Leadership in the church
This study is the result of a personal desire to understand whether Christendom has changed the Biblical perception of leadership in the Church. The concept of there being a spiritual leader in any church is fairly widespread. This leader may take one of a number of different titles including minister, vicar, priest, pastor, bishop and deacon. Essentially, it is the same thing – they are spiritual leaders, either appointed or elected who provide leadership to the church whom they serve often taking an often meagre salary to do this work.
Many of the people who occupy such positions are godly men who have devoted their lives for the service of God to His people. However, is this practice founded on scripture?
What does it mean?
First, here are the meanings of some of the words found in church hierarchies.
|Bishop/Pastor||The word ‘bishop’ means shepherd. The Bible gives no basis for it being used as a title for an office. A bishop is a person who has a concern for other believers and takes an interest in overseeing their spiritual development.|
|Apostle||The word ‘apostle’ means ‘sent one’. This is someone who is sent by God for particular purpose. Paul refers to himself as apostle to the nations and so he had God given authority to complete the mission that he had been given to build and establish the churches in Asia Minor and Europe.|
|Minister||To be a minister simply means that you serve others. This may be in a variety of ways. Every Christian is to minister to (serve) others. Someone may ‘minister’ to someone, i.e. serve them. This might involve teaching but may also refer to a wide range of services., e.g. many people are described as ministering to the Lord (such as the women in Luke 8:3) and Phoebe in Romans 16:1 who is described as a minister but certainly wouldn’t have taught the Cenchrean church given Paul’s word about women and teaching men (1 Timothy 2:12).|
|Deacon/deaconess||The word deacon/deaconess simply refers to ‘someone who does a needed service’.|
The gifts and where they come from ...
God has given gifts to the Church/Assembly to strengthen it and edify it. Every believer has been given grace. “But to each one of us has been given grace according to the measure of the gift of the Christ” (Ephesians 4:7). Grace is where God has given us favour that we do not deserve. In His grace He has given the Church a number of gifts to enable us all to grow in faith and the knowledge of God. Having left the Church and ascended up to the right hand of God the Lord Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in the Church/Assembly and also given many gifts which will maintain the Church/Assembly in preparation for the Lord’s coming again. “Wherefore he says, Having ascended up on high, he has led captivity captive, and has given gifts to men” (Ephesians 4:8).
“He that descended is the same who has also ascended up above all the heavens, that he might fill all things; and he has given some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints; with a view to the work of the ministry, with a view to the edifying of the body of Christ; until we all arrive at the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, at the full-grown man, at the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ” (Ephesians 4:10-13).
“And God has set certain in the assembly: first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers; then miraculous powers; then gifts of healings; helps; governments; kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:28).
The key thing to note here is that apostle, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (or Bishops) and teachers (or ministers) are given by God. The titles of these gifts have been used by many in Christendom to given names to particular offices in a church. In some churches these people are chosen by a leader, moderator or even a Head of State. They may also be elected into office bearing the name of one of these gifts. However, it can rarely be said that God has given these persons the office they occupy. Rather a man, woman or council has given them their office. This is an important distinction to make – the gifts, as described in the Bible, are given to persons directly by God, whereas in Christendom they are generally conferred by mankind.
Another point to note is that it appears from this scripture (and others that we’ll see later) that in Ephesus there were more than one of each gift, in fact, there may have been many persons who had been given one of these gifts.
“For, as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office; thus we, being many, are one body in Christ, and each one members one of the other. But having different gifts, according to the grace which has been given to us, whether it be prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or service, let us occupy ourselves in service; or he that teaches, in teaching; or he that exhorts, in exhortation; he that gives, in simplicity; he that leads, with diligence; he that shews mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:4-8).
In Romans 12, Paul again connects the offices with the giving of God in His grace. The Church is to contain a variety of persons and gifts that, when used appropriately and under His influence, will build up and edify every Christian. It is clear that there are not simply one of each in a church but rather there are many gifts within the same local church which the Holy Spirit will use for the blessing of all the Christians that gather there. He tells the Roman church that whatever God has given us to do we should do it diligently and cheerfully, not seeking to take on things that have been given to others to do and learning from them just as much as others might learn from them.
