Monday, August 18, 2008

The Gift of Leadership (Romans 12:8)

In the list of gifts (charismata) in Romans 12.6-8, the second to last gift named is “the one who leads.” It is the Greek term ho proistamenos. The primary meaning of this term is to “be at the head (of), rule or direct.” Another nuance to the term is the thought of “standing before or going before someone or something in protection. In a similar vein, it can mean to “be concern about, care for or give aid.”

Some ancient Greek writers used the term to describe someone who presided over the affairs of the state and to describe the chief leaders of a rebellion. In the Greek OT, the word is used to describe a steward (or manager) of a household (Amos 6.10). The Jewish historian Josephus uses the word in the context of governing. In the Apostolic Fathers, the concept is used in the same context with elders in describing those presiding over the church. Other Greek writers used the word to express the idea of one who provides help for the oppressed or someone who watches over and protects like a father.

The majority of commentators on this passage in Romans prefer to understand ho proistamenos as a leader or “one who presides.” In the back of our minds, however, the idea of this person being a “protector” cannot be left out. Alongside of this person’ gifted leadership may also be the thought of a member in the congregation who by virtue of his or her wealth or position in the local community was able to “act as a champion” of the rights of the congregation and its socially “vulnerable” members.

What I think this implies is that God had gifted certain people in the first century to provide the type of leadership, administration and protection the early Christian communities needed. It was not enough to have the position, wealth and status, there had to be the evidence of the Spirit at work in these people harnessing these advantages to benefit the church.

I am next going to look at a few verses in Paul where either this term (or one like it) is used or this concept is expressed concerning leadership in the church. There seems to be (to some) a dichotomy between some of the earlier Pauline letters and church leadership (charismatic) versus later Pauline letters and more formal structured leadership (elder/overseers). The options have been to either say that Paul had developed his understanding of church leadership as reflected in the Pastoral Epistles or that someone other than Paul wrote the Pastorals in his name. I am going to assume Pauline authorship for all of the letters that are ascribed to him. I hope to show that these do not have to be mutually exclusive and that, even in the later seemingly more structured Pauline churches, there is still room for charismatic endowment and the idea of ho proistamenos (“the one who leads”).

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