Shepard Leading Flock of Sheep through a Grove of Trees
When All Else Fails...Read the Directions

Ch 4: Leadership... or Domination?

Author: Robert W. Smith

How should the structure of the governing body of a local church be set up? Undoubtedly there is room for a wide divergence of opinion on this subject. Granting this, let's examine both the biblical and practical reasons we might use as guidelines for an idealized pattern.

A Board---or Just Bored?

I remember once telling my pastor I would never again serve on the board of a church. I was bored, fed up, and plain disgusted with the petty, unchristian, and sometimes ridiculous antics we groaned through. Our action had better be more vital than that. Otherwise we have bored boards.

But first, how many boards should we have? May we suggest from practical considerations that the answer is one. The reason seems obvious: only one board can assume the responsibility for governing. Any other way results in confusion, because it sets up rival authorities. Certainly the one responsible board can set up committees and delegate responsibilities for various areas of ministry, but the overall accountability is nontransferable.

A division of authority along the typical lines of spiritual, temporal, and financial realms invariably seems to breed strife. That's because the basis of division is false: it implies that financial matters and mundane housekeeping chores are not considered "spiritual." This runs counter to the principles of Scripture, for in 1 Corinthians the inspired writer moves without a pause from the obviously spiritual consideration of the resurrection (Chap. 15) to the matter of finances (16:1-4). Also, as previously cited in Acts 6, spiritual qualities were required in men called to the household chore of waiting on tables. Neither of these matters is considered less spiritual than more deeply "theological" issues; all are to be handled in the power of an indwelling Lord and under the direction of the Spirit of God.

A more biblical division of labor is set forth in the view that the elders are responsible before God to rule, and in addition there are many functioning deacons (household servants) who are called of God to function in equally important and vital ways-but without any ruling authority whatever.

The key issue seems to be: who are the ones God will call to account for the governing responsibilities? They are the ones described in the Word as guardians or overseers. They alone have ruling authority---and accountability.

Now, based on this reasoning, if we assume that one board is best, how should it function? And on what biblical principles?

What's the setup?

Our Lord lays out the basic concept which answers this question in the simple phrase, "you are all brothers."

If we read the statement beginning in Matthew 23 in this context, we see that the Lord Jesus is saying,

"Don't emulate the scribes and Pharisees, for they have set themselves up above the masses, and love the honor and praise of men, including being called 'Rabbi.'" [He is cautioning us not to look for exalted titles and ranks, for we are all just brothers in a great, big family---God's family. And there are no ranks and titles in a family! So he says:] ". . . you are not to be called Rabbi: for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ" (Matt. 23:8-10).

This means that every man on the governing board of a church should have equal standing and authority. The pastor and/or paid staff should not dominate the action. Major decisions (and perhaps even some minor ones, when necessary) should be made on the basis of unanimity with each man exercising a single vote.

If you question the workability of this rule, let me give you an example of how it works. As a Board of Elders we were considering the important matter of calling a youth pastor. The need was pressing. Our young people needed a shepherd; their parents were concerned; and so were we. We interviewed a young man, discussed his potential leadership and other qualifications, assessed his spiritual life and maturity, and everyone agreed we should call him---except one elder!

Since we were committed to unanimous action, the heat was on. Was the majority right, or was the one odd-ball holdout right? Who really had the mind of the Lord?

It could be either way, so we rested the matter back on the Lord for further clarity of understanding and direction. We prayed, and talked, and thought and prayed some more. And as you can imagine, the pressure was really on the holdout. The longer it went the more he thought "I must be wrong on this. I couldn't be the only one out of all these guys to have the clue from the Lord." So he finally succumbed and said, "Okay, let's go ahead and call him." But it wasn't over a couple of months until all of us realized we had made a mistake. The man we called did not handle the ministry satisfactorily, and we faced the painful necessity of letting him go.

That was an important lesson none of us have forgotten. We learned that the Lord may be trying to tell us something through the one man who does not concur in the action. And we'd better not pressure him into feeling he is so far out of it that he is the unspiritual and insensitive one. In this one case the safeguard didn't work very well---but only because we panicked! In many other cases it has saved the frustration and embarrassment of making hasty, wrong decisions.

Unanimity is a great safeguard against precipitous and premature decision. Why? Because it makes us truly dependent on the Lord to pray it through in patient waiting on him. The eternal God is never in a hurry even when we are. And most of us sit pretty close to the panic button-sometimes on it.

We need to give each leader unhurried and unharried freedom to respond to Christ as Head. Discussion without pressure, logic without coercion is the way to go.

Who takes the lead?