Another thing that is obvious here is that there is no mention of anyone having any form of official qualification to have received one of these gifts. There is no mention of any degree, bible college certificate, apprenticeship, etc, that needs to be gained before someone can be given any of these things. This is consistent with the whole of the scriptures. Moses, Elijah, Elisha and many others were called into service. It was only after they had begun to serve God that He gave them the training that they needed to complete the work that He had given them to do. They were appointed (or called) into service and then they were fitted for service. This is not the way mankind does things but it is the way God has always done things. The idea that someone must have a qualification before they can start on the service to which God has called them is entirely an idea of Man not God.
“Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, wherein the Holy Spirit has set you as overseers, to shepherd the assembly of God, which he has purchased with the blood of his own” (Acts 20:28). Here again the place of an overseer (or elder) is given by the Holy Spirit and not by anyone else. More on this later.
Leaders in 'the Church'
The first thing is to recognise who is Head over the Church and who is the person who has formed and influences the Church. The Lord Jesus is in heaven. He is Head of the Church/Assembly (see Ephesians 1:22,5:23 and Colossians 1:18). He has become our supreme leader having set out the way for us to follow. He has been made a leader by God (“Him has God exalted by his right hand as leader and saviour” (Acts 5:31)) and He has become our great example and master have completed a life of absolute faith. “Looking steadfastly on Jesus the leader and completer of faith: who, in view of the joy lying before him, endured the cross, having despised the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). He was made perfectly qualified (or perfected) for this role as our saviour. “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make perfect the leader of their salvation through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10). He is seated in glory but He did not leave His people without a Comforter who would continue to focus their attentions on Him and lead them from glory to glory (see studies on “The Holy Spirit” for more).
The Lord said, “But when he is come, the Spirit of truth, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself; but whatsoever he shall hear he shall speak; and he will announce to you what is coming” (John 16:13). It is the Holy Spirit that leads us into truth. It is not a man in a particular office but the Holy Spirit who teaches and leads the Church. It is the Holy Spirit who administers these spiritual gifts and organises their use.
The Holy Spirit indwells every believer (see the papers on ‘The Holy Spirit’). As a result every Christian is a priest (1 Peter 2:9) and so all are capable of service towards God. We are all temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19) and so the Holy Spirit dwells in us and induces us to worship.
Every believer is expected to be growing in their knowledge of God and to be seeking to understand the scriptures. When we don’t understand the scriptures then we are told where to go to get help. In James 1:5 we are told “But if any one of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all freely and reproaches not, and it shall be given to him” and so we are all to go directly to God for our help. Any help we receive via another person who has been able to teach us has come directly from God. It is God, through His Holy Spirit with in us, who teaches us though it may be through a number of different means. “But God has revealed to us by his Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10). Men have no place in this except to act under the power of the Holy Spirit to make known God’s will. This is why we must make ourselves available for the Holy Spirit of God to act and then we will hear what “the Spirit says to the Assemblies” (see Revelation 2 and 3).
So the Lord is the only Head of the Church and the Holy Spirit is the person who leads it, causes it to worship and cry “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:17) and it is He who appoints anyone to take up responsibility in it as can be seen in Acts 20:28: “Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, wherein the Holy Spirit has set you as overseers, to shepherd the assembly of God, which he has purchased with the blood of his own.”
The second thing to realise is that the church/assembly doesn’t belong to anyone but the Lord Jesus. He refers to it as “my sheep” and “my assembly”. “And on this rock I will build my assembly, and hades' gates shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18) and “He says to him, Shepherd my sheep … Jesus says to him, Feed my sheep” (John 21:16-17). Peter was told to shepherd the Lord’s sheep. They did not become his, nor did he have any rights over the Church, but rather he was to serve his Lord by looking after them.
