Dead Body: The Importance of Church Leaders

A story is told of a Body that was attempting to cross the street. A disagreement arose between two Members, Miss Eye and Mr. Foot, as to who should take the lead in the ordeal. Their quarrel only led to more dissension and Mr. Leg soon began insisting that neither were fit for the position. When it seemed that this feud could only end in Bodily harm, Mr. Grayhair inserted himself and demanded silence. “The solution to our problem,” he said haughtily, “is that we have no leader. Let each Member do as he wishes.” The Body was never heard from again.

While it may be clear why this idea didn’t work for the Body, some people seem to think that the ideal church is a leaderless church. They believe Christians can gather and encourage one another without the need for leaders. There are however, two problems with this.

Practically speaking, if you remove the leaders from an organization, it will crumble. Huge companies such as Apple and Amazon would not exist if it were not for their leaders. The local church is, in a sense, like these organizations. Without leaders to carry it forward, it would collapse. However, the larger issue with a leaderless church is that it is not Biblical. God has always used leaders to guide his chosen people throughout history.

The Old Testament

When God called the children of Israel out of Egypt, He did not tell them all to make a run for it; He sent a very special leader to guide them. Moses was in many ways inadequate, at least by human standards, for this position. In Exodus 2, Moses killed a man, then fled Egypt as a murderer. Later, in Exodus 4, he admitted that he was a poor public speaker. However, perfection was not what God wanted. Despite Moses’ faults and misgivings, God used him to lead the children of Israel until the end of his life.

The book of Joshua describes the leadership of Joshua, Moses’ successor, as Israel entered the Promised Land. Under Joshua’s rule, Israel flourished. Then, in the book of Judges, Israel rebelled by worshipping idols and intermarrying with pagan nations. God sent foreigners to oppress Israel until they repented. Then God raised up a leader to free them, but as soon as this leader died, the rebellion repeated itself. Several times in the book, the author gives a reason for the terrible state of Israel. He says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Because Israel had no constant leadership, they fell into this endless cycle of rebellion and were only saved from it by the brief periods of leadership from the judges.

Eventually, God established kings as the leaders of Israel. These kings were far from perfect, but again, that did not stop God from using them. As long as the king was willing to humbly serve God, Israel thrived. However, most of these kings led Israel into idolatry and many other sins. Because of this, Israel was punished and put under the rule of foreign kingdoms.

Throughout the Old Testament, God used human leaders to shepherd His chosen people. Whenever Israel had a leader that truly followed God, it thrived. However, when there were no leaders – or the leaders chose not to follow God – all of Israel suffered.

The New Testament

God’s desire to guide His people through human leaders did not change in the New Testament. Jesus appointed the twelve apostles as the first leaders of his newly-established Church. The book of Acts and the apostle Paul give clear teaching on what leadership should look like within the church. The apostles mainly worked as overseers and evangelists, planting new churches and supporting already established churches. They ordained leaders in each of these churches to guide the new Christians.

In Ephesians 4:11&12, Paul writes, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Clearly, Paul believes that churches are meant to have appointed leaders. He also believes that there are qualifications for such a role which means that not just anyone could be a church leader. In Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3, Paul gives more teaching on the qualifications of church leaders.

The Church Today

While the church may have changed somewhat since the time of the apostles, God is still the same God and He still uses leaders in His church. As Paul teaches in the New Testament, there are Scriptural qualifications to be explored and used when selecting church leaders. However, just as we see in the Old Testament, leaders will have their faults. God does not require perfection; just humble hearts willing to obey.

It is all too easy for our churches to end up like the Body. Without leaders, our churches will fall apart. But, if we follow God’s plan for his people, our churches can flourish.

Josh's Bio Pic Joshua Blank is from NYC, but will be living in Boston for the next four years where he will be attending Sattler College. He enjoys learning, living in the city, good discussions, and anything related to music. He is hoping to use his business degree as an opportunity in foreign missions.

