Church Leadership & “What Lens?” Revisited

kinnon —  January 3, 2007 — 11 Comments

I wrote this Church Leadership post almost a year ago and thought it appropriate to republish today. There were some great comments the last time around.

What Lens?

Let me state up front – although I am a student of theology, I am no theologian. My book shelves may be littered with the works of NT Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Eugene Peterson, John Stott, Spurgeon, Lewis, Chesterton, McLaren (himself no theologian) and the greatest of all living English theologians, Adrian Plass – but I am still a simple Christian stumbling my way towards God. I invite you to join me as I stumble through this propositional post.

The idea for this topic began germinating quite some time ago, but the writing of it was kickstarted this past week when I happened to be listening to a West Coast pastor expound on the role of a Senior Pastor. This pastor has a particular viewpoint common to the independent, charismatic megachurch leader – in fact common to many megachurch leaders period. Let me unpack a little of it first before I name the lens through which I believes he views leadership – the lens through which he inteprets the Bible.

This man knew his bible – accurately quoting numerous scriptures from memory to prove his points (oft referred to as proof texting.) From Hebrews 13:17, he reminded his listeners to "obey their leaders." He spoke to us of King David and the people David gathered around himself (his mighty men) – how he had to first trust them before he would accept them. This pastor told of his own training up of young leaders to the point where they would respond simply by the way he inclined his head. He went on to describe the importance of the leader’s family and the special role entrusted to them in running the church – backing it up with reference to the views of a now dead hero in the faith. (Never mentioning Jesus response to his own earthly family.) This West Coast pastor’s message was well delivered, with mild self-deprecation and a stated desire to see "the lost won to Christ" – a desire best fulfilled, in his view, if the people would just be obedient, and let the leaders lead.

His lens – the lens of a king. I found it telling how often King David was referred to – I awaited his reference to David’s armour bearers – a book on that topic was probably available in his church bookstore. When he spoke of the New Testament, he tended to quote only Paul. (I recognize that the authorship of Hebrews is debated.) Jesus was only mentioned in our need to win people to Him.

Why would there be any problem with a Christian leader using King David as a model for his or her leadership? Is there anything wrong with the king model for the Christian church leader?

In fact, what might God’s viewpoint be on kings – from 1 Samuel 8:4-20. (As translated in The Message )

Fed up, all the elders of Israel got together and confronted Samuel at Ramah. They presented their case: "Look, you’re an old man, and your sons aren’t following in your footsteps. Here’s what we want you to do: Appoint a king to rule us, just like everybody else."

When Samuel heard their demand–"Give us a king to rule us!" – he was crushed. How awful! Samuel prayed to GOD.

GOD answered Samuel, "Go ahead and do what they’re asking. They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King. From the day I brought them out of Egypt until this very day they’ve been behaving like this, leaving me for other gods. And now they’re doing it to you. So let them have their own way. But warn them of what they’re in for. Tell them the way kings operate, just what they’re likely to get from a king."

So Samuel told them, delivered GOD’s warning to the people who were asking him to give them a king. He said, "This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them–chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect GOD to answer."

But the people wouldn’t listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles."

The king lens is a lens of power and domination. It’s a lens of nepotism – the royal family inherits the throne. It is a lens that separates the people from a proper relationship with God – as God tells Samuel, "They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King." The leader as king replaces the relationship God wants to have with His people.

And how does God respond to that rejection? A thousand years after Samuel, He comes Himself, in the guise of a baby, born to a poor virgin, raised in the backwater town of Nazareth, reveals Himself at thirty years old with a three year ministry that teaches us His ways, then reconciles we who have rejected Him – the reconciliation that takes place at the Cross. At the Cross, the Son of Man, very God of very God (as the Nicene Creed reminds us) becomes the perfect sacrifice for us – to reconcile us to Himself.

The Cross is the lens through which we need to view Christian leadership. Through the Cross we interpret the Scriptures. When Paul speaks of obeying leaders – he is seeing leaders through the lens of the Cross. The Cross is hard. It is the place where the Creator of the Universe, chooses to abase Himself, to make Himself the lowest of the low – that we who rejected Him would be won back to Him. Paul never loses sight of his Saviour on the Cross. As he says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, "but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles". When Paul speaks of leaders, he is speaking of those who are willing to lay down their lives for those they lead. Leaders who are right in the midst of their people. Paul views leadership through the lens of the Cross. To interpret his teaching any other way is to miss what he is saying completely.

