Tag Archives: church leadership

Reassessing Church Leadership

I just read “The Dirt on Organic” by Brian Hofmeister. It appeared in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal (April, 2010). Brian talks about his experience of planting and leading organic churches.

I don’t know Brian, but I think he makes some excellent points in the article—while I don’t agree with everything—points that those who are still reacting to the abusive top-down leadership in “institutional” Christianity will fail to see. Why? I believe it’s primarily because they’re still caught up with trying to weed out “pagan Christianity” and doing their best to re-imagine a church utopia on the earth.

Many well-intentioned, Christ-loving folks are still stuck in the world of ideas. I could say it’s a bit of cynicism and immaturity (I guess I just did), but I don’t want that to sound arrogant or rude. I’m not trying to be. But I do think that’s what was going on in me when I once believed organization and pronounced leadership was the real problem.

I don’t believe that anymore.

In the end, it’s jumping from one extreme to the other. I think it needs to be realized that there is nothing wrong with more of a pronounced leadership (e.g. the Jerusalem church). As far as I can tell, from being on both sides of this, you will not grow (spiritually or numerically) beyond a certain point without more of a pronounced leadership. And I don’t see that there is anything inherently wrong with this.

The “Gentile” leadership, which Jesus spoke of, was heavy-handed, power-over, carry a big stick kind of ruling (Mark 10:42). Pronounced leadership doesn’t have to be that way. It just doesn’t. I don’t care how many bad experiences a person has had in the organized or even “institutional” expressions of the church.

Based on my study and reflection, I think the reason you don’t see more pronounced leadership in the first century is because the churches were young and dependent upon the leadership of apostles. What happens when the eyewitness and first-followers are gone? Well, naturally there is leadership that rises up to meet the challenges of the church. You can read about this in any church history book. That leadership organizes quickly after the death of the apostles.

Was every development of that leadership good? No. For example, I don’t think that adopting Roman governmental hierarchy as a model where bishops have absolute authority is a good idea. It turned out to be a terrible move by the second century church. But I do understand how it happened. And no… you can’t blame it all on Constantine.

For all of its ugliness, it did help in the defense against Gnosticism and the articulation of Christian theology on behalf of the illiterate mass of Christians at that time. This was a church trying to respond to explosive growth (approx. 5-10 million by 325 AD) during intense persecutions and poisonous heresies.

I’ve written on this before. I don’t think Paul’s practice and instructions are prescriptive, I believe what we see in the NT is de-scriptive. We do not have a church manual. There is room for some development, though not outside of Christ. I don’t find this being unfaithful to the Gospel. In fact, I think we have been guilty of restricting the Gospel of Jesus instead of being creative and expansive in our implementation of it.

So, while I don’t support the abusive power-over tyranny of some pastors and “clergy” members, or the wasteful spending of “mega churches” in America, to move from that to imagining that all leadership must be from a guy who denies he’s a leader, shuns monetary blessing as being satanic, and is under the delusion that a form or model of church is going to magically solve all the dilemmas that face us now is just idealistic jargon.

What happens to these folks who aren’t willing to grow out of that? Well, I think it ends up just like the author of this article reports. We’re back to square one. I have seen and personally heard the same things from those who have followed the “Finding Organic Church” blueprint. There is much to learn from familial fellowships where leadership isn’t as pronounced, but let’s not imagine that pronounced leadership is the enemy.

Here’s the way I see it. You can keep trying to implement these idealistic views of leadership and church life, or you can move forward rejoicing wherever others are seeking to know and imitate Christ in community. I recommend simply following Christ as faithfully as you know how, and to enjoy him in deep Trinitarian community.

Let’s keep that in mind when reassessing church leadership.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

Advertisements

1 Cor 14:26 Descriptive or Prescriptive?

I have been known as a proponent of “organic” church life for several years now. Due to the confusion over this now popular nuanced term (cp. Sparks, Cole, & Viola’s usage), I have decided to stop using it when describing the sort of church life that is to be enjoyed by all Christian communities in every cultural context until Christ returns.

It’s just not worth having to respond to all of the questioners with, “Well, what I mean by it is…” It was helpful (at least to me) for a while, but not so much anymore. I do still use it when I’m among close friends, but other than that it only becomes one more obstacle in communication.

I must admit that over the last year or so I have been led to believe that some dear saints run the risk of promoting organic church life at the expense of Christ and unity among all believers—as well as promoting Christ while attached to a specific church model (though they would claim they are not promoting a model) or even a “no order at all” approach.

The first group is likely not aware that they have bound Christ to a rigid church order. And the later group, while talking a lot about Christ, is mostly concerned with maintaining no set order in their meetings. No order has become their order. They will do nothing that even comes close to resembling organized Christianity (a person standing to deliver a message longer than 10-15 minutes is definitely out!).

If that fellowship doesn’t change its reactionary thinking, it will eventually meet its demise. Hopefully, there will be enough folks who grow tired of just chatting about Jesus over coffee for a couple hours a week to bring about a healthy change.

I found that it is possible to begin with a new vision of Christ in community, only later to gravitate toward an “us vs. them” mentality. Of course, it might have always been a mix of both—some days more of this, other days more of the other. I have become sensitive to those thoughts of mine that set myself above another person that clearly loves Jesus, but is just currently being faithful to Christ in a different setting.

Christ in Community

Looking back over the last several years of study, reflection, and experience, I’m convinced that the NT reveals some basic principles concerning church life that can be summed up like this: Everything should look like Christ and build up the saints (Eph 4:16; 1 Jn 2:6).

Beyond that, there is no church law. There is no restrictive law that says, “You can’t do that!” Nor is there the libertarian law that says, “Anything goes!” The law is Christ… Christ in community.