Okay, so we're all brothers. And we do need the safeguard of unanimity. Doesn't someone have to exercise leadership in the action of a ruling board? Leadership, yes---domination, no. Leadership is needed, and in order to balance the obvious advantage staff men have (because of spending all their working hours in the ministry of the local church) the leadership roles should be given to the non-staff elders. In one church we know there is an unwritten but well-established rule that no staff man may hold office on the board. That is, non-staff people act as chairman, vice-chairman, secretary, treasurer, and other officers. On the other hand, every elder has an assigned area of responsibility in the ministry. These ideas help to maintain the equality of "brothers" in practical terms.

Neither are the staff personnel to be considered as "employees" of the board. There are employment considerations to be made, in view of tax laws, vacation policies, insurance programs, and so on; but the attitude "He's my brother" should be reflected as the background feature of the relationship between staff and non-staff elders.

Clergy---What's That?

Where do we get the idea of a "clergy" anyway? Certainly not from the Bible! It's more likely that an enemy has planted this idea in our minds, because it has done so much to reverse God's order of things in the church. Even in enlightened quarters the idea persists that only the paid minister can perform certain church functions like baptizing, serving communion, and visiting the sick. In recent situations which we have observed, various Christians have complained bitterly because the "senior pastor" was not able to visit their loved one, conduct the funeral for a member of their family, or other such services, even when all kinds of loving care were being expressed by other members of the Body. And when in the course of planning a men's conference we suggested that some of the ordinary "civilians" conduct a communion service, one man said, "Oh, can we do that?"

I often wonder why we don't think back to the first-century church scene: Who conducted the early communion services? From what seminary did they graduate? What denominational Sanction did they have? Was it not the rough hands of unlettered fishermen who broke the bread of those early days? Or perhaps it was the cleansed heart of a converted publican that expressed thanks for "the blood of the new covenant shed for the remission of sins."

What seminary did you attend?

There are only three schools I can think of from which those early disciples could have graduated:

(I) The Jewish instructional centers like that of Gamaliel, from which they could hardly have learned Christian truth,

(2) the "School of Despair" as Ian Thomas describes it, otherwise known as the "School of Hard Knocks,"

(3) or "St. Mary's College," the one which Mary of Bethany established when she sat at the feet of Jesus.

This third school is the one which every Christian must attend---and the one from which none of us ever graduates. It's the source from which the wisest, most distinguished pastor or Bible scholar as well as the lowliest, least-recognized Christian must draw. "You are all brothers." In God's eyes there are no ranks, no hierarchy, no clergy---just Christ's men and women with different gifts and ministries, loving one another and caring for each other in Christ's name!

How about seminaries?

Lest you think I am against seminaries, let me hasten to correct that impression. Good seminaries perform a very necessary function, giving men the tools for becoming good Bible expositors and building their background of understanding in theology, besides the disciplining of thought and study habits. But placing confidence in our academic excellence or degrees is never an acceptable substitute for being taught of God and walking in genuine dependence on the available resources of our Risen Lord!

I hope the point is obvious: Our Lord has more than one way to educate his men. Some he teaches through a seminary; others learn from faithful pastors and Bible teachers. But all must respond to his personal instruction, not just for three or four years, but for a lifetime. Make no mistake---God puts no premium on ignorance, but he reserves the right to be the Master Teacher.

A seminary education (or an engineering degree) is simply a license to look for a job and start using what we've learned in productive employment---under the personal tutoring of the Spirit of God. Academic truth has no real value until it becomes applied truth.

In a church I know, one pastor has earned his doctorate in theology, while his co-pastor has never attended seminary. As I facetiously tell them: one is educated beyond his intelligence and the other is hardly even educated. The beauty of this situation is that both men are completely free and uninhibited about it! But both men are educated. Their education came through different channels, but both are taught of God and fulfilling an effective ministry side by side---with no strain about their educational disparity.

When All Else Fails

When the "untaught" man was introduced to the congregation he was to serve, the "doctor" asked him, "What formal theological training have you had?" (This was in a Sunday service on an entirely unrehearsed basis.) The slightly startled reply was, "I've Never had any," followed by the next question, "Then what makes you think you can be a pastor to these people?" I'm sure there must have been a long pause at this point---and then the thoughtful response, "I know I'm not adequate in myself to think I could make it, but I have the assurance from God that he has qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant. That's the basis of my confidence."

You say, "Wasn't this interview kind of risky?" Sure it was, but the "educated" pastor knew his man and on that basis proceeded with confidence. And can you imagine how this set up the new man with the people? Their hearts were enlisted to move with him in the fulfillment of his ministry, and they were at the same time encouraged to think, "If the Lord can teach this man and we use without formal training, maybe there's hope for me!"

The point is this: the real qualifications for ministry are Spiritual, not scholastic.

The Lord seems to delight in shaking up the theological world by revealing truth to unlikely candidates like A. W. Tozer, or to a British Army officer like Major Ian Thomas. God, it seems, is well able to make his own channels for disseminating his truth. I say this only that we might let God be God, and not try to press him into our academic molds. I've noticed he easily avoids our misguided attempts to package him and sell him under our labels.

What About Denominations?

The same idea applies to the view one takes toward denominations. I suggest that denominationalism is an attitude of mind rather than a mere attachment to a name. It's possible for a nondenominational church to be permeated with such an avid sectarian Spirit that its people are more denominational than those in the denominational framework. The same is possible regarding our view of the pastorate: I have known some who are so anti-clerical that they have made a "clergy" of the laity. What a beautifully simple word our Lord uses to resolve all of this: "You are all brothers."

Communications and P.R.

Communication and public relations are essential in any local church scene, simply because love communicates. This means that we need to spend enough time and express enough concern to begin to know each other and show that we care. This should take place on every level of church life: in the governing board, among the staff and extending to and through the whole congregation.

At a board meeting I attended not long ago the leader chairing the meeting (not the board chairman, but one of the men being given the opportunity to act in that capacity as a learning experience) asked the question, "Is anyone hurting?" This invitation for us to share areas of need with the other men resulted in silence for a bit as we all thought through our situations. Then the first elder (whom we'll call Len) said, "Well, if you fellows aren't hurting, I am! I came home late tonight after one of those impossible, hectic days at work, had a spat with my wife and slammed the door after me as I left the house to come to this meeting. And I feel rotten about it."

Well, that opened us up! Other elders began to share their needs, along with their victories, and praise. When we had finished praying for each of the men, one of the elders said to Len, "We'll take a five-minute break. How about calling your wife?" When the meeting resumed, Len was all smiles and ready to lead with joy instead of a heavy heart.

On another occasion one of the pastoral staff came to a meeting with a sad face and eyes red-rimmed from weeping. He shared a deep concern which was affecting his whole family and possibly his ministry. The response was such a ministry of love from all the elders that we could only express our hearts to the Lord with a communion service! So the cookies and punch on hand for refreshments became the elements of a "holy" communion which could only bring delight to the heart of the One whose death and life it portrays.

Do you see this picture? Here are ordinary "civilian-type" Christians ministering to a pastor! Here are brothers together, communicating Christian love.

In our all-day staff meetings the most important ingredients are hearing from the Lord, through His Word; sharing our personal needs and heart concerns; and praying for one another concerning personal and ministry needs. Only after that are we ready to function as a team under the Lord's direction---to think through and develop plans and programs to equip His saints for their ministry.

A classic illustration of a board ministering in love occurred with a pastor I know. This pastor had a heart attack, for which the only attributable causes were stress and fatigue. So knowing how difficult it had always been for him to say no to any appeal for help, his board of elders issued orders to limit his activity, taking steps to guard his health. The board chairman personally became the guardian of his ministry activities. And all this occurred after three months' absence of the pastor and in the face of multiple problems of both personal and management nature in the life of the board chairman. That's what I call T.L.C. (Tender Loving Care) to the nth degree!

Then there is the case of Pastor V in Chapter Three. This man was asked to seek another place of ministry, not for failure to perform, but to develop his own potentials. At least three elders on the board that took this action were among Pastor V's closest friends. Can you see some of the possibilities of misunderstanding in this? The suspicions of double-cross and betrayal? This was a costly decision-running the risk of misunderstanding and possible loss of friendship for love's sake.

Communication is a necessary feature of life where love is involved, maintaining the freshness of that love relationship and the clarity of understanding that creates harmony of thought and unity of action.

How about the Test?

Now that we've considered communications on a staff and board level, what about public relations with the rest of the local body?

This is frequently an area of weakness, especially in a church not committed to democratic or congregational lines of government. But if the elders expect people to cooperate with the lines of action they believe were received directly from "Headquarters," then the people must be included in the communications loop. This can be done in a number of ways:

(1) through published information in the church bulletin and/or newsletter;

(2) through representatives of the congregation meeting with the board as advisors;

(3) by inviting leaders of the various ministries of the church to meet with the board for sharing of information and reporting;

(4) by appointing liaison representatives from the board to each ministry group in the church;

(5) by appointing advisors to the board from the various segments of church life, particularly the youth and children's areas of ministry (and any other that might be more remote and thus tend to be neglected);

(6) by honestly considering and heeding criticism from the people and by maintaining a consistent, ongoing assessment of congregational needs.

There are undoubtedly many more ways, but they will only be apparent as we learn to exercise that thoughtful consideration generated out of genuine love. For love communicates. And that's how we came to know the Lord of love, through the costly com-munication of the Cross and the Word of the Cross.

The leadership of love is easy to follow!