“BTV: Behind the Scenes.” Out of Control. 3 May, 2003. Radio

8 thoughts on “Dead Body: The Importance of Church Leaders

  1. Joshua,
    Thank you for thinking about this issue and writing this article. I feel that our understanding of church leadership is skewed by more than a millennium(almost two) of extra-Biblical church leadership traditions. While I agree that the church(ekklesia) needs leadership to properly function I respectfully disagree with some of your points.
    You write that “God established kings as the leaders of Israel.” Although it is true that God directs Samuel to appoint Saul as king(I Samuel 9), it is not God’s desire for His nation of Israel to have a king. In I Samuel 8 the elders of Israel come to Samuel and ask him for a king. Samuel takes this request to God and God clearly states that by desiring a king like the nations around them they are rejecting God’s reign(v. 7). God grants Israel’s request for a king but it is not his desire for His chosen people who are called to be separated to Him and not like the nations around them. Israel’s problems in Judges came when they disregarded the guidance of leaders that God had put in place. When Israel had a king the problems often came from king himself. The lesson I take from this is is that when we insist on leadership structures that are not God’s plan we are reject His reign in our lives and by it we bring much harm on ourselves.
    Also I feel that using the example of corporate leadership(Apple and Amazon) to support the argument for church leadership is not helpful. In what ways are corporations and the body of Christ alike? The example of corporate leadership produces images of top-down leadership, rankings of importance in personnel and production/profit driven motives – all the opposite of New Testament teachings.
    Lastly, I hope you do not mind me pointing out that in Ephesians 4 when the body is used as an analogy of the church it clearly states that Christ is the head(vv. 15, 16), not an individual person. God gives giftings to individuals and when we function as a body under Christ those gifts are put to use. Christ is alive and present, even as your pastor is. May our spiritual eyes be opened to see Him and may we then be motivated to serve each other in love, functioning as the body He calls us to be.

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    1. Thanks for the response! I appreciate hearing all feedback, positive or negative.
      In answer to your first point, I would like to mention two things. First, the question of God desiring a king for Israel is a somewhat debated issue. Based on 1 Samuel 8, it would seem that God did not want a king in Israel, period. However, a common passage that is used against that idea is Deuteronomy 17. Here, God basically tells Israel that when they reach the Promised Land, have settled in, and say “We want a king so we can be like the nations around us”, these are the requirements for your king. This would seem to indicate that a king was always part of God’s plan. Now, some say that this was merely a prophecy or prediction of Israel’s eventual rebellion. While this may be the case, I to not believe it to be so. Israel’s sin in 1 Samuel 8 was not that they desired a king. Rather, it was that they desired a king in place of Yahweh. I believe that if Israel had asked for a king with hearts that were still submissive to God, they would not have been sinning.
      Secondly, I would like to point out that whether or not God desired a king for Israel, he clearly wanted leadership. Before the kings, there were the judges, and before the judges, there were Moses and Joshua. Under Moses and Joshua, Israel flourished for the most part but in Judges, things went downhill. However, it was not disobedience to leaders that brought this downfall but rather lack of leaders. If you follow the story of Judges, whenever there was a leader, there was mostly peace. Whenever the leader died, Israel went back to sinning. This repeats throughout the whole book. As I stated in the article, the reason that is given for this cycle is that “there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25) Eventually, kings were put in place and whether or not was this part of God’s plan, He in His sovereignty chose to use them as the next leaders of Israel. My point then is that leaders, were a crucial part of His plan for Israel and are still a crucial part of His plan for His church. Ephesians 4 demonstrates that there are different roles in the church and some of those are positions of leadership. I agree completely that Christ is the head of the church. However, that does not take away from the fact that leadership is necessary. In fact, Ephesians 4:14 says that the reason for all these different roles of apostle, prophet, pastor, and so on, is that “we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” Having established leaders creates stability and gives direction. This was my reason for bringing in the example of Amazon and Apple. I agree that it is a far from perfect illustration. My point was not that the church should follow Apple’s example of leadership but rather that leadership is necessary in almost all organizations for stability and growth. (And by organizations, I mean an organized body of people)
      Hopefully this helps to clarify some of my points. I don’t claim to have all the answers but I do try to write from my best understanding of Scripture. Thanks!

