeless guy.

    Life is full of miracles and I am compelled that the the blessing of having some people who have pastor’s hearts, some who are gifted at teaching, others who are good administrators, some whose lives breathe mercy and kindness into the rest of us, others who, while often oblivious to the needs right in front of them, have keen insights into where we need to go in the future, and others still who have a knack for getting people outside of our church communities on board with us, while others seem to bring spiritual, emotional and sometimes even physical healing to our community, are all things that most churches miss out on because they’ve opted out of God’s ways in favor of the Babel-complex.

  9. Rick Meigs says:

    Alan: I don’t see gifts given to his people and gifts given to each individual as the same. I think we will have to agree to disagree on how to read the text. May God richly bless you this thanksgiving day!

  10. Alan Knox says:

    Rick,

    Believe me, this disagreement is nothing between brothers. I hope you also have a great Thanksgiving!

    -Alan

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  12. Rick Meigs says:

    Peggy: Good comments. I’ve read most of what Alan has to say on this topic (lots of good stuff), but I’ve struggled with his contention that, as you put it, “They are categories into which all the saints are to find themselves.” The word “all” is my sticking point. Eph. 4 seems to make a distinction between those who function as “equippers” and those who are being equipped. I’ll need time to work through this yet.

  13. Rick Meigs says:

    Yup, Webb, good comments, natural and organic is the way we should be walking. Still, I don’t think Paul would have penned this important passage if he didn’t think we needed to understand that the saints need to be equipped, trained, and perfected at some level, and that he provided, as a gift to his body, individuals to do this work.

    And of course the point of my post is that those individuals who are called to function in this role (the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers) should get back to what God intended instead of seeing their role in terms of modern capitalist business models.

  14. Peggy says:

    I’m still processing it myself, Rick. But what I am resonating with is the thought that these five areas are kind of like general leadership magnets…and that the Holy Spirit uses these equippers to draw those in the body who are also gifted in these ways to them for equipping–if you follow my drift.

  15. Webb says:

    Rick, I think we need to understand what Paul said in context with the kind of Christianity that existed then, not from our, sometimes antithetical modern institutional perspective, which is a nasty hegemony that blinds everyone of us to some extent from hearing what Paul is actually saying.

    The Nashville musician analogy that I used (and probably didn’t effectively communicate) is that those leadership roles exist there even though they are not cognitively aware of it; but the profound difference between the way new members of the music community learn from their mentors and adapt to the system happens in a very natural, hands-on way, as opposed to church, where people sit under teaching sometimes for their entire lives–even excellent preaching–and never get that teaching from their heads to their hands, feet and heart. If we learn in the midst of the battle, what we are learning becomes second nature, but if we suck up information in a sterile academic setting, the applicability of that information in the real world will be awkward at best. Many in the academic community are beginning to recognize that this is precisely why our learning institutions are not producing the results they would like them to. Most people learn much better when they can apply their new knowledge to relevant real-world situations as they are learning.

    The problem as I see it however, is in how we are going to escape the capitalist business model along with its inherent attractional institutional structures. I’m not advocating that we abolish leadership. But I think we must begin to take some significant steps toward diminishing its centrality and begin to recognize and utilize those gifts in a much broader sense throughout the entire church community. As long as men desire to put themselves in charge, they will struggle with relinquishing control of a lot of those ministry duties that would be better left in the hands of those more gifted to administer them (notice I said, gifted, not trained or credentially qualified–an important difference). We have a long, long way to go in the challenge to disperse that centralized control that ultimately leaves all ministry in the hands of a few and renders the rest of the church mere spectators.

    While I can see the sincerity in many of the attempts to address this, I still see little evidence of those on the ‘cutting edge’ of the movement exemplifying leadership roles that are any different than the kind of leadership that has hindered congregations from being the hands and feet of Jesus for centuries. This is partly why I grow increasingly skeptical that a true conversion to missional Christianity is possible in the context of an existing traditional/attractional/institutional structure. Such a church may take steps toward it, but I don’t see a significant transformation happening. From what I can see of most new missional communities, most fight the edifice complex and hierarchical leadership from the get-go. So, how we can turn an existing institution away from that model escapes me. I hope someone proves me wrong. ;)

  16. Rick Meigs says:

    Peggy: I get your drift perfectly and would agree. I get hung up when Alan uses the word “all.”

  17. Alan Knox says:

    Rick,

    I understand concerns with my use of the word “all”. It is not natural for me to speak in absolutes either. However, I get the word “all” from a few verses but withing the same context of you focal verse:

    …from whom the whole (all) body, joined and held together by every (all) joint with which it is equipped, when each (all) part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph. 4:16)

    Looks to me like Paul said “all”, so I’ll stick with it.

    -Alan

  18. Rick Meigs says:

    Oops, sincerely sorry for the confusion Alan. Peggy and I were commenting on Alan Hirsch and his work on this topic. We should have been more clear and didn’t mean to cause any offense (and hoping we didn’t).

    You can read him at his blog The Forgotten Ways or in his book with the same title.

  19. Alan Knox says:

    Rick,

    My mistake for not reading the comments closely enough. I read Alan Hirsch’s blog, and find it to be very inspiring and encouraging.

    -Alan