Minding my own business as I deal with the joys of spring allergies, I scanned Twitter earlier this morning. A British pastor I follow, Tweeted a link to a Craig Groeschel blog post – Honoring Your Church Leaders – with the humourous comment, Hope my congregation read this.. 😉
Groeschel’s post begins with him quoting 1 Timothy 5:17, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” He then goes on to tell the story of consulting with a church that had “been in decline.”
Each time the pastor spoke, the elders talked over him and brushed off his comments as meaningless. The longer the meeting carried on, the more obvious their problem became to me.
When they asked me what I thought, I’m sure they expected me to tell them to change the style of their service or add a Saturday night service, etc.
Instead, I told them that their number one problem was that they were dishonoring their pastor. Immediately, the elders became defensive. It wasn’t until I quoted their words and demonstrated what they had done that they realized their lack of honor.
I explained that I didn’t expect God to bless their church until they trusted and believed in the one God had put there to lead them. On the spot, they sincerely repented to their pastor. Four years later, this church has almost doubled in size.
Showing honor obviously isn’t the key to growth. But a lack of honor certainly doesn’t help. As my church honors me as the God-appointed leader, I feel a deeper sense of urgency to hear from God and do what pleases Him.
My Tweet response was to ask, What am I missing here? Or, why does this rub me the wrong way? At the end of this post are links to the Tweets that responded to mine, but let me take a moment to unpack my own response in a little more than 140 characters.
First the exegesis of the passage. Paul is speaking about honouring elders plural who “direct the affairs of the church well – especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” Groeschel apparently morphs this passage to honouring “the pastor”. In the next verse – 18, Paul continues his teaching, quoting scriptures of a hard working ox not being muzzled (so that it can eat some of the grain that it’s hard work is threshing) and a labourer being worthy of their wages. Note that these aren’t glamourous examples. Paul does not say, ‘a King is worthy of the taxes he collects’. He uses the examples of a hard working animal or common labourers – which I would see lining up with Jesus’ teaching on servant leadership in Matthew 20:25-28. Paul is not talking about status, high position or visionary leadership – he is simply saying, ‘honour the hardworking elders in your midst – they are doing a tough job’.
Groeschel’s theology is that God places one person at the head of the church to lead – “I didn’t expect God to bless their church until they trusted and believed in the one God had put there to lead them,” and ” as my church honors me as the God-appointed leader…” [emphasis added] I’d point simply to Luke 10 where Jesus sends his disciples out in twos, but…
Craig feels the numbers back him up. Four years after the elders repented, the church “has almost doubled in size.” And who am I to question Groeschel who is the Senior Pastor of LifeChurch.tv. His “creative leadership skills are changing the way church is done worldwide. Under his leadership, LifeChurch.tv has become one of the country’s first multi-campus churches, with over fifty weekend worship experiences at thirteen different locations throughout the United States.” And around 25,000 people attend those “worship experiences.”
As an aside, it’s interesting to note that all the people who work with Groeschel on the LifeChurch.tv Directional Leadership Team come from a successful business background. Perhaps this plays a role in what appears to be an example of the Pastor as CEO.
This isn’t meant to be a personal attack on Groeschel. He’s an Evangelical Covenant Church pastor – a denomination in which I have many friends. A number of them have told me about what a good guy Groeschel is – and I would not dispute that. My issue would be with his theology.
Scripture tells us to honour one another. Scripture speaks of plurality of leadership. Jesus calls that leadership to a radical understanding of the nature of that leadership – where the last are first and the first, last. The Western Christian fiction of the visionary CEO-style church leader who is the one who “hears from God” and the “sheep” then follow him is not supported in the New Testament. (Read the comments on Groeschel’s post.)
And if the growth of your church is the ultimate sign of “do(ing) what pleases (God)” then we can safely assume that people like Charles Simeon and David Livingston were abject failures in their God-pleasing skills. (Simeon’s church, where he served for 50 years, was a source of untold troubles to him – yet his wider legacy which includes the Church Missionary Society, still impacts the world today. And Livingston, who saw little fruit in all his missionary endeavours in Africa, is seen as one of the pre-eminent seed planters for the profound growth of the gospel in Africa in the 20th Century.)