This has been a question asked by a couple people, “What does Church leadership look like?” I am so unfit to answer this question. Before we even talk about leadership, we need to ask what do we mean by “church?” There is a lot to unpack.
When you ask someone what church is, they will typically tell you it is the people. Then you ask them about their church and they will tell you about programs, events, buildings, sermons, worship music, and other things that really make you wonder how much they truly believe that the church is the people. Lets get this one clear: the church is not a building. You might meet in a building, you might meet in a living room, you might meet at a different place each week, but where you meet does not in any way, shape, or form tell us one iota about your “church.” The church is first and foremost the people of God, coming together frequently in fellowship together.
In the midst of frequent fellowship, and in the midst of adversity of life lived together, we find ourselves in a strange place. Questions come from the devil asking whether these people even like you. He tempts and taunts and earns his title as “the accuser of the brethren.” Nothing short of complete transparency and honesty will help to overcome that hurdle. When we can be united in a way that we are able to confess our faults one to another, and honestly tell each other when we have felt wronged or when the devil has been speaking his deceptions into our ear, it is precisely at that moment that we have stepped out from being an institution and into being an apostolic reality.
Our lives and characters are to be interwoven in a way that you cannot see me without seeing the other members of my community. You cannot tell where the one begins and the other ends. When you hear me speaking about a certain subject, I have not come to this knowledge independent, but instead in the midst of corporate wrestling. We all have a word, a song, a prophecy, a tongue, an interpretation of that tongue, a cry, a burden, a hope, a love, a message that cuts through all the crap, and most of all, we all have hearts yearning for a coming Kingdom. In that context, when we meet, we don’t listen to the one man who has prayed, but instead we listen to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches through this man, and that woman, and these brothers, and those couples, and even the children. God speaks through each and every one, or He doesn’t speak at all. Even in silence, we can be speaking the very word of God.
This brings me to another question often asked: How do you maintain order? We have set up “church” so that we have the worship, a little bit of announcements, and then the sermon, and then we all “fellowship” or leave. How is it that if there is no set schedule that we will have order?
It is not a cop out when I say that the Holy Spirit gives order. When we take off our control and allow Him to be in control, we find that the amount of order is amazing. Our time together can actually be more ordered and seamless when He is in control than when we are in control. The problem is this: often we let go of control and God is not in it. What happens when the Holy Spirit does not come in our midst to have authority and lead? Is God required to take the authority over the meeting?
When we come together, if there is no order, it is not because we haven’t set up rules and bounds and guides, or that we lack leadership. The reason that there might be a lack of order is actually a spiritual issue. For those that have kept their hearts and are following the Spirit, there will be order. But if we have spent our Saturdays watching the football game, and have neglected prayer and the Bible, then it is no wonder that we need a system in order to keep from going berserk.
The quality of our life lived before God is no greater than the quality of the life we live together. When our lives together are constituted by seeing one another once or twice a week, we’ve already shown our cards. When we “fellowship” by playing games and watching movies together, we’ve already shown our lack. When we need some sort of entertainment to sit together for multiple days back to back, then our quality of life together is quite poor. How is it that the same eternal Spirit that is at work in me is at work in you, but we can’t even find something to talk about? How is it that so often what we talk about and discuss has no eternal weight to it? How is it that we are far more intrigued with the ball game than we are with what it means to have a corporate character of holiness?
I say these things to our shame.
And then we want to talk about how we need church leadership. The leadership is often times equally as wanting in character and life as the person in the pew. The only difference is that you have a man or woman that is now a toddler in the faith that is able to lead the infants. This is not true of every congregation, but it is certainly true for the majority. Church leadership is born out of the intensity of life lived together. When we have wrestled with these first and foundational issues of how to even come together frequently, then we can start discussing leadership.
Leadership is never something that we promote because of a title, education, or credential. It is based on one thing, and one thing only: the word of God. When the credentials are met according to the Bible, and when that word comes from heaven to say, “Separate unto me…” then we shall know who the leaders are. God appoints the elders and deacons. He appoints the pastors and teachers. If it weren’t for the assured times when discipline is necessary, you would not even know who the elder is and who the layman is. They are one together.
Submission to authority is thus a submission to the Holy Spirit. Those that are to be great among us are to be our servants. Just as Jesus did not come to be served, but instead to serve, so we are to serve one another. Those that God has appointed as elders are in actuality very rarely the ones that “stand a head and shoulder above all others” (reference to King Saul). Typically God chooses the servant and the least of all. That does not mean the least educated or least knowledgable, but the one that does not identify himself or herself as anything worthy of such a title. The one that does not desire to be sent out and speak to the world as a prophet is the one chosen as a prophet. Why? Because God knows that that man or woman will not speak their words, but will instead remain humble and speak only the words God has given. Likewise, the servant, the one that is truly humble, will not seek to somehow lord over anyone else when they are given authority, but will instead have the authority because of the anointing of the Spirit. They will not govern according to the way that the world governs, but instead have a different disposition: one that asks how Jesus leads; one that asks what it means to rule and reign in the Kingdom of God.
In this manner, God has made it that those who lead are not always those that are most qualified. It is a humbling to those that are more qualified to then submit to the authority. The authority, by the way, is never a man with a title – even one given of God – but instead a submission to the Holy Spirit. If the youngest and newest convert speaks a word that is cogent and drips with anointing, no matter how much we desire to scoff and say we’re the elder or we know more, we bend the knee and submit to that word or rebuke that has come from even the babe in Christ.
The oldest is not too far from being rebuked by the youngest. All are able to speak into one another’s lives, because what is more important than leadership is apostolic character. Our greatest pursuit is that we do not offend the Holy Spirit of God, which is to say that we we live solely for the glory of God. Anything less than the glory of God is apostasy, and we will not settle. Our leaders are to be those that have discernment to know when a word is truly coming from God and when it is coming from the flesh. These are men that might not know everything as far as knowledge goes, but they do know God. They do know His presence. They do know His power. They do know His Spirit.
Because the leadership has cherished that Spirit that is within them, they are able to see the false a mile away. Any kind of false humility, false speaking, false prophecy, false hope, or false spirit is utterly opposed. And know that it is never the person that is attacked, but the spirit of deception. We speak the truth in love to one another. That doesn’t mean that we are somehow timid or wimpy. We can speak boldly and confidently without assailing.
In the context of community, in the midst of adversity of life together, we find an unusual calling. How can we even be to each other what we ought when our privacy is taken away? How can we show each other love when all of the luxuries that we’ve enjoyed up to now are no longer legitimate? It takes a certain kind of stamina and love for the truth to endure this. When we are willing to submit to that love of truth over our personal ambition, then we have come to a place where maybe we can start asking questions about church leadership. Out of that Body that is consecrated to the Lord, and has been sanctified through the outworking of His Spirit in the midst of that Church, God will speak, “Separate unto me.” There will be no question of who the elders or pastors or teachers or deacons or leadership are. It will be blatantly obvious if we are indeed in the Spirit.
I hope that this answers some of those questions about leadership, authority, and submission to that leadership and/or authority.