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      1. Thanks for the reply. Let me start by saying that I am not at all against leadership in the church, I strongly believe it is vital in order for a church to function the way Christ desires. The New Testament has much to say about leadership in the church(and much it doesn’t say that is informative as well). So to put it plainly, I agree with the main point of your article as I understand it – church needs leadership, but I disagree with some of you premises.
        In regards to Israel and their king – thanks for pointing me to that passage in Deuteronomy, I did not know about it. It does seem to point to the fact that Israel would have a king. The language of the passage indicates to me that the desire for a king is initiated by the people rather than by the direct plan of God. It could be that God is saying even when you wish for a king against my plan I still want to be involved and this is how. That is one explanation I thought of but I haven’t studied it deeply, so your interpretation could be correct. But I also feel that I Samuel 8:7 where God says, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.” and in 10:19 where it says, “But today you have rejected your God…and have said to Him, ‘No, set a king over us!’ seems to indicate their rejection of God is directly related to their desire for a king. To me it speaks more to the fact that they desire a king, and I see nothing that indicates the timing is wrong or that their hearts need to be changed in order for God to establish a king. Again, my view may be incorrect. Regardless, I do agree with your statement that,
        “Eventually, kings were put in place and whether or not was this part of God’s plan, He in His sovereignty chose to use them as the next leaders of Israel. My point then is that leaders, were a crucial part of His plan for Israel and are still a crucial part of His plan for His church.” So I believe then that the more important question to ask is, “Does our current model/practice of appointing individuals to positions such as pastor, bishop, deacon, elder, etc. accurately reflect the teachings on leadership that are described in the New Testament? I have many more answers than questions about that topic. But I will say that my own experience(very limited as it is, and perhaps therein lies the fault) and what I see in scripture causes me to have doubts as to the faithfulness of much of today’s models of church leadership. Thanks for bearing with me and please don’t hear me faulting you for what you haven’t said or attempted to address. Your article hit upon something I have pondered, studied and read about for the past few years and I struggle to know how to even bring up some of the questions I have. At times it can feel that people are unwilling to even consider that they may not be interpreting correctly. I’ll stop there and address more in my response to Bryce’s question. Thanks for your time, and blessings as you study at Sattler College. – CB

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      2. *A correction on my previous reply. I said “I have many more answers than questions” – I meant to say that I have many more questions than answers.

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    2. Hi C.B.
      Thanks for your thoughts! You mentioned “that our understanding of church leadership is skewed by more than a millennium(almost two) of extra-Biblical church leadership traditions.” I’m just curious, could explain a little more about what you think church leadership should look like?
      Thanks!

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      1. Bryce,
        So, I have more questions than answers but here are some of my thoughts.
        Often certain passages of the KJV are quoted to “prove” positional leadership(I am contrasting position with function, not that they are mutually exclusive, but I believe the New Testament speaks to function and speaks against positions and offices of leadership). The men who translated the KJV did so within the context of the official Anglican church of England and the functions and gifts were translated into this context of offices and positions(which were carried over from the Roman Catholic Church). I’m not saying the KJV is an erroneous translation(for what it’s worth, I have used it all my life and still do although not exclusively), but rather when we take a closer look at the original Greek words regarding leadership they are clearly referring to function rather than position. One evidence of this is the language Paul uses(or rather the language he doesn’t use). There are numerous words Paul could have used when he talks about leadership if he wanted to imply hierarchy, offices and positions. But he leaves all those out. For example, in original Greek(trust me, I’m no great scholar – I’m taking someone else’s word for it) “presbuteros” means “older man”, not a specific position of elder. Why did he not use “archon”(ruler or chief), “hazzan”(public worship leader), or “taxis”(post, position or rank) if he meant it as an office or position to fill. I believe he meant what he originally said – follow the example and wisdom of the older men of the church. Also, the word commonly translated as submission when it refers to leadership in the New Testament more accurately means “allow yourself to be persuaded by”. In other words, be reasonable and heed the older, wiser, mature men among you. Which brings me to I Peter 5, it exhorts the “elders who are among you”, not the “elders who are over you”. These thoughts are not all original with me, the books Pagan Christianity(by George Barna and Frank Viola) and Reimagining Church(by Frank Viola) have been very informative to me in these areas. If you are interested, Frank has a very insightful blog at https://frankviola.org/.
        Lest you think I don’t have original thought, here is an example that I have not picked up from anyone else. Using the metaphor of family, seeing it abounds in the New Testament, we are the children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. In a family there are different levels of maturity and I believe therein lies one of the keys to leadership – spiritual maturity. An older brother’s influence over his sibling comes from his maturity and the respect he gains from his younger siblings, it’s not an “older brother position” that we put someone into, it is filled naturally through growth. You may object that when the parents are away the eldest sibling is often put in charge. I would reply that this objection implies that Christ is not present with his church, and if you believe He is not then I may as well stop here. If an individual in the church does not respect the older, mature men of the church, do they do any better respecting men in leadership positions? Does and should a title and position of “pastor” cause people to respect an individual more than they respect a person of experience and wisdom? Maybe I’m just splitting hairs here but I have seen the church suffer when men with the gift of leadership and ministering struggle to be able to exercise them because those “positions” were already “filled”. I believe that Christ wants His body to flourish naturally as we live the Life together that He gives us and out of that Christ will raise individuals who fulfill the functions of leadership and the many other functions mentioned in scripture. You may raise objections regarding how to settle disputes if there is no “final authority” and I would point you to Matthew where Jesus talks about taking a brother, and two brothers and finally the whole body of believers – He makes no mention of a “lead pastor” or “elder board” to give the final say. Also, does the current popular model prove more effective at settling disputes and preventing churches from splitting than would the involvement of a mature individual in the church that is willing to provide advice and arbitration when needed? I suspect it rarely does.
        So those are some of my thoughts on the subject, thanks for bearing with me!
        Blessings! – CB

