Sunday, February 18, 2007

Biblical Church Leadership – Pt. 4

What Is Shared Leadership?

Contrary to what many may think, eldership is not a highly esteemed board position open to anyone who wants to join. But rather, it is team of qualified men who must meet certain qualifications that include spiritual and moral considerations before they may be chosen to serve (1Timothy 3:1-7). This process should also include public examination of their qualifications (1 Timothy 3:10) and they must also be installed publicly (1 Timothy 5:22; Acts 14:23). Their motivation and empowerment must come from the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). They must be acknowledged and loved by the congregation. Those who are particularly gifted at preaching and teaching need to be honored by the congregation through financial support, enabling them to serve full or part time. (1 Timothy 5:17, 18) This structure produces a team of qualified elders lead by the Holy Spirit to benefit the church family.

A council of elders was a form of government common in society in the ancient Near East. The evidence of this governmental structure is evident throughout the Old Testament and was as fundamental as the family. (Exodus 3:16; Ezra 10:8) And Paul utilized this basic pattern in the New Testament when he appointed elders for each church. (Acts 14:23) This is a collective form of leadership where each elder shares the authority and responsibility inherent with the position. Using more contemporary terms, this type of structure may be commonly referred to as a shared leadership or team leadership.

There are many benefits to this plurality of leadership. One of the most important benefits is the balancing out of personal weaknesses and flaws. All of us have weaknesses and flaws that we are blind to. These flaws have a way of distorting judgment, even to the point of destroying those in leadership. This is particularly dangerous in those who are particularly talented and exhibit a great deal of charisma. Without peers to call attention to danger signs, these leaders end up on a path of self destruction. Unfortunately, these types become so self-deceived that they really do not want anyone to confront them. Mutual submission to a team of leaders is crucial to curb egos and improper ambitions that particularly gifted leaders are prone to.

In a team leadership structure, the strengths that each individual brings to the table helps balance out each others weaknesses. Furthermore, the vast majority of men are not multitalented and can never possess the broad range of strengths that only a plurality of leadership can bring.

A shared leadership approach also provides a means of spreading out and lightening the workload of the ministry. True Biblical ministry does entail a heavy workload and a great deal of responsibility. Coupled with all the responsibilities that are inherent with the position, those in leadership also carry the burden of dealing with sin in the congregation, and endless complaints and conflicts between members. Moses was faced with this situation back in the book of Numbers in chapter 11 and it nearly overwhelmed him. Notice God’s remedy for the situation. The Lord instructed Moses to appoint seventy men from the elders in Israel, who would share the burden with him.

“16The LORD therefore said to Moses, "Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you.
17"Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone.”
(Numbers 11:16-17, NASB)

The so-called single pastor model of leadership is in reality a very cruel burden to place on any one man. This is probably the easiest way to burn out and discourage a pastor by placing all the responsibility of shepherding squarely on his shoulders alone. If nothing else, it certainly wearies an individual to the point that they can no longer be very effective, despite the fact that they “hang in there”. In sharp contrast, in a plurality of leadership, each elder helps share the burden, enabling each one to minister according to their personal giftedness, rather than being forced to attempt to be an expert at everything. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 eloquently describes the benefit of the mutual encouragement of the team leadership approach.

“ 9Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.
10For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.
11Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?
12And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NASB)

But more than just sharing the work load, a team ministry provides a balance of power and accountability. Placing an individual in a position of sole power and authority opens them up to succumbing to the temptations that lead to corruption. All men are subject to the passions and desires of the flesh, even Christians. And even Christian leaders can succumb to the evils of human pride and greed. The only way to help guard against this danger is through the mutual submission and accountability that only a shared leadership structure can help provide.

The shared leadership structure also provides for the mutual encouragement and accountability to carry out their responsibilities. Like anyone else, church leaders can become lazy and sloppy in the obligations of their work. Having fellow colleagues in the ministry to whom they are accountable for their work is a huge benefit. This concept can be clearly illustrated using the example of athletes engaged in various sports. To quote Strauch:

“Coaches know that athletes who train together push one another to greater achievement. When someone else is running alongside, a runner will push a little harder and go faster. The same is true in the Lord’s work. That is one reason the Lord sent His disciples out in twos.” (Strauch, p. 44)

This does not mean that there are not problems that can be encountered with the team structure. The process of working as a team can have a tendency to be slow and frustrating. And the plurality of leadership approach requires among other things, patience, prayer, love, trust and an appreciation for each others giftedness and viewpoints. This structure can also have the tendency to be prone to inaction. But to overcome this, it requires that there be clear organizational structure employed to prevent it from degenerating into disorganization and ineffectiveness. Clear expectations of responsibilities, communication and good management principles are imperative.

1. Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership, p. 38-44.

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