38. Local Leaders – the Nature of the Church

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 6 – Thinking about Leaders

38. Local Leaders – the Nature of the Church

Rom 12:6-8 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

A Pause: Before we rush on to the gifts of ministries to the church I believe we need to pause up and review where we have been in these recent studies on local leadership. We have done the ground work and now all that remains is to stand back get a sense of the overall picture. Particularly, as I said as I concluded the previous study, I want to asks two questions: 1. What sort of church or what picture of church is conveyed by all these verses? and 2. What effect should that have on the ordinary believer, the person who has just come to Christ and finds themselves part of the Church?

Descriptions of the local leaders: As we do this we must remind ourselves we are talking about spiritual leaders of the church, not those who administer it, looking after the numerous material aspects that arise, which we will consider later when we consider ‘deacons’. But these roles are of the spiritual leaders and we need to be very clear on this. We have considered the descriptions given in  the New Testament of these men – overseers, shepherds, elders – titles or descriptions that are given to each spiritual leader over the church. Each one is an overseer, each one is a shepherd and each one is an elder. The term elder implies maturity and wisdom. The term shepherd implies one who cares for, provides for and protects the flock. The term overseer implies one who guards the flock against outside attackers and internal dissenters.

Plurality: Now the various verses that we have considered imply a plurality of elders. No where is there the picture of one man leading the flock. Now that makes highly uncomfortable reading in the modern day where have (in the UK as an example) Catholic Priests, Anglican vicars or rectors, Methodist ministers, Baptist ministers, Congregationalist ministers, Evangelical Free Church ministers, mostly men, now a few women, but all one-man ministries. The fact that these individuals tend to be professionals, on a salary from the church, mostly full-time ministries, as we see them, often makes them ‘special people’ in our eyes, even referred, and certainly set apart in our thinking (if by nothing else by the strange clothes they insist on wearing) as ‘different’.

Special? How different this was in the early church, where difference was seen by the authority and power that came with the apostles, but there is no indication it was seen in the same manner in the elders appointed. Indeed it is probable that local elders were simply men who had a job in life and in addition they were the elders of the local church. Further we might suggest it seems unlikely that they were marked out as today’s professionals tend to be, as someone special and different, and so any deference given was simply in accord with the roles, for example, The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour,” (1 Tim 5:17) or, “you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders,” (1 Pet 5:5)  and yet these things seen in context are just one set of relational attitudes, so Peter continued, All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another,” (v.6) and elsewhere we find, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” (Eph 5:21) a very general injunction to the whole flock, not unlike the teaching, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil; 2:3,4). Each of these verses encourage the whole flock to be caring for one another, esteeming one another, submitting to one another, and so to elevate ‘the minister’ appears incongruous in the light of all this.

Different and Lonely: Because we have elevated these roles, made them something special and not worked with a true plurality of elders, we have not only made our leaders ‘different’ but also so often, very lonely. When we move onto the gifts to the church of ministries (see Eph 4:12,13) we will see then the heart burden that such ministries carry – and pastors (shepherds) and teachers are included in that list. I have tried to explain this to the unknowing in the past, by describing how, as a pastor, I carried the church on my heart twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. It never went away. The fact that we employ such leaders only adds to their burden because it is a rare paid leader who cannot help feeling accountable to the flock – because there are paid, are employed by them! Elders (leaders) need other elders and they need friends and they need understanding.

The nature of the role cannot but mean that there will be a distinguishing between leader and flock. When you have counselled people in crisis and they have shared their innermost failings, it is very difficult to maintain an ordinary friendship subsequently. (Which suggests a smaller group of real friends who you probably have not counselled!!!) The fact that the average person in the flock isn’t carrying the burden of the flock on their shoulders, and the fact that their lives are filled with family, recreation and work concerns, and church only a distanced second, means that the leader IS in reality living in a different often difficult world. It is helped with a plurality of elders, even if one (or maybe more in a large church) are full-time devoted to the ministry. (You are ‘full-time’ in your heart, even if not seen by the flock as paid to be full-time while having some other form of employment as well).

But the church? This has focused very much on the individuals, but what about the nature of the church that I referred to earlier on? Protected, provided for, cared for, by mature and godly leadership – that is plural. If it is working right (which I suspect is a rarity), I believe that the presence within the church of a number of men (and women) who are there for every member of the flock,

  • creating this sense of security (protected) and
  • by feeding the flock (provision) and
  • caring for the flock (recognising needs, problems, difficulties, and being there to declare awareness, bring encouragement, wisdom, personal ministry and Spirit impartation),
  • not being a special clique, people ‘in the know’, but those who are open and sharing,
  • while at the same time holding confidences,
  • being an example of godliness and holiness as well as ordinariness,

all this will create an environment where the feeling is conveyed, “It is good to be here!” and within that there is encouragement to get healed up, change, grow, develop and mature, for wasn’t that Paul’s declared goal for the church by the use of the ministries (including that of the Pastor-leader-elder): “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12,13)

And So? I said much earlier on, it is madness to desire to be a spiritual leader unless given a heart for it from God. But if God does give you that heart to serve in grace and humility as a leader within the local church then, as Paul said it, “do it diligently”, give yourself to it, pray your heart out for it, stand alongside other leaders, and if you haven’t got them, search them out, raise them up, cry to God to give you them and I realise, if you have been a one-man ministry previously, it is a nerve-wracking and even threatening thing to think about drawing others alongside you to whom you will make yourself answerable, but the rewards will be immense. Yes, it can go wrong for the Christian life can be a battle and the battleground is sometimes within the church, which is why seeking others who are godly and humble – and ensuring we all remain like that – is so important. If you are not called to be a leader but have ploughed through these more recent studies wondering why I have been making such as meal of it, in your case it is to bring understanding and a burden to pray, so that together we may bring glory to the one who died to bring us into being. May it be so.  Now we need to move on and examine the Lord’s gifts to us of the ministries we see in the New Testament.

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