When folks first start re-thinking “church” and considering the idea of open, organic, participatory fellowships, the first thing they seem to focus on is the question of leaders and leadership. That was true for me.
Those are important issues, for sure. But the incessant focus on who will lead – and on creating proper leadership structures – typically comes out of the whole institutional church clergy/laity paradigm, which God is now trying to break.
What we fail to realize is that elders (also called pastors, bishops and presbyters depending on your translation) and deacons emerged in the New Testament from fellowship, and not fellowship from elders and deacons.
Paul appointed elders only AFTER a local church had been operating for awhile. By waiting, he could see who organically emerged and were naturally serving as elders. This was his unwavering pattern.
Likewise, Paul sent Titus and Timothy to appoint elders only AFTER the churches he planted first learned to be a functional community that ministered one to another.
Interestingly, Paul seems consistently to have been absent, perhaps on purpose, during this vital stage of letting a new fellowship of believers find its footing before recognizing any elders.
Unlike Paul, we do it all backwards. We expect fellowship to emerge from designated leaders. In God’s providence, however, leaders emerge from fellowship. Such leaders are not imported or controlling. Nor do they act as owners or lords over God’s flock. Rather, when done right, they come from among and thus are simply part of the community.
God’s way is for leaders to first emerge and then prove themselves in the context of community and fellowship. Only then are they recognized. Thus, fellowship must come first. There is no way around this fact.
In my own journey, I needed to chill out and just learn how to be part of a local expression of the Body of Christ. Even now, we have no recognized elders as we focus instead on becoming a community of believers who know how to love each other and lift Jesus higher.
I’ve learned that when we submit our own agenda and concepts to the Lord – like leadership ideas that we often inherit from the institutional church – and simply become co-participants who minister one to another, proper leadership eventually emerges His way and in His timing. And although we have no formal elders, we are seeing proper leadership naturally begin to emerge.
I’ve also learned that when we let the Lord bring forth leadership organically, it looks nothing like an institutional church position, office, organizational chart, or the like. Rather, it is unconcerned with titles and position and control. It leads by example, and not hierarchy (except to esteem each other more than ourselves). In fact, it often is very understated and in the background because it has no desire to draw attention to itself.
As Jesus himself said: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 2:24.
My advice is to focus first on community – Christ in us and through us – as we learn to love one another and minister one to another. Let that seed of leadership – as you understand it and want it – die, else you will fall right back into the institutional trap of organizing the church around one person. Then, once that seed has died, watch how God will bring forth many seeds and much fruit – including proper leadership. It may take awhile, but just chill out!
Since writing this in late 2011, we now have a few among us who are recognized as elders – although as I say in this blog, they are very understated and don’t even care about that “title”. But if you asked anyone who the elders are, everyone knows and could point them out because they simply function as such – without all the crazy need for position, title or office.
- Myopic Ekklesia (crossroadjunction.com)