Leaderless Churches

"Do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." ~ (Matthew 23:8-11; NASB)

If you were to do a survey of the New Testament, you would find that the word "leader" is a pretty hard word to find.

The word "leader" is only found twice in all of the gospels as a topic that Jesus specifically addressed. Likewise, the subsequent letters that the apostles wrote contain very few and scant references to this word as well.

Yet for such sparse usage, a recent search I conducted on Amazon.com shows that there are currently an astonishing 2,510 books that falls under the heading of "Christian leadership" that are currently for sale.

It makes me wonder, how is it that something that received so little attention in the pages of the New Testament has somehow managed to become something of an industry in our generation?

Yet, if you were to do a similar word search for words like "servant" or "slave," you would find that these words appear hundreds of times throughout the New Testament in reference to Christian ministry.

Good luck finding very many books on Amazon.com that emphasize the theme of Christian slavery. If any such books exist, most of them are probably dedicated to the studying the theological views of Christians who debated about the abolition of the slave trade in America and Europe. Which of course, is not what we are talking about here.

Instead, we are talking about a slave mindset and identity that the Lord has called us all to embrace, from the least of us to the greatest of us. The proliferation of Christian leadership material abundantly available to us today goes to show one thing: Christianity has not embraced the mindset of Jesus would have in the church.

It's not that Jesus is against there being leaders in the church.

The early church was clearly full of many leaders. That is, it was full of men and women who showed others what it was to live the Christian life, and they demonstrated and modeled to others what that life looked like, and taught others how to live it. They were leaders primarily in the sense that they were role-models, and the embodiment of what it means to live a mature Christian life.

This is stands in stark contrast to what a Christian leader is generally perceived as today. To be a leader in the church today is to be a charismatic CEO type, who strategically leads the body of Christ in implementing the unique "vision" that he has dreamed up for the church. The sheep exists primarily to help the pastor build (and fund) his dream. Sometimes the congregation may indeed be part of that dream, but at the end of the day, they ultimately exist to help the pastor fulfill his vision. Anybody who voices dissent or questions the pastors' vision is generally asked to leave the church, or otherwise encouraged to find another church that they are more agreeable with.

Jesus' teaching on leadership was specifically targeted against this sort of mindset. The Lord didn't want us to think of ourselves or allow ourselves to be identified as "leaders," because in the process of doing such, we undermine the call to serve, create divisions in the church, and become takers instead of givers.

In the church, we are to only think of one person as our leader, and that is Jesus Christ alone. No man may take His spot. And as a result of being rightly oriented with the leadership provided to us from heaven, we are to relate to one another as "brothers."

There are to be no "leaders" or "followers" in the church in the traditional sense of those words, only brothers helping other brothers out in their mutual quest to become more and more like Jesus, and to share the gospel with a lost and dying world.

There is to be no division of the church into pastor, staff, and laity. Our relationship with one another is to be horizontal, not vertical. If there is to be any hierarchy in the local church, it's a very small one, with Jesus Christ sitting clearly on top of it all. He alone is our leader and visionary.

The danger when we get this wrong is that you begin to see the church acting in a dysfunctional manner. When somebody's head gets too big, and they become "the leader" of the church, they eventually start looking at the people in their midst as "followers" instead of "brothers." Everybody in the church eventually becomes somebody from whom the leader "draws from" instead of "giving to." In the end, the leader will treat everybody as mere pawns, of whom the pastor frequently allows himself to enjoy the "benefits" and "perks" related to being their "leader."

This is a very real and dangerous problem in much of the church. You see it all over the place.

You see this attitude prevailing in churches where the pastor and his wife are treated as King and Queen of the church. You see it when pastors recruit people to be their "armor bearers," who do things like carry the pastors' Bible to the pulpit for him, or take his car to get cleaned once a week.  You see it in churches that have "pastor appreciation week," where the pastor allows a special offering to be taken up for him on an annual basis, as a sort of "bonus" for all his hard work and personal sacrifice.

You see this attitude prevailing in churches where pastors rule in an authoritarian fashion.  You see it when pastors  live isolated lives from the rest of their congregation.  You see it when pastors are treated as the chief "visionary" to whom the rest of the church must unquestionably "submit" to. You see it when there is a heavy emphasis in the church on tithing and giving. You see in in churches that always seem to be in some sort of building program.  You see it when pastors make handsome salaries, live it up large, and buy mansions.  You see it when people start quoting Bible verses about "touching not the Lord's anointed, and doing His prophets no harm" whenever somebody calls into question the pastors' morality, and the example he is setting for others in his lifestyle.

These attitudes exist because we have failed to realize that God isn't looking for men with a leaders' heart, but rather, a servants' heart.

He's looking for people who aren't interested in building large ministries centered around themselves.  He's not looking for people who dream big, but for people who dream small, and whose only care is how they might help you as a person grow to be more like Jesus.

Slaves don't dream big, or to try and make something of themselves.

Their only concern is the task at hand, and figuring out how they might please those to whom they are enlisted in service too. That was the attitude of the leaders of the early church. So much so that they didn't think of themselves as leaders but as slaves who were called to work for the Lord in serving other people.

Indeed, when they sat down to write letters to the churches they founded or were partnering with, whose letters eventually became our New Testament, they always introduced themselves. And when they introduced themselves, they did not speak of themselves as the leaders of these churches, with a right to demand an audience with the congregation, but they simply desired to speak as slaves who merely wanted to help others out, and felt they had something they could share that would benefit others.

In light of Jesus' teaching on leadership, I hope that we we realize that the church is not the place for leaders, but for servants.

1 comment:

  1. It's a shame you have no comments on this post...
    Wholeheartedly agree with it and am working to "unlearn" my Bible College Pastoral training from many years ago. :)
    ...and I love your Bio at the end. Sounds very familiar to me for some reason.