Shepherding in Bible times involved a shepherd walking in front of the flock of sheep and the sheep following the shepherd. He did not have to drive them or cajole them with dogs as many do today, but rather they knew the shepherd’s voice and followed him. This is the character of leaders in God’s sight. David and Moses were great leaders chosen by God and they both began life as shepherds. They learned to lead by example and although they weren’t perfect (for no-one but Christ could be) but they were remembered for their care of God’s people and the example they gave. Peter confirmed this when he says “shepherd the flock of God which is among you, exercising oversight, not by necessity, but willingly; not for base gain, but readily; not as lording it over your possessions, but being models for the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). A leader is not to be someone who tells others what to do but rather they are to be a model for others to follow. Thus they will serve others, not as a great personage but as a servant. The Lord Jesus says “But let the greater among you be as the younger, and the leader as he that serves” (Luke 22:26). He Himself was the greatest person on earth and yet He was the greatest servant, the good shepherd (see John 10). He left his example for us in John 13 “Ye call me the Teacher and the Lord, and ye say well, for I am so. If I therefore, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet; for I have given you an example that, as I have done to you, ye should do also” (John 13:13-15).
The third thing to realise is that we are to recognise (or know) the real leaders in the church/assembly. The leadership in the Church/Assembly is to have a completely different character to the idea we have of leaders in the world. In the church we are to follow those who are like Christ and try to imitate their Christ-like features. A Christian leader will not be giving orders nor pontificating on what they think others ought to do. Rather, they will follow Christ as models for the flock to follow, seeking no important place and with their eyes on the Lord. They may shepherd or teach, evangelise or serve; they may be humble and unrecognised by the world or even many believers, nevertheless we are told to “know those who labour among you, and take the lead among you in the Lord, and admonish you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12). In other words, we are to recognise those who are leading by example and who have a genuine care for how the Lord’s people are progressing spiritually. Then we are to follow their example. “Remember your leaders who have spoken to you the word of God; and considering the issue of their conversation, imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
It is this character of leader that we are then told to obey. This is not because they are invested in authority and giving orders as being a lord over the Church, but rather because they have genuine concern that others should be living godly lives. It is this type of person who will see clearly and pray for those who are falling away from the faith, while rejoicing in soul which is become more stable in faith. “Obey your leaders, and be submissive; for they watch over your souls as those that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not groaning, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17). Thus it may be that in many churches, the leaders may actually be the members of the congregation that are often overlooked because they are not in the pulpit. We have to see the leaders according to God and not according to man.
“And he said to them, The kings of the nations rule over them, and they that exercise authority over them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be thus; but let the greater among you be as the younger, and the leader as he that serves. For which is greater, he that is at table or he that serves? Is not he that is at table? But I am in the midst of you as the one that serves” (Luke 22:25-27).
Who leads God's people?
We have already seen that the Lord Jesus Christ has been made the only Head of the Church. Likewise, we have seen the important place of the Holy Spirit in leading the Church. Perhaps, if we go back and look in the Old Testament we get a glimpse of God’s ideal in the Israel. God had said to Moses that “ye shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). This was God’s plan for Israel. They would all be a nation of priests serving and worshipping God. God led the Israelites through the wilderness and through Moses spoke to them to make a place where He could dwell in the midst of His people. We find in Samuel’s address to the elders of Israel that God was their king. “Ye said to me, Nay, but a king shall reign over us; when Jehovah your God was your king” (1 Samuel 12:12).
Hence, we can see God’s anger was justified when the people committed idolatry because they were, in effect, declaring their idol to be a replacement of God in their hearts. Likewise, when they asked for a king to reign over them they were attempting to replace God as their king. God felt this keenly and so did Samuel for God said to him “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). The people wanted to be “like the nations” and so it is with the Christian Church. Christendom has tried to organise itself, like the nations with a head on earth and then various strata of authority. They have then used the titles of the various gifts God has given to the Church to name the various offices that exist within the structure that has been created to organise the Church.
