Part 4 of the Series:
Questioning Church Authority
by Don Enevoldsen
Every time Dan approached we knew what to expect. “I just had a great sermon idea,” he said nearly every time I saw him.
Dan was a fellow Bible College student who had never preached any of his sermon ideas, but he had a lot of them outlined and collected for the day when he would get to use them. His identity as a pastor was tied to the sermons he accumulated. We just got tired of hearing the outlines every day, and wished he would hold them until there was a pulpit in front of him.
I tended to think disparagingly of Dan, though I did pretty much the same thing. The biggest difference was that I was not blatant about it, and I felt much more sophisticated. After all, I didn’t accumulate “sermons,” I created “teachings.” My material had depth and relevance, unlike Dan’s fluff.
At least that’s what I kept telling myself, and I hope you recognize my tongue in cheek self-deprecation. Looking back on that first year of school, I realize that very few of us in our freshman class of 150 or so were really much different from Dan. We thought of ministry in terms of giving sermons that changed people’s lives. We all envisioned ourselves in front of massive congregations who looked to us for their weekly dose of the Word of God. Of course, we didn’t say it that way. We used the right terminology about service and the will of God, but most of us engaged in the same fantasies.
A few years ago, I sat in a meeting in which Phil Cooke, a highly respected media consultant here in Los Angeles, discussed branding with a pastor who was about to launch a national television ministry. I noticed that there were two approaches to branding in the room. The pastor was looking for a way to sell his product, that is, himself. Phil was trying to discover the essence of the pastor’s ministry as it had already developed in order to give it focus and identity. They both used the same marketing language, but the difference in attitude was tremendous. One focused on recognition and identity. The other identified calling and sought to empower it.
This dichotomy is noticeable in the way people refer to church leaders. The most succinct biblical description of the goal of church leadership is in Ephesians 4:11-13.
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Before we can even consider what these leadership titles represent, we must consider the overall context. Our hierarchical mindset has dictated some unchallenged assumptions that give us an unhealthy view of our leaders and their function.
The verses leading up to Ephesians 4:11 contain some important details. Verse 8 quotes a passage in Psalm 68:18 that says, “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” Since a list of titles follows, we have taken it without question that the gifts given to men are the offices of leadership. In my days at Bible College, I took this to mean that as a pastor, I was a gift given by Jesus to the congregation.
The danger of thinking too highly of myself is inherent in that assumption. I am the pastor, the one specially called out to lead the congregation, elevated to a position of honor and responsibility. I’m special.
The text, however, doesn’t support this conclusion. Verse 7 says, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” Literally, the Greek reads, “grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” The gifts involved are not leaders, but the grace given to each one of us.
This means that each person in the assembly of believers has been given gifts to empower them to engage in some aspect of ministry, which will prepare God’s people for the work of building up the body of Christ.
Verse 11 begins with the words, “It was he who gave some to be…” An apostle is a person sent forth with a message. Some in the congregation will manifest that gift. Others will manifest the gift that makes them evangelists, or bearers of good news. Some will manifest the gift of a prophet, that is, one who speaks and interprets the will of God. Some will have the capacity for shepherding, which is the meaning of being a pastor. Some will teach.
These are not special, elevated offices. They are areas of ministry that every member of the assembly is expected to engage in. Leaders are those who devote themselves to ministry in such a way that they become obvious to the congregation for their way of life and their attitude. They deserve respect because they earn it, not because they have arbitrarily acquired a title.
By viewing our leaders as special gifts from God, we are more inclined to offer blind obedience without the kind of discernment that would insist on accountability. We also fail to realize that God expects every person in the church to grow into responsibility for the functions of ministry. We all have the gift of grace by the Holy Spirit, which means we all have been given the means to fulfill ministry, some through being sent, some through prophetic words, some through evangelism, some through shepherding, some through teaching.
The problem is that too many of us have absolved ourselves of those responsibilities in deference to those who desire and seek titles for their personal gain.
Next, Part 5: Church Hierarchy and Democracy
Go to the beginning of the series, Questioning Church Authority: Part 1: False Prophets
Do you have an additional thought on this subject that will assist our search for truth? Please join the discussion and share your insights.