The whole relationship between honour, leadership and the release of gifting within the body is a vital and pressing issue in our day. This is so for the journey we are on as a local church and - if my perception is right - for the body of Christ generally. At a time where models of hierarchy and cultures of command and control are being challenged and great value rightly placed on liberating and empowering God's people, this relationship needs to be negotiated carefully. While we reject hierarchy, we still believe in authority (rightly understood) and leadership. Not all leadership is an attempt to control and take away freedom. In fact, I suggest aspects of leadership are essential for ensuring freedom and harmony in the body, for enabling the choreography of freedom and community, of empowerment and service.
Let me suggest a couple of things prompted by the passage I have been looking at in Romans 12. Firstly, note that leadership is placed as just one example of gifting in the body among the others that Paul lists (v.8). And the word used - proistemi - is the one used of 'ruling', governing, overseeing etc.that is used, for example, of elders (1 Tim.5:17), though it could be extended to other kinds of leadership. This tells me that there should be no sense of leadership as a rung up near the top of the ladder in a hierarchy; but it also tells me it needs to be valued and honoured like all the other gifts. It has its vital part to play within the body.
Secondly, Paul, in giving them these instructions, does not do so on the basis of an appeal to authority (there is a mis-translation of v.3 in the NLT) but on an appeal to the grace - charis - given him. The apostle is not asserting authority, or demanding honour, but is making an appeal to them in such a way that he gives them the opportunity to recognise the grace gifting within him. It is an opportunity to honour - recognise, value and be willing to receive from - his grace gifting as an apostolic leader. The more we can see leadership in terms of gift and not rank the better we will be able to negotiate this really important relationship.
In my next post I hope to say a little more about this by returning to the idea of the dance of leadership, and of community, as a way of exploring this creative but delicate balance of freedom and honour.