The children of Israel were meant to be different from the nations around them. After Joshua died the Israelites were given no replacement leader. With God as their only king and each Israelite serving God in their households, there would be given to them, peace, prosperity, food, joy and freedom from disease (see Deuteronomy 7:12-14). As they obeyed God’s law they would be tremendous testimony to the nations around them of the goodness of God and how He can be trusted without any need for man’s wisdom or organisation. Alas, they kept failing in this. They turned to idols and the book of Judges is a history of how God delivered up His people to one nation or another to teach them not to sin. When they repented God gave them a Judge to save them, but none of the judges were set up to begin a perpetual leadership.
The same is true of the Church. Each of us is to be linked directly with God. Hence, Paul could say to the Galatians that he had been saved for three years and learning God in the deserts of Arabia before he went to see any of the apostles. No-one trained Paul in doctrines, etc., for his link was directly with the Lord who saved him. Thus he could reprove Peter when Peter was being side-tracked by some Phariseeical Christians (see Galatians 1:15-2:16). No basis was given for a continuing line of leaders in the church, nor for an organised structure to administrate the growing number of Christians. Rather, Paul so often writes that he had delivered the churches in prayer to the care of the Lord who owned them, had bought them with His own blood and was capable of leading them if they would only let Him do it.
So, we can see that it has always been God’s desire for His people, in both the Old Testament times and New Testament times, to be led by Himself and Himself alone. He has never established anyone to come between His people and Himself. Thus, even when He allowed the Israelites to have a king, He already had in mind the great king – the Lord Jesus, God manifest in flesh (1 Timothy 3:16) – who will be the centre of His people’s worship and praise. This king, who will reign over Israel, is already reigning in the Christian’s heart and is Head of the Church/Assembly.
What about elders/overseers?
Having considered how God has given gifts to the Church/Assembly and that these gifts may be exercised by anyone, according to His sovereignty in giving them, we must consider one position which is mentioned as being appointed (or “ordained” in some translations). That is the position of Elders or Overseers.
“For ye were going astray as sheep, but have now returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). The Lord Himself is the greatest overseer.
“The word is faithful: if any one aspires to exercise oversight, he desires a good work. The overseer then must be irreproachable, husband of one wife, sober, discreet, decorous, hospitable, apt to teach; not given to excesses from wine, not a striker, but mild, not addicted to contention, not fond of money, conducting his own house well, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (but if one does not know how to conduct his own house, how shall he take care of the assembly of God?) not a novice, that he may not, being inflated, fall into the fault of the devil. But it is necessary that he should have also a good testimony from those without, that he may fall not into reproach and the snare of the devil. Ministers, in like manner, grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not seeking gain by base means, holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these be first proved, then let them minister, being without charge against them. The women in like manner grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the ministers be husbands of one wife, conducting their children and their own houses well: for those who shall have ministered well obtain for themselves a good degree, and much boldness in faith which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:1-13).
“For the overseer must be free from all charge against him as God's steward; not headstrong, not passionate, not disorderly through wine, not a striker, not seeking gain by base means; but hospitable, a lover of goodness, discreet, just, pious, temperate, clinging to the faithful word according to the doctrine taught, that he may be able both to encourage with sound teaching and refute gainsayers. For there are many and disorderly vain speakers and deceivers of people's minds, specially those of the circumcision, who must have their mouths stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which ought not to be taught for the sake of base gain” (Titus 1:7-11).
- It is a good thing for someone to desire to exercise oversight. In one sense we should all be watching out for each other so as to help each other grow in faith and not stumble and fall.
- An overseer must have certain characteristics that demonstrate His real and tangible link with His Lord and Saviour. So also those who serve the church/assembly (i.e. the ministers) should be the same.
- Overseers/Elders are not to seek their own benefit. They do not watch over others with the aim of getting glory for themselves. They are stewards of God’s people and they have a great responsibility before God.
- They are at a great risk of falling into “the snare of the devil” by being inflated in their pride.
