A Different Look At Church Leadership

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JWJ

Puritan Board Freshman
Before I ask the specific question(s) regarding church leadership it is essential that I first give a backdrop. Therefore pardon the long but necessary backdrop.

I along with the other leaders in my church are currently working on leadership guidelines for a local church. These guidelines are the result of a new church plant that will locally take place later this year and our current direct involvement in planting churches in Cambodia. In studying the Scriptures I personally found it amazing that the issue of church leadership has much more latitude then many have thought, let alone not so cut and dry. Though I am not calling into question the pattern and norm of New Testament polity as that of a shared / plurality of leadership, I do question the restrictions, lack of latitude in various classifications and functions of leaders, and the overemphasis of a hierarchy structure.

Early New Testament leadership was both a dynamic and developing process. It began with a less structured polity revolving around the apostolate, the ascension-gift-leadership offices of Ephesians 4:11 (i.e., apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers—cf. 1 Cor. 12:28) and individuals with varying charismata gifts (Romans 12:6-8 & 1 Corinthians 12:8-11)—eventually emerging into a more structured polity of two offices or official / local church appointments—Overseer / elder and Deacons (Phil. 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-13 & Titus 1:5-9).

However, there appears to be latitude outside of this two-fold office for a group of gifted “leaders” that are “ordained”, “appointed”, “commissioned”, or “recommended” by a local church (leaders and non leaders), not to a local church office per say, but rather for a unique task or ministry (diakonia) of establishing churches. This is the repeated model or pattern given in the N.T. and include the class of men known as the Paul’s, Barnabas’, Silas’, Timothy’s (Acts 11:22; 13:1-3; 15:40; 16:1-3; cf. 1 Tim. 4:14). We can also include the Titus’, Tychicus’ and Epaphras’ (2 Cor. 8:6, 16, 23; Titus; Eph. 6:21; Col. 1:7; 4:7, 12; 2 Tim. 4:12) and many more (Acts 20:4).

Again these leaders had a ministry of “establishing” and in some cases “reestablishing” churches. Before getting to the heart of my question(s) allow some explanation of what “establishing” churches biblically entails (it means much more than just church planting).

The concept of “establishing” churches is found in the both the concept of the Greek terms employed and in the Pauline Model outlined throughout the book of Acts and confirmed in the Pauline Epistles. Regarding the former, we read in Acts 14:21-22 how Paul and Barnabas “returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch strengthening the disciples...” The underlining ideas or concepts behind the Greek term episterizo translated strengthening (NIV) and its various cognate groupings (sterizo; sterigmos; asteriktos) are: “to support” / “to stabilize” / “make upright” / “steadfastness” / “to establish” and “to confirm.” Though at times one of the above concepts may be more at the forefront in any given text, all are nevertheless interrelated and present on some level.

Regarding the Pauline Model or concept of establishing churches, we see this repeated throughout the book of Acts (i.e., especially in all of Paul’s “missionary” journeys) and confirmed in his epistles. It centers on a prototype model of a local church (i.e., Antioch) sending out / “appointing” gifted itinerant leaders to restore the true worship of the glory of God (i.e., missions) to all nations, tongues, and tribes—Acts 13:1-14:28 (at this point I will not labor the lost concept of the centrality of the local church in missions). These leaders would proclaim the gospel, disciple the believers by organizing them in a community and instructing them in the proper conduct and roles in the house-hold of God, and would return back to their home-base church and report all that God had done.

This pattern, commonly known as the Antioch model, along with key elements of Paul’s subsequent missionary journeys (Acts 15:36 ff)—including his revisiting of churches, extended stay in Corinth (Acts 18), Ephesus (Acts 19-20), and the contents of his later pastoral letters (Timothy & Titus)— form the normative model for establishing churches.

Therefore the concept of establishing churches includes the following elements:

• A local church serves as a home-base in which a team of key leaders are appointed and commissioned and sent out (Acts 13:1-3)
•Communicating, befriending, dialoging, and evangelizing key people and strategic cities with the gospel (Acts 13:14-41; 14:1; 15:14-19; 16:13-31; 18:1-4; 19)
•Organizing believers in a community (i.e., local churches) and instructing and confirming them in the basics of proper worship, house-hold order, and Christian living (Acts 13:43; 14:21-23; 15:41; 1 Tim. 3:14-15; Titus 1:5; cf. Rom. 12-16; 1 Thess. 4:1-12; Eph. 5-6; Col. 3-4) so that they will become self-governing (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28), self-supporting (1 Tim. 5:17), and follow the same pattern in multiplying other churches (1 Thess. 1:6-8)
-Depending on the providential circumstances an extended stay may be necessary in which the whole counsel of God will need to be taught and false teaching repudiated (Acts 20:18-27; 1 Tim. 4:1-6; 2 Tim. 4:1-5)
•Establish, appoint, and consecrate leadership (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5)
-Exhorting the newly established or reestablished local leadership to train, cultivate, and disciple future local leaders (i.e., elders) and “Timothy’s (2 Tim. 2:2)

•Continue to strengthen, support, stabilize, and encourage established churches through continual relational dialogs and communications—and if needed ministerial assistance in teaching, refuting unsound doctrine, and edification (Acts 14:22; 15:36, 41; 18:23; Phil. 1:5, 27; 2:22; 1 Tim. 1:3; 2 Tim. 4:2)

Even though these leaders at times exhibited “shepherding” qualities similar to that of local overseers / elders (e.g. teaching, preaching, refuting unsound doctrine, appointing leadership; encouraging, and edifying) no where in Scripture were they ever called elders. Elders or overseers by the context of Scripture are locally sphered. Whether some in the eldership are teachers and preachers does not preclude them all from the main responsibility of locally “ruling” or “directing the affairs” of the local church (1 Tim. 5:17). This especially includes overseeing all the mundane day-to-day affairs and ministries of the local church—a responsibility that was not the prerogative of these unique itinerant “leaders” that established or reestablished churches.


Consequently, it makes no difference whether we refer to this class of men from the reference of one or more of the gift-offices found in Ephesians 4:11 (I am a cessationalist. and believe that the first two if not three offices listed in this verse are not found today in the same capacity as it was in the early church. However, this does not preclude the fact that there remains a correspondence or “office-gift types” found today in the “ordinary” sphere of certain gifted men—whether in the eldership, deaconate, or those “unique leaders”) or by their general title given in Scripture as “ministers” (diakonos) of the Word (cf. Acts 6:2, 4; Rom. 15:14; 2 Cor. 2:12; 3:6; 1 Tim. 4:11, 6; 2 Tim. 4:2, 5) or even what is sometimes today called “missionaries” (though I don’t like this term or title as it as taken on characteristics that are not indicative of those found in Scripture, namely the giftedness of these leaders and both their local as well as global sphere).

The point is that these men were neither overseers nor deacons. Their sphere was both local (church) and global (churches) and their ministry was more narrowly focused in establishing / reestablishing churches. Moreover their authority was “dynamic” (i.e., varied with respect to the circumstances) in that these leaders would at times serve the Word under, along side, and sometimes beyond local leadership (i.e. eldership).

One more caveat before I ask the question(s) I have been working up to. We do know that Peter, an Apostle, was also instrumental in establishing churches and eventually settled down in a local church as an elder (1 Pet. 5:1). The same can be said of Timothy & Tychicus who probably became elders in Ephesus, Titus in Corinth, and Epaphras in Colosse. However, the point again is that these men prior were not elders / overseers. They held no “ecclesitical office” yet they were leaders with authority; serving the Word—preaching, teaching, rebuking, encouraging, and edifying—at times under, along side, and even beyond a local eldership or leadership.

So with this lengthy backdrop here are my interrelated questions that by now most have anticipated: How many of you too see a biblical third category of leaders that are not in an office? How many of you see biblical latitude and or a prescriptive pattern, outside of the two-fold office, for a group of gifted “leaders” that are “ordained” (though serve in no ecclesiastical “office”) for a unique and authoritative ministry (diakonia) of establishing or reestablishing churches? Why or Why not? Is it possible that many have long overemphasized a too “structured” and or “myopic” polity of church leadership with an overemphasis of hierarchy within the two-fold office?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
What fascinates me about the above analysis/presentation/query is not so much the content (which gives evidence of much study and attention to the Word, very commendable brother), as the evidence it gives as to how the articles we accept as "given" guide our investigations.

What I'm driving at is this: this quote:
they were leaders with authority; serving the Word—preaching, teaching, rebuking, encouraging, and edifying—at times under, along side, and even beyond a local eldership or leadership.
simply would not come up within a Presbyterian discussion. Why not? Because we already operate on the basis of a polity that contains this question conceptually. Its a "given" on which we operate.

The Presbytery is the basic church unit that engages in church-planting efforts. Ministers in the presbyterian model are the constituents of presbytery. The church sends one of its specially gifted ministers to point X for the purpose of evangelization and church planting. The particular (aka "local") church that arises belongs to the "local" (i.e. "regionally local") church that planted it. Eventually, given enough growth the presbytery divides in two, and the process continues, the presbyteries themselves belonging to one another in larger classis.

The situation is variable in the case of true missionary efforts. Due to distance and sometimes language barriers, there may be little or none organic connection to the original sending church. But, the goal is still the establishment of a sister church-presbytery in the new location, which will be able to self-exist and propagate in its regional setting.

I just offer these observations to show how others today and in the past have addressed this kind of question that Jim is confronting and wrestling with.
 

Calvibaptist

Dallas Cowboys' #1 Fan
Seems to me to be fairly similar (although different!) to what some Baptists do when they start new churches. They call them "missions" and they are officially under the authority of the "mother church" until they are viable. Then they form their own government and operate as a sister church. Until that time, they partake of communion on the same Sundays as the mother church and the receiving of members is approved by the mother church.

I'm not sure I like this policy among Baptists since one of our hallmarks is local church autonomy. But it seems that some Baptists see benefit to a modified Presbyterian form of government (at least for a short time).
 

JWJ

Puritan Board Freshman
Seems to me to be fairly similar (although different!) to what some Baptists do when they start new churches. They call them "missions" and they are officially under the authority of the "mother church" until they are viable. Then they form their own government and operate as a sister church. Until that time, they partake of communion on the same Sundays as the mother church and the receiving of members is approved by the mother church.

I'm not sure I like this policy among Baptists since one of our hallmarks is local church autonomy. But it seems that some Baptists see benefit to a modified Presbyterian form of government (at least for a short time).

The biblical model that I tried to protray should not be confused with the common missions movement. Though there may be similiarities, the biblical model or process I am trying to bring to light is much more invloved and deeper. Moreover, the biblical model outlined presupposes the centrality of the local church and yet retains unity and or "networking" of other churches--including local elderships.

Jim
 

JWJ

Puritan Board Freshman
What fascinates me about the above analysis/presentation/query is not so much the content (which gives evidence of much study and attention to the Word, very commendable brother), as the evidence it gives as to how the articles we accept as "given" guide our investigations.

Your observation Bruce deserves more commending than my study. This really is the end result of the issue at hand and was not sure anyone would see it. I firmly believe that we often let our "articles" or traditional "systems" under grid our interpretation of Scripture. Though this is not necessary a bad thing (for the hermeneutical spiral is always at work), however it can at times hinder us from seeing a teaching that has not been clothed in our “western” or “traditional” apparel.

Jim
 
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