Thursday, June 28, 2007

Express the Manifold Grace

An interesting post has spurred me to think about the subject of church leadership, in particular the gifts associated with it and how they come into expression over the life of a church. Despite the relative clarity of the scriptures about the subject, there seems to be a lot of fog surrounding it, so I'll add my two cents over my next couple of posts and hopefully not add any dry ice to the bucket.

Today, almost everyone exercising church leadership is called a pastor, as if the responsiblity and authority of church leadership (bishop/elder) tracked congruently and exclusively with the gift of pastor/teacher. That is unfortunate because I think it clouds the scripture and confounds our practice. I don't see that as what was ocurring in the biblical church, nor is it what is suggested in Ephesians 4. In that passage we are told that leadership could come from any of four (or five depending on your take on the passage) gifts or, perhaps, even a combination of those four/five gifts. All four are are the subjects of the leadership action which prepares God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Properly applied, this passage means a church could be led (bishop/elder) by an apostle, or a prophet, or an evangelist, or a pastor/teacher.

That is, in fact, what happens in practice, regardless of whether or not our theology describes it that way. Although we call them pastor if they lead a church, their true gift is going to make itself known in the execution of their duties. A church "pastored" by an evangelist is likely to stress the invitational message reaching the unbelieving. A church "pastored" by a prophet is likely to stress the revelatory message. A church "pastored" by an apostle is likely to stress getting the church planted. A church "pastored" by a pastor/teacher is likely to stress discipleship.

I think that explains the imbalance we often see in church ministry. Our response to one-sided church emphases is sometimes criticism, but I think what we need is understanding from churches about this reality in the nature of their church leadership, and a willingness from clergy to embrace the giftings of others that can balance their own. I truly do not believe that diversity in leadership gifts is meant to produce handicapped churches, as it often seems to, but instead full-bodied expressions of the manifold grace of God.

7/6/07 Addendum:
An interesting take on the subject.


  1. Abso-flippin-lutley!

    I just HATE being called Pastor, and it being assumed that I have a pastoral gifting. Really! Maybe I do? I really don't know. But God hasn't confirmed it yet so what gives anybody else the right? And there's loads of other gifting bubbling around inside this particular jar of clay.

    The leadership qualification is more about character and faithfulness than gifting. I may be flying in the face of convention but I don't even see any Biblical instruction that those with ministry gifts are to lead as elders - only to serve the church so that it is built up. Of course many who have a matured ministry gift have the character and faithfulness qualifications for eldership, but it doesn't follow that they have to be elders, and it doesn't follow that elders have to have a ministry gift.

    To assume that anybody who is a "leader" or an "elder" is a "pastor" is just plain ridiculous to anybody whose read their Bible.

    Thanks for writing on this!

  2. A church must have a designated head (under Christ). I agree that the head can be someone gifted as a pastor/teacher, evangelist, prophet, or apostle.Regardless of which gifting is dominant in that head, I believe he or she will exhibit some skills of the other giftings.

    I have been doing some reading on the need for the apostolic ministry. The following is a quote by Apostle Frank Dupree. "In our churches today those ministers whom we call 'pastor' are being called to shift to the Apostolic Leadership so the Church can strategically move towards advancing the Kingdom of God." His view point is that pastors today are basically the ones who feed the congregation and see to their needs. This is their duty, but does little to equip and send out to perpetuate the Gospel in the world. In this, I agree with him.

  3. Sista C,
    In my next post on the subject I'll deal with the issue of extension in leadership gifts. It will touch on the matter of crossover talents which you allude to in your comment.

    Apostolic ministry has been a hot topic over the last couple of decades. I'm not quite sure what to make of some of what I've heard and read. I'll attempt to deal with that as well, but there is certainly some mystery remaining the subject.

    Incidentally, I stumbled on to some of your other websites (interesting stuff), hence the change in the spelling of your name on my blogroll. Sorry for having it mispelled for so long!

  4. With all due respect to Sister Cala, I'm not certain a church Body needs a head other than Christ. Plenty of Christian communities exist where no one person takes charge. We're the Body of Christ, right? Which piece of your body is in charge? If Christ is the head, then no other part is!

    National Geographic has an interesting story in its July 2007 article on swarm theory and how it can be used to run an organization. I've been in churches where the people defer to the Holy Spirit to lead and everyone follows that lead. It works surprisingly well, certainly better than many hierarchical leadership structures.

  5. Dan,
    Sista Cala and myself both share an association with the Assemblies of God. Throughout the history (since 1914) of this fellowship, its churches have been congregational in polity but under the oversight of an elected pastor (I believe this is true for many other denominations as well). There is more experimentation with co-pastoring and team leadership of late, but by and large, we still believe that the pastor is the head of the church. As one of my A/G Bible College professors was fond of saying, "anything with more than one head is a freak!" Whether or not that represents a biblical model is certainly open to debate.

