Leadership Within Each Church

As far as the individual congregations were governed, we can make the following generalizations:

1) Most churches were governed by a number of presbyters (elders) that, at least initially, had been appointed by the apostles.

2) Each church was to elect it's own leadership from then on. Pastors (commonly called bishops) were not assigned there from a headquarters.

3) The office of deacon was given to those who ministered in the more mundane affairs of the ministry.

The primary qualification for being a presbyter or the bishop of a congregation was CHARACTER, rather than charisma or giftedness. The qualifications listed in Timothy and Titus are largely based on the consistent character of an individual. This again is in contrast to our contemporary churches, where sparkle, shine and a deep booming voice seem to cover a multitude of character defects, like pride, greed, and selfish ambition. The role of a servant leader cannot be over-emphasized in relation to what we value today. Jesus had given specific commands in regard to the demeanor of a minister, and repudiated the idea that a leader in His church need to be endowed with a lofty title or occupy a high position before men.

One of the very first post-apostolic letters we have is from Clement of Rome (97 A.D) to the leadership at Corinth, regarding a "coup d'etat" that took place in that church. From what we can tell, some young, highly gifted men wrested the leadership from the rightful elders, and deposed them. Clement and the elders at Rome are writing to them in a plea to step down from their unlawfully acquired offices, and return the true elders to their positions. We hear echoed throughout the letter, that character traits like humility and integrity are what God requires, regardless of one's ability to display the more spectacular "spiritual gifts". Regarding this controversy over leadership, Clement writes:

Our apostles also knew, through the Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on the account of the office of episcopate. For this reason, therefore, insomuch as He had perfect fore-knowledge of this...gave instructions, that when they (the apostles) should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in the ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them (the apostles) or other eminent men, with the consent of the whole church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of many cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry.

It is clear that the apostolic rule would be that those appointed by other presbyters as ministers, provided that they govern with the congregation's consent and are blameless in service according to Biblical tradition, rightfully are to hold the position of "bishop" or "pastor". It is in America becoming increasingly common for churches to oust or fire their pastors. Although sometimes this is justifiable, the frequency in which this is happening begs the question as to where the process is breaking down. Are American Christians too demanding of what they expect from their pastors? Or is the quality of pastor sub-standard to what is required for the position? It is impossible to say if either statement is true, but what cannot be denied is that both pastors and congregations alike have down-played the tremendous value of character, integrity and stability, and instead focused on qualities such as eloquence, oratory style, charisma, and humor as essential traits for it's leaders. We have all certainly seen churches rent asunder because the congregation was mesmerized by the preaching ability of a pastor, who happened to lack the aforementioned traits that truly count.

Particularly in many independent churches today, where there may be great diversity in what comes to the pulpit, we need to resist the urge to equate showmanship with spirituality. An individual who may create quite a stir with exhilarating stories, demonstrations of the "miraculous", and can move crowds with emotional appeal may be entertaining for some, but that doesn't make necessarily a good pastor. Man judges by what he sees, but God looks at the heart.

Priesthood of All Believers

Perhaps the only other dimension regarding church leadership that should be the practical role of leadership with respect to the rest of the congregation. We have become very used to having our churches led and run by full-time clergy, and most of the congregation takes a passive role. It is exceptional in many churches to have a significant involvement of the "laity". In the New Testament church, and into the early apostolic church, there is evidence that such distinctions were blurred, and may even not existed at all. The roles of Bishop, Presbyter, Deacon, were developed very early, yet it is not clear if we would define those roles as being held by "professionals" or titles assigned to qualified "laity".

Besides the historical roles of Bishop/Presbyter/Deacon that we see in the early church, we know that the offices of Apostle/Prophet/Evangelist/Pastor-Teacher were still in existence into the 2nd century. The Didache gingerly attempts to provide directives as to whom should receive support and first-fruit offerings when there is both an itinerant prophet as well as a bishop in a particular church. Historically there was also Lector (readers), exorcists, singers, and a host of other recognized ministries in the early church. This all points to a significant amount of involvement by the congregation in the ministry of each church. Over several centuries, there was a move to restrict the "laity" from service in the church. The rationale was that, in the temple in the Old Testament, only the Levites were allowed to serve, and only the priests could minister. The emphasis upon the ministry of a unique priesthood is called "sacerdotalism". Irenaeus refuted this position in Against Heresies, Book 4 , VIII:3. He said that "all the righteous possess the sacerdotal rank. And all of the apostles are priests, who inherit neither land nor houses." According to him, everyone in Christ has a ministry that is necessary to the body of Christ. We are told in Ephesians 4:12 that the ultimate end of the ministries established in the church is so that the saints may be equipped for the work of ministry. The fruit of this is the maturity and unity of the whole body of Christ, and the establishing of that body in love. Consequently, we should make every effort to find our respective areas of giftedness, and fully invest ourselves in the God-ordained service that we have in our local assembly.

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