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      2. C.B.,

        Thanks for better explaining your position. Your reply is pretty long and you bring up a number of points, so I won’t pretend that my response fully answers everything you bring up. Please bear with me.

        First of all, let me begin by stating your viewpoint as I understand it:
        Church leadership should not involve delegated official positions (pastor, deacon, etc.) but rather should be more organic. Leaders are not appointed, but rather grow to fill those positions naturally and by degrees as they mature and develop those gifts. Therefore, we respond to leaders by following their example, because they are mature, not because they are in a position of authority.

        I will use this as the basis for my reply — hopefully you feel it is a fair summary.

        I appreciate the respectful tone of your disagreement, but it does seem to me that you are fairly convinced of your position. I’m not intending to start a debate, but rather to point out some areas where I do not think your argument aligns with the clear text of Scripture.

        First of all, I agree that we must take our theology from the Bible and not simply cling to tradition. That said, I’m wary of any new teaching that claims to correct something the church has been doing wrong for 2000 years. In theology, orthodoxy has stood the test of time; originality has not. Innovative theologians are often heretical ones, because truth is steady, not innovative. False teaching can change, but truth cannot. Therefore, as the one challenging the orthodox position, you must bear the burden of proof for why the orthodox understanding of truth should change.

        Secondly, I believe a careful study of Scripture does not fit well with your position. Consider, for instance, Hebrews 13:17 (ESV): “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” Notice that we are directly commanded to obey them, not on the basis of their example, but on the basis of their authority. We may follow an older brother’s good example, but that older brother only has authority if the parents give it to him. Your own analogy speaks to this: younger siblings love to say “you can’t tell me what to do.” Only when the parents give him authority (put him in charge) can he respond “Yes I can because Mom and Dad said so.” Obviously Christians shouldn’t act that way to leaders, but the point remains. Leaders carry authority and are accountable because Christ has ordained that authority.
        Consider also the books of I Timothy, II Timothy, and Titus. Both Timothy and Titus are leading churches because Paul appointed them to do so. Titus 1:5 says “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.” These elders are to be appointed as well.
        Timothy too is called to the specific responsibility of preaching (I Tim. 4:13) and to leadership, even over the men older than himself (I Tim. 5:1). In I Timothy 5:17-20, Paul says that the elders who labor in preaching deserve double honor, which in the context indicates monetary support.
        My post is getting too long, so I won’t go further, but the New Testament is full of these examples that clearly describe elders as a position of God-ordained authority with extra responsibilities both to the church and to God.

        Thirdly, to answer your last question. Should a person respect a pastor more than another mature brother in the faith? I believe the answer is both yes and no. No, because all of us carry the same responsibility to live in godliness as our pastors do — they aren’t on some special spiritual plane. We should learn from and respect the wisdom of mature Christians. We should follow their example. They too have the responsibility to teach the younger believers (See Titus 2). So I agree with you on that. However, because pastors carry a special position ordained by God, they do deserve a greater measure of honor. We follow them because they are good examples, but also because they “must give an account.” We give them “double honor” but also hold them to a greater level of accountability when they sin (I Tim. 5:17-20). In the same way that the husband has authority over the wife, pastors (as undershepherds of Christ) have authority in the church. Does this make husbands or pastors more important? No. But it is the headship order God assigned and thus the position carries with it God-given authority.

        I hope I’ve made my position clear in my ramblings here. Like I said, I know I didn’t address everything you pointed out, but I think this is a start. I’m not trying to attack you in any way — just trying to point out what I see as an error in your thinking, out of genuine Christian concern. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

        Bryce

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      3. C.B.,
        I reread what I posted last night among with your comments to Josh more in depth and felt like my tone was a little too harsh. I didn’t mean to come across that way at all. In reading your previous comments I feel that I may not yet fully understand where you are coming from either, so I apologize if you feel I misrepresented your position.
        I disagree with your conclusions at this point, but I don’t want to keep you from asking honest questions.

        Thanks,
        Bryce

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