And what does Jesus say of leadership in light of the Cross? When Zebedee’s sons, James and John, who still view Jesus through the king lens, ask to sit on his right and left in "glory" – Jesus asks them whether they are able to "drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptisim I am baptized with." (Mark 10:38 ) Jesus is asking whether they are willing to be crucified like Him – though they do not understand his question even as he has just explained it to them in Mark 10:32-34their lens is still the lens of the king. They still expect Jesus to take His throne at the Temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus knows where He is heading. And in Mark 10 he continues and tells His disciples what His leadership looks like, through the lens of the cross.

Mark 10:42b-45 "You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around," he said, "and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served–and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage."

Our experience, background, families impact how we see the world. We bring all that baggage with us as we choose our lenses. But the lens through which we view scripture – the lens through which we see biblical leadership is proscribed for us. It is the lens of the cross. I believe that any other lens takes us into territory that becomes heterodoxy.

Of course, I’m not a theologian. Perhaps I’m mistaken.

As I said at the beginning, there were some great comments the first time this was published.

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kinnon

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

11 responses to Church Leadership & “What Lens?” Revisited

  1. Well, maybe this is where you and I differ, Bill.

    I havn’t been to a church yet that doesn’t have some kind of “king” (declared or otherwise) that oversees, runs, governs, manages, etc… the church’s direction and activities. Soemtimes it’s hidden within a committe or “board of elders” – but there is usually one or two people whose ideas, thoughts, and (dare I say it) vision is what is determining the direction of the church.

    The difference, for me, arises when you examine the person in taht position. The former Bishop of the Brandon Diosese (Malcom Harding) was someone who took on this mantle, but didn’t do it in a mean-spirited, overbearing, me first attitude way. You knew he was the Bishop, and his decision was final, but he didn’t do that in a way that put you down.

    He let you know in a way that lifted you up.

    Perhaps that is what is lacking in church leadership – not the model, but the attitude and focus of the person in the role.

    I don’t have a problem with the comparisons to King David – he was, after all, someone who tried most times to keep his attitude under control. When he messed up (and he did) he knew he needed to make it right with God instead of rationalizing his behaviour. Maybe this leader (and others) should look at that aspect of David’s leadership a bit more than the rest!

    This isn’t a completely thought out view – just one off the cuff. And just one thought to add to yours.

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  2. Hey Bill,

    Thanks for this post.

    I sense, through the spirit, as I think you and many others do, that the “lens of the cross” analogy is in fact how Jesus calls us to view discipleship. The real challenge then is not the understanding itself, as the revelation has been made to more than enough people but rather how to translate and effect this understanding within our community.

    If hetrodoxies, are nothing more than symptoms of the failure of orthodoxy, then by correcting our beliefs through understanding and practice, (orthodoxy) the hetrodoxies begin to disappear.

    The question again becomes not so much what we do but how we do it. Sadly, as with most of our quandries the challenge lies not in the knowing, for God has revealed, but rather by which human institution(s)and under whose human intercession, do we mediate and effect his work.

    Who will humbly choose to serve us? Who will we humbly receive to lead us?

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  3. I think that the King David analogy is hardly complete without a good heavy dose of the fact that David, despite all his shortcomings, was still considered a man after God’s own heart.

    God chose him for leadership specifically, as he does with pastors. Since when did the church (or the nation of Israel) become a democracy. The pastor DOES have final authority unless the people feel led by God to relieve him of his duties.

    I’ve always felt that a pastor should incorporate the leadership of David, the love and relationships of Jesus (as well as the preaching), and the doctrinal teachings of Paul. Can’t go wrong using examples like these, especially Jesus.

    Nathan
    http://www.nathanrice.org

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  4. Nathan, perhaps you could provide me scriptural references for “The pastor DOES have final authority unless the people feel led by God to relieve him of his duties.” And what does “final authority” mean? How does this relate to the description of leadership Jesus provides in Mark 10 and Matthew 20. As well, where does your concept of a single pastor come from? And how is it that “the people feel led by God to relieve him of his duties“? For that matter, why is it a “him”?

    The issue in my post has nothing to do whatsoever with David’s character, but rather that David would be held up as the standard of leadership in the Church, rather than Jesus, the perfect, servant leader.

    Not sure where the “democracy issue” came up for you. I don’t see it in my post and nor do I believe in it as ecclesiastical polity.

    You write that you feel “a pastor should incorporate the leadership of David, the love and relationships of Jesus (as well as the preaching), and the doctrinal teachings of Paul.” Do you find something lacking in the leadership and teaching of Jesus? Is he not a sufficient enough example of leadership, period.