Regardless of what side of the church fence you’re on (organized or organic), you may think my “no law” declaration needs a qualifier. Well, I just don’t think so. Anything beyond “Christ in community” leads to divisions among us, and becomes self-righteousness dressed in the garb of the centrality and supremacy of Christ. It’s time we stop it.

“Christ in community” does involve what some have called a NT pattern. But let’s be clear, the principles of that pattern are known only in an examination of the person and work of Christ. Failing to closely examine and take serious the life and teachings of Christ is something that both institutional and organic churches do regularly.

Both groups have isolated and eisegeted (read things into) certain texts to promote their church order, all the while neglecting the life and teachings of Jesus, the very center of our faith.

For example, when his disciples were arguing over who would be greatest in the kingdom, Jesus made it very clear that true leadership was not reflected in the “top-down” hierarchal leadership seen with the politicians and corporations of the world (Mk 10:35-45; Jn 13). No, you can’t have a nation of priests when one person, other than Jesus himself, gets to be the “high” priest and the inheritor of special treatment, and regular monetary blessings.

Therefore, a prime example of the Jesus prescription—the one that goes to the heart of what’s wrong with organized religion—is that anything that doesn’t look like servant-leadership, or creates an unhealthy dependence upon one human priest, leads to spiritual paralysis in the body of Christ.

Whatever each local ekklesia decides about the role and function of pastor/teachers today, our conclusions should always be based upon the example of Christ and what he said about leadership. Church practice should always reflect the person and work of Christ among his first disciples.

Paul in Community?

What about Paul, you ask? Well, what about Paul? Paul’s idea of community comes by merely expounding upon Christ. Therefore, viewing anything Paul says as a rigid “prescriptive” order for the church in every age, when Paul is merely describing a communal life that flows out of Christ, is to put forth a law other than Christ himself.

Jesus is the only prescription for the church in every age.

That isn’t to say that Paul can’t tell us anything about church order in the 21st century. By no means! Instead, it means that Paul should be read as an apostle who guides each church to creatively adhere to the life and teachings of Jesus in their own unique context.

In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul addresses the believers at Corinth concerning their disorderly meetings. If the saints in Corinth were not squabbling over spiritual gifts, we likely would not even have Paul saying anything about order for the church. So notice, the pattern is given in a context of disorder and division over the way things ought to be done.

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.  1 Cor 14:26 NIV

The pattern here is not that all these things, and nothing else, should happen in a church meeting. It’s simply what was happening in Corinth at this moment in time. Paul was not intending to say that every church meeting for all time should always look like what is described here (i.e. every single meeting should always and forever be open-participatory).

No, the pattern for every generation is always and only Christ.

So, what does Christ look like in this particular gathering? He looks like ordered sharing, not disrespectful neglect of others and their gifts (14:27-33). It’s this open-participatory meeting, and only this type of meeting, that we hear Paul addressing with his guidance.

We should not gather from the NT that there is never a place for a meeting set aside to hear a teacher. Paul’s concern in this open meeting is that Christ would not have chaos and disrespect of others when meeting in such an intimate familial setting. I imagine that he might have said something similar in spirit if there was a church who opted to have teaching times in a larger setting. He apparently was cool with this sort of thing when he held his own “apostolic meetings” (Acts 20:7).

There is no church manual that prescribes the activity and function of church meetings. Even if you were to gather up all of the “one another” verses of the NT, you are still not given a rigid order of how things must be done in a church meeting. To force that upon the NT is not only promoting an agenda, it undermines the only prescription, which is Christ.

Biblical scholar and “house church” attendee, Robert Banks, writes:

“The basic principle that Paul lays down for the conduct of the church is that all things should be done for edification. Only when a contribution has this as its object should it be exercised” (Paul’s Idea of Community, 100).

Jesus (and Paul) leaves a great deal of freedom to all local churches. However, that freedom will in the long run never undermine Christ expressed throughout the entire priesthood of believers over the many seasons of the church.

D.D. Flowers, 2011.


Corinthian Elders (Book Review)

New Testament Elders
A Book Review of: “Corinthian Elders” by Jack Fortenberry

In his book”Corinthian Elders,” Jack Fortenberry delivers one more strong defense for the functioning of elders in the New Testament fashion. This book is a “biblical examination” of specific Pauline rhetoric on the teaching and practice of church leadership.

Fortenberry skillfully expounds on the various events that caused divisions throughout the local churches of the New Testament. In particular, he draws our attention to the unhealthy desire and practice of leaders that was wreaking havoc on first-century churches and still plagues us today.

The author crafts a vivid account of the issues facing these churches and presents the reader with solid evidence as to how authority “over” the saints severs the branches from the Vine that is Christ.

Are there leaders in the New Testament church? Absolutely. However, this leadership looks like Christ and allows others to know Christ as head of the church. It makes room for all the gifts to be equally shared among the saints.

Fortenberry suggests that this is one of the greatest threats to the unity in the church at Corinth: division caused by an infatuation with eloquent preachers and teachers.

“by submitting to leaders as a substitute for our fellowship with one another, we will loosen our hold on Christ.” (p.43)

I have read many books on church restoration and organic church life. I recommend this little book to those who are convinced that something is definitely wrong with the top-down model of leadership within the church today and rightfully need to be persuaded by the very words of Scripture that there is another way.

If you are the least bit concerned about the centrality and supremacy of Christ being known in the local church, then give this book a read with your New Testament in hand.

I also recommend reading:
The Untold Story of the New Testament Church: An Extraordinary Guide to Understanding the New Testament
Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices
Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity
The Normal Christian Church Life
Going to the Root: Nine Proposals for Radical Church Renewal
Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in Their Cultural Setting, Revised Edition


%d bloggers like this: