T. PIERCE BROWN
In recent years we have read many articles about leadership in the church. Almost everyone has a particular viewpoint he wants to emphasize, and this is appropriate. No one can ever tell all there is to tell about anything, much less about such a broad subject as this. However, there is always a danger in emphasizing any particular truth in such a way that there will be a lack of emphasis on another truth that is equally important. If such a trend continues, eventually false doctrines will develop. The doctrine of baptismal regeneration, salvation by faith only, salvation by grace only, and many other false doctrines started this way. Most denominations, and many schisms in the church are a result of such imbalance.
Of course this article will do the same. That is, I will emphasize what I think needs emphasizing, leaving equally important truths untouched. In this one, I want to emphasize the need for balance in looking at the question of leadership.
Some who have seen the evils of leadership taking an authoritarian stance, as if their primary function is “calling the shots,” have so written about it as to leave the impression that the elders of a congregation really have very little authority at all. Others have seen this approach as a blow to the God-ordained responsibility of the elders, and have written, sometimes in caustic or bitter language, against that view.
In this article, we shall try to give a balanced view as we see some things the Bible has to say about it. Some key verses are Mark10:42, 43 “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. BUT SO SHALL IT NOT BE AMONG YOU: but whosoever will be great among you shall be your minister.” (That may be why some “Ministers” think they are so great!) Of course the passage simply means that the person who serves the greatest amount in the greatest way IS the greatest. But some have used the passage to teach that no eldership has the right to exercise authority over us! That is false!
It is true that the word “rule” here is from “archein” and is NOT the word used in 1 Tim. 5:17, “Let the elders that rule (proestotes) well be counted worthy of double honor.” And it is NOT the word used in Heb. 13:17, “Obey them that have the rule (hegoumenois) over you, and submit yourselves.” In fact “archo” and its cognates are NEVER used in reference to the work of elders or leaders in the Lord’s church. The primary reason, of course, is seen in the functional synonym of that word, as used in Mk. 10:43, “exercise lordship (katakurieuousin) over them.” This is specifically forbidden in 1 Pet. 5:3, “Neither as being lords over (katakurieuontes) God’s heritage.”
It is also true that “proistemi” (used as the perfect active in 1 Tim.5:17) literally means, “to stand before.” Some have apparently assumed that it means ONLY “to stand before as an example.” But Thayer gives its meanings as “To be over, superintend, preside over, to be a protector or guardian, to give aid, to care for, give attention to.”
The same kind of thing is true with “hegeomai.” It is true that it is translated “count” ten times, and “think” four times in the sense of “consider” and “take an account of.” This suggests that the leaders of a congregation have a primary responsibility to “lead” the flock in the sense of “considering their needs” rather than in the sense of simply “bossing them around.” It is interesting to note that Hebrews13:17tells us to “Obey them that consider your needs and take an account of them, for they watch for your souls as they that must GIVE AN ACCOUNT.” They TAKE account, and take a count, for they must give account. So although it can not be denied that their primary function in “leading” is here “considering their needs,” not merely “calling the shots,” it is still true that the command for US is to “Obey them.”
When one looks at the total picture, (although in this short article we have not), one sees that any leader in the Lord’s church that thinks of his function primarily in terms of his authority to make decisions has a totally improper concept of his role. He is to lead by example and by a consideration of the needs of the flock rather than by the power of authority. But if one assumes that he therefore has no authority to lead, oversee, direct, etc. EXCEPT by the example he sets, one assumes far too much.
To translate loosely what Hebrews13:17says, we might put it this way, “Be persuaded (peithesthe) to follow those who are your shepherds, who are concerned with and considering your needs, and watching for your souls.”
There is a difference in a shepherd who leads his sheep and a cowboy who drives his cattle, and there is a difference between going into the wilderness and bringing the wandering lamb home on the shoulder and riding into the bushes and dragging the maverick out by lassoing him around the neck. But note carefully that although there is a different attitude and action, both the shepherd and the cowboy ARE IN CHARGE OF AND HAVE THE RIGHT TO DIRECT THE ACTIONS OF their flock or herd!
We are persuaded that if there were not so many “Judas goats” among the sheep leading them away, even to the slaughter, or wolves, scattering them (Acts 20:29,30) there would not be as many elderships who think of their job primarily as one of “exercising authority.” Then there would not be as much need to write against “lording it over” the flock.
And we are persuaded that if all the leaders of the flocks had and demonstrated the proper attitude of shepherds rather than cowboys, the chances are there would be fewer stampedes of the herd! In fact, it is very difficult for us to conceive of ANY sensible Christian who would have any difficulty submitting to the “authority” of a leader if the leader had the qualities that deserved emulation, and was recognized as constantly concerned about the real welfare of those whom he was guiding by his humble and Christlike example.
A father who leads his children to do right by his example and the fact that they know his every effort is directed by a loving concern for them, still has AUTHORITY over his children just as much as one whose children do right because he beats them with a rod. Furthermore, he can exercise that authority with far greater effect.
Let us try to make sure we maintain the proper balance between teaching the leadership to have the proper attitude toward their leadership functions and teaching the followers to have the proper attitude toward the authority of the eldership. The longer I live, the more I am impressed with the fact that Jesus always had perfect balance in all things. We would do well to strive to have the mind of Christ in this as well as in all other respects.