There is no mention here of what an overseer is to do other than watch over the Lord’s people in their local church. Those who were given a place in the local church were those who were obviously under the influence of the Holy Spirit. They thought nothing of themselves and everything of God. Thus, the responsibility of watching over their brothers and sisters in Christ, of admonishing them when they need correction, encouraging those who are flagging, is a very great one indeed. These scriptures refer to a position of responsibility and not an official position of the Church. Elders and overseers were literally to be the Christians who have been on the Christian pathway for some time, who have built up experience with God to know the ways of the enemy and the grace of God. When someone enters a church it will become obvious who these people are because of their obvious concern for others and the experience they can draw on to help others.
Titus is told to establish overseers/elders in Crete: “For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou mightest go on to set right what remained unordered, and establish elders in each city, as I had ordered thee” (Titus 1:5). The church in Crete was obviously unordered and needed to grow in Christ. However, as all the churches were young, and there were no experienced followers of Christ except the apostles, there was a need to train others so that the apostles could spread the gospel elsewhere and leave young churches behind them that were able to continue in the Lord. Titus was instructed by Paul to organise elders/overseers to take the lead (in the character of leadership already mentioned) as a model for the churches in Crete. They were not to be instructors but rather to be fathers. This was the problem in Corinth. There were too many people trying to be teachers and instructors and Paul said they had more need of the care of fathers. “For if ye should have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the glad tidings” (1 Corinthians 4:15).
So, elders/overseers are not to be offices in the church where people serve for a number of years before seeking re-election or re-appointment, but they are to be persons who have experience with Christ, who desire to watch over their brothers and sisters, and bear a feeling of their responsibility in caring for the Lord’s people. To such people Paul says “Let the elders who take the lead among the saints well be esteemed worthy of double honour, specially those labouring in word and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). These people will most likely be teaching and explaining scriptures to the church/assembly pointing to them from their experience so that the church is edified and grows in Christ.
Being an elder/overseer is not a gift from God, but rather a responsibility. It does not prevent someone from exercising the gift that God has given them, whether it be teaching, shepherding, evangelising, etc. It is a role which we are all to play for Paul tells Timothy that it is good to aspire to exercise oversight, but it is those who have greatest experience with the Lord who will be able to do this most effectively.
Note: Being an elder does not only apply to men (see 1 Timothy 5:2 and Titus 2:3). Elder women have a responsibility to their younger sisters in Christ.
Appointments in the Church
I will turn aside for a brief moment to consider appointments in the Church. Some may ask about the appointment of Matthias as an apostle in Acts 1. He was to replace Judas who had betrayed the Lord and then hung himself. The new apostle had to be someone who had been with Jesus for the whole three and a half years of His public service. He had to be impeachable. The lot was cast between Justus and Matthias after much prayer and Matthias was numbered with the apostles. This is the last we hear of him in the Bible. It was necessary to ensure that the fledgling church had those who could teach it, having been with the Lord and knowing His teaching. Matthias wasn’t appointed by a council of apostles but he was chosen by the ‘casting of a lot’.
No-one really knows what ‘casting lots’ really means in the Bible. The sailors cast lots to see who was responsible for the storm in the book of Jonah. The lot fell on Jonah and he was convicted before all. Lots were used to decide on the boundaries of the inheritance that the children of Israel were to receive. The lot was a final, clear and unarguable decision. It could be committed into the hands of God and there is never any record of there being a dissatisfied group of people who voted against the idea like we have in modern democracies. Therefore, ‘casting lots’ could not have been a vote by the congregation assembled there. It may have been something like tossing a coin, but as I said, no-one really knows.
However, it is irrelevant because there is no record of a continuation of appointments. When James was martyred by Herod in Acts 12 he does not seem to have been replaced. Likewise, Paul gives no instructions about how elders/overseers or ministers are to be replaced. This is probably because there are now plenty of experienced Christians to whom we should listen who are thus our elders/overseers and likewise because the Holy Spirit gives the gift of teaching, etc. and it is our job to recognise (or know) who He has given it to.
