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Thursday, 8 November 2012

Bible and Leadership - Patterns and Principles

I have been suggesting that the Bible provides us with fluid and flexible patterns for church structure and leadership that can change and develop according to the culture the church is in, but that there are principles to do with the identity, nature and function of the church that must not be violated  in doing so. Time for some examples.

By nature the church is to be an organic and charismatic community so if we build church in such a way that it becomes an institutional organisation then I think we are beginning to violate principles (There are a lot of terms there that need unpacking but the general point is valid). Given the radical changes in the new covenant, such as the priesthood of all believers, any development which creates a divide between supposed clergy and laity, with vestments, titles etc. is a violation of principles. As is the development of hierarchical leadership, or the politicisation of the church if it gets embroiled with State power, as it first did under the emperor Constantine. 

In contrast, there are ways of ordering local church communities and their leadership for which the New Testament practice is instructive but not prescriptive, partly because of its cultural location. So exactly what we call leaders is not paramount. What are called elders in the NT provide pastoral leadership.  But there are other kinds of leadership and the diverse gifting/perspectives they bring - and Ephesians 4 is vitally important here - are needed to equip the church. Exactly how they work within and toward the churches is not prescribed. The idea of an apostle being 'in charge' of the churches and 'over' the elders in their churches in perpetuity is not prescribed and cannot be justified from the NT: it was much more a case of apostles and elders working in partnership that seems to be the pattern, only requiring a more authoritative approach when things were going wrong. This will be worth exploring more. 

Some worry that such a flexible or loose approach is too vague, but trying to replicate early church, first century practices is much more problematic. And is a faulty way of understanding biblical revelation. With on-going dialogue between Christians, and openness to the Holy Spirit to lead us, this approach of developing patterns without violating principles is a good and valid one.


  1. Whilst you are grappling with this end of the leadership continuum, I have been grappling with the other end - the what is an apostle and how should an apostle relate to the other ministries in the church question - mostly what does it mean to be "first apostles". I am going to blog on it soon, but I think all this eldership stuff flows out of getting the apostle foundation bit right first. Get that right and the rest will start to flow in the right order....i.e. building from a kingdom heavenly perspective and mandate right in a way that honours people and then uses kingdom and spiritual authority to release people into their God given potential and freedom as new creations.

    Just my tuppenny worth.

  2. I'll try to expand on what that "kingdom heavenly perspective" when I write the blog, cos it needs unpacking. But you probably have an idea if we start with the idea of Jesus ministry on the earth, and how he managed people.

  3. Hi Trevor. My friend Gary Jenkins has reflected on this topic here: Worth a read (its short!) surely...SIMON

  4. Look forward to reading what you have to say, Deane. How do I find your blog as when I click on your name it doesn't direct me there?

  5. Thanks for that, Simon. I read what Gary had to say and I understand his reservations because of the models of leadership we have borrowed from the world. For me, though, the issue is not so much with the term leader but what model of leadership we have, and the need to recognise different types of leadership and other ministries. Plurality of leadership and corporeity of gift are vital principles for me. Thank you for widening my perspective beyond my own tradition and stream!