    Historically, I don't feel there's been a lot to recommend hierarchical structures in the church. The fruit of such has been less than tasty. Strategically, it seems an approach fraught with danger, for only one has to be undermined or misdirected by the devil to bring the whole into dysfunction.

    I have read that article, found it interesting. I’ve always felt a certain affinity to the ideal of humanly headless, Holy Spirit directed church life. One would think people actually born of and filled with the Spirit would be able to take direction from that Spirit, without having cohesion problems, nor requiring a human voice to tell them what to do next. Whereas the rules of thumb expounded in chapter 14 (about worship gatherings) would seem to have anticipated swarm theory, the difficulties addressed throughout the rest of the letter makes me doubt whether or not it could be applied to all aspects of church life. Somewhere down the line, I think we’d be bound to need the “ministry” of referee or judge.

  6. SLW,

    Perhaps you can better help me understand your thinking? In a previous post you commented on the Apostles and mentioned that they ceased with the closing of the canon. Now your suggesting they have a legitimate role in the church today. Maybe we understand Scripture the same way but clarity would be helpful. For the record, I don't subscribe to the concept of "Apostolic succession" in any manner especially the Catholic one. However, in my experience apostles (notice small a) are ones gifted by God to advance the gospel, establish churches. They then take on a responsibilty of that fellowship by caring for it's welfare with careful contact while at the same time establishing another church. Many of our missionaries are apostles in disguise. The modern trend towards an "apostolic reformation" concerns me with it's many self appointed apostles. Anyway, do you agree?

  7. Anon,
    You'll have to help me out, I don't recall such a post and can't find one through the search utility. If you can you direct me to the incidence you remember, I'd be happy to respond.

    If it's any help, I do not subscribe to the doctrine of Apostolic succession. I find no basis for it in the scriptures, and IMHO, it serves only those already in "power" and never the body. The difference between Apostle and apostle has to do with the unique circumstance of being personally appointed by Jesus on the one hand (Apostle), or being anointed by the Spirit and confirmed by the body on the other (apostle). Church planting missionary is a workable definition.

    The contemporary approach to apostolic reformation or restoration worries me a bit. In attempting to recreate something that was historically unique, I think its proponents wind up tilting at windmills. It seems to me that it’s primarily concerned with the personal authority of the apostle, so how are the networks established by its practice different essentially than hierarchical denominations? If that is the case, it's nothing but the same old same old. Deep in my heart, I find no peace at the thought of any one or any body not in the local church exercising control over the local church.

  8. Here is what I was refering to: A comment you left under post entitled Good Heathen Counsel.

    "As far as Apostolic authority goes, it cannot be replicated. The faith was once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3), and that was sufficient for the age of the church. If Peter considered himself the Pope, he certainly left no record of it. So called apostolic succession has been nothing but a disaster for biblical Christianity, leading the masses over the cliff following the "authorities" like lemmings."

  9. slw, I like that your post alludes to a recognition of a five-fold ministry in the Body of Christ. I'm not sure of your pastor/evangelist, pastor/apostle, etc. formulation. The book of Acts doesn't appear to synergize the offices like that, e.g., Agabus was a prophet, not a prophetic pastor. Paul was a teacher, prophet, apostle, but never called a pastor.

  10. Peter,
    Welcome, it's great to have you here at the Sound! The formulation of a pastor as any of the five-fold ministry has more to do with our contemporary conception that calls any church leadership, "pastor" rather than the Bible setting up that pattern. We do have biblical examples of an Apostle serving as an elder (2 & 3 John) and an evangelist serving as a deacon (Acts 21:8). When you check out my conception of extension leading to expansion of gifts (next post), hopefully you'll see the construct is neither far-fetched nor the dearth of biblical comment on it unreasonable in view of the place the biblical church was in at that point in its development.

  11. Great post slw. While I don't believe in Apostolic succession as the Catholics teach, I do believe apostles are still very much alive today: they just don't make a big deal about on their business cards!

    I also would submit that a genuine apostle, planted in a local church would help lead that congregation into new levels of Spirit life.

  12. David,
    Always nice to hear from an evangelist! It is good to know that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. If he had a perfect plan then, why did any of us think he would change it? The five-fold gifts are alive and well and moving in power throughout planet Earth.

  13. but it's not easy being an evangelist...because the only true ministry in the AG are pastors and Youth Pastors....(forgive the sarcasm, I've been reading a lot of JC's writings:)


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