Man's order versus God's order
It’s not hard to look around us and find a big organisation. Any large corporation, a military force and even small businesses will be organised according to the same basic pattern differing only in details. There will be a leader or CEO, then there will be persons in charge of various areas of responsibility such as different departments, divisions or regions. Then under them will be various layers of management eventually intended to organise and deliver instructions to the lower skilled workers or privates in the running of the organisation so that they will know what to do. These workers at the bottom are dependent on the higher ranks to instruct them. If someone acts outside of the protocols, policies or instructions of the management then they will lose their job or be disciplined.
This is the management that we see also in Christendom. There is a leader of most large churches who then has various layers of management underneath them which aims to instruct and organise the lives of the congregation. The congregation then pays to maintain this structure so that they can absolve themselves of many responsibilities by leaving it to the ‘church’ to organise. This pattern seems ubiquitous in many, most visible, Christian organisations and yet it would seem that this is not the order given to us in the Bible.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church seeking to set a number of issues right so that they might be in the full enjoyment of the Lord’s presence, His glory and His blessing. The church in Corinth was becoming known for its lack of order. Paul says that “let all things be done comelily and with order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). He tells them that “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the assemblies of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33). So God has established order in the Church/Assembly but there is no mention of a hierarchy or established leadership.
How can there be order without organisation? How can there be order when no-one has been assigned roles? How can there be order when we don’t know who the appointed leaders are from whom we can get direction? These are all questions that we would ask but they betray a distinct lack of dependence on God and the Holy Spirit whom He has given us to lead the Church. We are not to be dependent on anyone except God and it is to Him that we are told to go for wisdom (we covered this earlier).
If there is no hierarchy in the early church, then what kind of order was Paul speaking about?
“What is it then, brethren? whenever ye come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done to edification” (1 Corinthians 14:26).
Paul mentions this coming together of the Corinthian church as a simple matter of fact. Each of them had something to contribute which would have been the result, no doubt, of their week’s experience with the Lord. Some may have had a hymn or psalm, some had an interpretation of scripture, some had some teaching to give and so on. It is clear that there were many people who would contribute to the worship or service of the assembly and that the responsibility did not depend on one person or even a few persons. Every brother in Christ was able to contribute what they had been given to contribute by the Holy Spirit.
To the minds of most people in the world, the idea of everyone contributing freely without someone to co-ordinate would result in chaos. Indeed, it would seem that by not depending on the Holy Spirit’s lead that this was what was happening. People were pushing their own agendas and trying to show off any gifts that they believed they had with the result that the mind of the flesh was active and not the mind of God. Paul was seeking to set this right.
The result of God’s order will always exalt God and not us or a church/assembly. “But if all prophesy, and some unbeliever or simple person come in, he is convicted of all, he is judged of all; the secrets of his heart are manifested; and thus, falling upon his face, he will do homage to God, reporting that God is indeed amongst you” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). Such will be the order of a church/assembly that even a simple person will know the presence of God amongst the Christians gathered there and will glorify God. He will see that where there should be chaos there is order and not controlled by any man but by the Holy Spirit. We are given a number of instructions in scripture that will result in God’s order being seen.
- “Let nothing be in the spirit of strife or vain glory, but, in lowliness of mind, each esteeming the other as more excellent than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). If we are each thinking more of others than of ourselves we will be more ready to take a back seat and look for others who have something to give. In 1 Corinthians 14:30 Paul said “But if there be a revelation to another sitting there, let the first be silent”. So, if everyone esteems others as more excellent than themselves they will be ready to give place to someone else who has something from the Lord.
- “So that, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, wait for one another” (1 Corinthians 11:33). When speaking about the Lord’s Supper Paul told the saints to wait for one another. They were to exhibit patience to enable everyone to partake of the bread and the wine. This characteristic of patience is result of the Holy Spirit’s work in us.
