Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Biblical Leadership Thoughts

I had a wonderful time with a church in Southwest Missouri last night. They have organized a task force to discuss their leadership structure. The pastor had seen me speak at the 121 Forum last night and asked me and MK to come to the church and talk about biblical church leadership. They are pursuing an elder-form of leadership and wanted some biblical insight. I told them up front that unfortunately the NT does not give us a definitive picture of church organization and leadership. But it does show us some clues as to how the first century church was "managed" or overseen. Our job is to understand as best as we can what the biblical texts were saying to the readers in their context and then see how we can bring these concepts into our context. I mentioned a few verses that mentioned elders, walked through the pertinent passages discussing the qualifications for overseers, discussed spiritual gifts and looked at the definitions of some key terms. I have posted thoughts on this here before but I wanted to post some of the key verses and terms that we discussed last night.
Introductory texts that mention elders and/or overseers in Acts
  • Acts 13.15 (elders or synagogue rulers)
  • Acts 14.23 - mentions elders of churches
  • Acts 15.2, 22 - mentions Apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem
  • Acts 20.28 - mentions overseers whose job it is to shepherd their flocks
Key texts discussing qualifications of overseers
  • 1 Tim. 3.1-7 - interesting thing here, only two responsibilities mentioned: being able to teach and being a good manager of one's house (important when you realize that a church was probably meeting in an overseer's home)
  • 1 Tim 5.17-21 - elders are worthy of double honor, especially those who preach and teach (implying to me, that not all elders/overseers were to have teaching ministries, just able to teach)
  • Titus 1.5-9 - very similar to the list in 1 Timothy 3
Some related (but not necessarily looked at) verses dealing with oversight
  • 1 Thes. 5.12-13 - "...those who are over you..." work hard among you, acknowledge those who are working hard and managing the affairs of the church.
  • 1 Cor. 16.15-16 - once again, someone had stepped up and served the church (probably a wealthy member, Stephanas) and this person should be acknowledge as a leader.
These previous verses point out to me that leadership roles are necessarily job descriptions that need to be filled, in the early church it was people who were doing the work of oversight and protection in the church and Paul tells the congregation to recognize their leadership.

Some key terms
  • Overseer - this is the term that Paul uses most often to discuss leadership roles in the church. Implies a managers, guardian, caretaker.
  • Elder - comes more from Paul's Jewish background, should probably be looked at almost synonymously as overseer.
  • Pastor - this is our default term of leadership, but it is not the default term for Paul. I believe it refers more to a function (caregiving) than to an office or position.
I then briefly mentioned some spiritual gifts that are related to leadership
  • the one who leads - Rom. 12.8
  • helpers - 1 Cor. 12.28
  • guidance - 1 Cor. 12.28
I was asked about the "husband of one wife" stipulation from 1 Timothy 3 and can a divorced person be a deacon. I pointed out that the verse was pointing more toward a person being faithful in his marriage and not really mentioning divorce. If you want to put that qualifications (never divorced) don't use this passage, you will have to walk through other passages.

I was also asked about women. I discussed Rom. 16.1-2. Phoebe is mentioned as a patron in verse two. That means to me that she exercised some type of oversight in her church (she was probably a sponsor of a church that met in her home). Does that mean she was a lead teacher (or teaching elder), I can't say, but she probably displayed some of the qualities that fit an overseer. That is basically what the word for patron (or benefactor in some translations, which is a better translation than helper) meant in that context. It comes from the same root as "the one who leads) in Rom. 12.8.

Like I said, great time. I hope I have more opportunities to do this kind of thing with churches. Great questions from them. Could have gone longer (but we spent 2.5 hours on it as we did). They said they'd have us back when we get to look at some of this. Looking forward to it.

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