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  5. First off, I don’t want you to get the understanding that I’m directly challenging the point of your article. Obviously, authority practiced with humility (that of self sacrificing love, as you alluded to with your “lens of the cross” analogy). I was simply pointing out that God isn’t nearly as unhappy with the idea of a king as your implied. You ask the question, “what might God’s viewpoint be on kings”, and I ask, what’s God’s viewpoint on this particular king, David? Answer, God considers him a man after his own heart.

    I just want that to be clear, not that the point matters that much.

    anyway, to answer some of your questions:
    “Nathan, perhaps you could provide me scriptural references for “The pastor DOES have final authority…”

    As you pointed out in the article, Heb. 13:17 says so quite well.

    “And what does “final authority” mean?”

    Just as Heb 13 points out, they have been given the responsibility to watch over your souls. Pastoral authority is necessary for his own accountability to God.

    “How does this relate to the description of leadership Jesus provides in Mark 10 and Matthew 20.”

    Authority and humility demonstrated by Jesus Himself. Understanding both your responsibility as a humble servant and under shepherd of your flock. The two can indeed work in concert.

    “As well, where does your concept of a single pastor come from? For that matter, why is it a “him”?”

    Singular authority is necessary to prevent concessions and compromise. As far as the gender goes, feel free to justify female leadership any way you like, but it simply isn’t biblical.

    “And how is it that “the people feel led by God to relieve him of his duties”?”

    Acts 13:3-4 shows us how we send forth people, through the power of the Holy Spirit. I would assume that we release them the same way.

    Acts 20:28-31 reminds us to purge those among us (I would assume that would include pastors) who would seek to inject falsities into the church.

    “Do you find something lacking in the leadership and teaching of Jesus? Is he not a sufficient enough example of leadership, period.”

    Of course not, but Jesus wasn’t a pastor, nor did he even resemble one. David’s role as king and Paul’s role as spiritual authority in the early church are directly analogous to the role of a modern local church pastor. Senior pastoral leadership roles do include teaching the congregation doctrinal truths (or relinquishing that duty to others, small group leaders, assistant pastors, etc.) Jesus focused very little on expositional doctrine. It’s not an insult to Jesus to take an eclectic analysis of leadership roles throughout the Bible and incorporate them in your own leadership strategy.

    Hope that clears up my position.

    Nathan
    http://www.nathanrice.org

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  6. Bill – more news from Brandon Diocese that fits into this leadership talk of yours – as a BAD example. If you didn’t read Anglican Planet, I have a link to the article in my blog.

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  7. Excellent recommendation of Adrian Plass btw – does his humour translate easily to that side of the pond?

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  8. Adrian translates well in a Canadian environment. Not sure how the Americans would do with him. He is truly brilliant, however.

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  9. Chris B,
    I’ll check it out when I’m back in Canada.

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  10. Nathan writes that David’s role as king is “directly analogous to the role of the modern church pastor.”

    Exactly.

    And, undeniably: God didn’t want a king.

    Great stuff, Bill.

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  11. I’m joining the conversation a little late, but I’m glad I got to read this. I’m in agreement with you, Bill.

    Nathan,

    Working backwards a little, you said that Jesus wasn’t a pastor. The Good Shepherd not a Shepherd? We need to rethink our ideas of pastor around him; he was and is the ultimate pastor.

    Also, we shouldn’t neglect Jesus commands to the disciples not to allow anyone to call them “father” or “teacher” because they are all equals. Here’s Jesus (our Lord) on point, but frequently disregarded. But to keep this from being too abstract, a good picture of the first church’s authority structure arose in the early church’s disagreements that had a lot at stake. In neither the conflict about Peter entering the home of a gentile, nor the one about circumcision (and Paul’s work) do I see any of the apostles laying down the law by virtue of any ‘head’ office. The whole group of them (even many in the ‘congregation’) struggled to discern what God was actually doing and what he wasn’t doing in light of all his actions to date, and voiced their views for all to consider. Even Peter didn’t say, “Well, Jesus left me in charge to settle exactly this kind of problem.” He appealed to them as equals before a living Shepherd, as did James in the later conflict. We could and should do more of the same today. We’d get more maturity among us, more humility and, I think, better discernment.

    To the extent that “Singular authority is necessary to prevent concessions and compromise” we have a singular authority in a living God, who has had in mind all along to take back the throne that was given to David as a concession, and he has done so. Groups are generally better at discerning what that living God is doing than just one person in any event, given the frailties and gifts we all share.

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What do you think?