- “Now there were in Antioch, in the assembly which was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius the Cyrenian, and Manaen, foster-brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul” (Acts 13:1). Be ready to recognise others who have been given the same gifts and listen to what the Holy Spirit says through them. The Holy Spirit spoke to them indicating them to separate Paul and Barnabas for service. The others laid hands on them as a sign of their blessing and commendation. “He has given some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints; with a view to the work of the ministry, with a view to the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Many people have been given gifts for one purpose i.e. the edification of the church/assembly. These gifts are to be used under the direction of the Holy Spirit. They are not to be promoted by someone who thinks they have a gift.
- “But we beg you, brethren, to know those who labour among you, and take the lead among you in the Lord, and admonish you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12). We are to recognise those who are leading the saints. We will see their example and follow them. We may perhaps recognise that someone has a gift from the Lord for the edification of the church/assembly. Someone who has one of these gifts will be obvious. They may not realise it themselves. They may have an ability to explain the word of God to others which they themselves think is nothing exceptional but others recognise as being from God. This means they are a teacher and therefore others will listen when this person speaks. The same with shepherds, apostles, prophets and evangelists. We will see who has such gifts and we will know who can help us in any given circumstance. We will listen if they have something to say and especially if they have to admonish us to help us back onto the right path.
- “Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, wherein the Holy Spirit has set you as overseers, to shepherd the assembly of God, which he has purchased with the blood of his own” (Acts 20:28). Recognise each brother or sister as belonging to Christ not to anyone else. We view everyone as a person “for whom Christ died”. They belong to Him just as much as we do and so they are to be treated with the love which the Lord Jesus has showed to us.
- “If any one speak with a tongue, let it be two, or at the most three, and separately, and let one interpret; but if there be no interpreter, let him be silent in the assembly, and let him speak to himself and to God. And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge” (1 Corinthians 14:27-29). It is important that everyone does not speak at once and that everyone takes turns. It is also important that only a few people speak rather than many people all wanting to give a talk. This means that everyone, if they are waiting for each other, will hear what the “Spirit says to the churches” (see Revelation 2&3). Everything should be done to avoid confusion and chaos because order is a sign of the Spirit’s control of a church. If only two or three are to speak then there should be more desire amongst those who can speak to wait and thus ensure that the two or three who speak are definitely the ones that the Holy Spirit wants to speak that day. The aim is not that everyone gives their bit but that the church is edified. We all might have some impression that we would like to share, but the Holy Spirit will ensure (if He is allowed to) that the right ones are given for the whole church to have what they need for that time.
- “And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge” (1 Corinthians 14:29). So when a prophet (someone who can make known the mind of God) speaks then the others should listen and judge what they say to see if it is of God or not. The Bereans did this with Paul’s gospel in Acts 17:11 by receiving “the word with all readiness of mind, daily searching the scriptures if these things were so”. There will be a desire from all present (and particularly those who are concerned for the Lord’s flock, i.e. overseer and elders) to ensure that everything that is said is according to the scriptures.
- “But let all things be done comelily and with order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). This is the ultimate aim. God is not a God of disorder we are told. Therefore, if a church has become disorderly we can be sure that the Lord has not been given His right place there. We do not want to restrict the Holy Spirit’s service by bringing in fleshly feelings. Galatians 5 demonstrates clearly the attitudes of the flesh and the attitudes of people filled with God’s Spirit. Christians should exercise self-control, do all things in love and not argue, form groups of opinions, etc. Unity is the true sign of the Spirit’s work.
It is clear from the Epistles to the Corinthians that order in the church/assembly is not based on any ideas of organisation that mankind has developed. It involves freedom for all to be able to contribute and a sense of respect, orderliness and love amongst the saints. The orderliness spoken of by Paul makes no reference to any positions in the church but rather to individual responsibility amongst all the Christians there.
The order that has been developed by mankind in God’s Church/Assembly actually restricts the operations of the Holy Spirit. Even if someone has a gift from the Holy Spirit, many insist on them completing a degree in Theology before they can exercise that gift. Many restrict who can speak within their system meaning that those who come with a psalm, or teaching, etc are not able to give it even if they were prompted by the Holy Spirit. Man’s order restricts the work of the Spirit (even if the positions are occupied by godly men) whereas God’s order liberates the saints and enables the Holy Spirit to use whom He will at any time.
