January 18, 2011
Is "Leadership" Biblical? (The Rebuttal)
A few reasons to say "Yes!"
One of my favorite guys and discussion partners in the world, David Fitch, wrote a post giving five reasons he believes the idea of "leadership" as it is currently used is unbiblical. I don't think it was Dave's intention to disown any concept of leadership in the church (regardless of how I may have treated him on Twitter :), but rather to argue against it's misuse.
However, I've noticed in the last few years a real bandwagon of anti-leadership sentiment in some circles. I think it started as a push-back to the "CEO" model/mentality in some, and as such, I'm sympathetic. But from there, it has progressed to where we now have many arguing that any concept of leadership in the church should be avoided.
I am in favor of flattening things as much as is possible, but the truth is there always has been leadership in the church and there always will be. There will always be the community and from that community certain men and women will serve by exercising the role of (depending on how you translate) presbyter, overseer, or elder. And inherent in the concept is a sense of both serving AND leading.
We'll get to that in a second, but first let me respond to Fitch's points against using the term “leadership.”
1. The word "leader" is found and used in the New Testament.
Fitch cops to the "notable exceptions" of Heb 13: 17, 24 (forgetting vs 7, though!)... but then says that other than that, leadership is about diakonia, or service/servants in the NT. I agree that a biblical model of leadership includes servanthood, but it goes beyond that. Far beyond.
Fitch says "The NT on this reading appears to carefully avoid the models of authority available in surrounding society for defining leadership in the church." However, this isn't necessarily true. One of the most common words for leader in the NT, presbuteros, often translated "elder" could and did refer to: 1. members of the great council or Sanhedrin. 2. Those in separate cities managing public affairs and administering justice. 3. Among the Christians, those who presided over the assemblies (or churches). The NT uses the term bishop, elders, and presbyters interchangeably. (here)
It's clear that when describing leadership in the Church, the most common terms were also used of leaders in Judaism (both nationally and in the synagogues) as well as the culture around them.
Further, the command was to "appoint elders (presbuteros) in every city (ie, every church community)." (Titus 1:5) Why? That they might help lead and decide the affairs of the church- 1 Timothy 5:17 -- "Let the elders (PRESBUTEROS) who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine."
Another common phrase which carried connotations of leadership in the NT was episkopos, often translated "bishop." What were the episkopos to do? Among other things "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son."- Acts 20:28
It may be true that the word "leader" is found in only a few places in the NT in relationship to the Church- But when you take the weight and context/usage of the words presbuteros and episkopos along with passages like Heb 13:7, 17, 24 and Gal 2:2, it's clear that there were leaders in the church, and though they may have exercised a leadership that felt different than the "lord it over you" kind Jesus warned us of, it wasn't completely different than leadership outside the church. There were still people appointed to responsibility, they still discerned and decided (Gal 2:2-3) and helped lead the church (Acts 15:22).
2. Fitch says whenever the term "leader" or "leadership" is used in the NT, it is subverted by the church.
He makes the point that leadership in the church has less to do with hierarchy and has more to do with age, wisdom, and maturity. It is something that is never "above the congregation" but always in submission to the body. And while I would agree with the general principle of mutual submission, and that church leadership should be about wisdom and maturity (I don't know about age- seems like that's something that actually is subverted in biblical leadership-1 Tim 4:12), it's also something that is biblically, unilaterally (and carefully, prayerfully, considerately) decided by those already in leadership. How else are we to read verses like Titus 1:5, "The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you." Seems like there's a whole lot of leadership gettin' exercised there. :)
3. I agree with Fitch that the "Pastor as CEO" model is broken.
To look first to Jack Welch and Company before Jesus for instructions as to how to lead in the church is wrong- but within the context of Christ-like and Christ-honoring leadership, in balance with biblical principles of servant leadership, I just have to ask- are there no universal principles of good leadership we can learn from good leaders in the secular world? What happened to "Truth is truth no matter where you find it"?
I love Fitch and his rhetorical hand-grenades. I just see the issue of leadership in the church as one where we are severely prone to a babies and bathwater scenario. I recognize that many have been hurt by the exercising of poor or abusive leadership in the church. But to use that as an excuse to question the whole concept of leadership (which is where I think many will take Fitch on this, even if it's not where he himself was intending to end up) is like questioning the whole concept of fatherhood because you had a crappy dad.