There is a good proverb: “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise: which having no chief, overseer, or ruler, provideth her bread in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8).
Making a living from the Church
“For we do not, as the many, make a trade of the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God, before God, we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17).
There are many people in many denominations that draw a salary from church funds. The excuse is often given that this is exactly what God commanded Moses for the maintenance of the Aaronic priesthood and the Levites who served them. Every Israelite was expected to give a tenth of their produce each year to God which would then supply the needs of the Levites, making them free to teach and serve Israel and God. When this ‘tithe’ stopped being brought due to the idolatry of the people, many Levites had to go out to the fields to work for their own food.
However, there is never any indication that this practice was to continue in the Church for the simple reason that every believer in Christ is a priest and a ‘man of God’. We are now a holy nation of priests (1 Peter 2:9). Paul makes very clear that He was not making ‘a trade’ of the word of God. He was not going to earn a living at the expense of the Church. He says “I have coveted the silver or gold or clothing of no one. Yourselves know that these hands have ministered to my wants, and to those who were with me” (Acts 20:33-34). In Acts 18:3 he made tents with Priscilla and Aquila while he preached and taught in Corinth. He later said to the Corinthians: “and being present with you and lacking, I did not lazily burden any one, (for the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied what I lacked,) and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will keep myself” (2 Corinthians 11:9). He had lacked what he needed but he did not seek to receive anything from the Corinthian church. However, it would appear that the Macedonian Church had given him sufficient resources to help him in his service to the Corinthians. He could later challenge the Corinthians: “Did I make gain of you by any of those whom I have sent to you? I begged Titus, and sent the brother with him: did Titus at all make gain of you?” (2 Corinthians 12:17-18). Neither Titus, nor Paul had received any material gain from the Corinthians when he was there and therefore they were to be the example for others.
It would seem from Paul's other letters that there were times when some of the saints, either individually or as a church/assembly had sent him a gift which may have included money. The Lord used the love of the saints to supply His servant when he needed it. Nowhere are we given the idea of a person serving the Lord and drawing on a regular salary from the church in that place. Rather they were God’s workmen and He supplied what they needed. This may have been by a gift from someone, the hospitality of a brother or sister (Gaius was one – see 3 John) or by the ability to earn what was needed. Paul makes quite clear that if someone wasn’t prepared to work they were not to be given food. “For also when we were with you we enjoined you this, that if any man does not like to work, neither let him eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Paul sets the example that a man of God should follow. He served God and sought His kingdom first. As a result, He found that God provided the daily needs that he had. He devoted himself to serving the Church/Assembly that he had once persecuted refusing to be a burden (financial or otherwise) on any of them but being ready to work to earn the money he needed (though he did not take on employment that restricted his ability to serve or enjoy the Lord’s presence). He seems to have occasionally received gifts from churches but these were not demanded though gratefully received. He sets out, as an example to all who lead, that leadership in the Church means humble service and seeking to serve the Lord without being a burden to anyone.
This study has opened up a whole different focus in leadership within the Church/Assembly. The scriptures tell us that a church/assembly should be a group of brothers and sisters in Christ who have no management structure nor earthly head but rather give the Lord Jesus the only place of head (which God has already given Him) and the Holy Spirit the only place of leadership. As far as we are concerned, the leaders in a church are to lead by example and serve humbly. They will not be people exalting themselves but rather will need to be noticed and recognised by others who will then follow their example and help them to fulfil the service given to them. Persons who have gifts of teaching, shepherding, apostleship, prophecy and evangelism will exercise those gifts and will be valued by the church/assembly. These gifts are given to many and so they cannot be limited in number but simply recognised and valued. These people may not even realise that they have a gift but may be exercising it just the same. They do not train or qualify for these services but simply rely on the Holy Spirit to know how to use them. There is tremendous liberty in doing things God’s way and not mankind’s way. He will give greater blessing if we are subject to Him.