Jim Wright is a church sower, public but unassuming, thinker, mentor, teacher, local church elder, motivated by redemption, foe of tyrants, friend of the dispossessed, retired international attorney, entrepreneur, former private pilot, and so-so bass fisherman.
Marianne is a retired public school teacher, private but strong, heart, skilled counselor, knows deep intimacy with God, a comfort to others in the Lord, wise, motivated by mercy but has strong resolve, gardener, and a bridge to healing for many.
Together, we have been part of a community of simple, participatory fellowships for many years in our own home county - some of which we helped start.
Our blogs and devotionals spring from firm roots in those local fellowships.
Jim, After 30+ years seeking in-depth biblical understanding and teaching others, I have been introduced to what many are calling the “Organic Church”. I was immediately attracted to the authenticity, spontaneity and equal status among believers and the emphasis on personal evangelism. So, in the last months I have been researching,
Reading your blog/others, reading the recommended books by the “experts”, etc. While there is much to emulate in these churches, the abhorrence of having gifted believers in leadership positions is puzzling. First, let me say that I have experienced the powerful work of the Spirit as believers submit to one another as equals, opening their hearts to the truth about problems, challenges, Christ and the Christian life. This “non-structure” has its wonderful, edifying place in any assembly of believers. But clearly, that is not the only method of ministry taught in the NT.
So, allow me to posit a few challenges:
The house churches of the NT had leaders. Initially they were appointed by the Apostles and their team members like Tim & Titus (Act 14:23; Tit 1:5). They served under various positions and titles: Elders, Pastor-Teachers, Overseers, deacons, etc. 1Cor 12, Eph 4, 1Pt 4, Rom 12 explains that God supernaturally empowers (spiritual gifts) and motivates believers to different tasks within the body, including leading, teaching and providing oversight. Spiritual gifts, determined and given by the Spirit inspire and enable believers to perform the different ministries needed for the church to grow both individually and corporately. Is there any credible reading of the NT that can dispute this?
Just call me puzzled! Seems that Christ intends the church to include both the open, equal spontaneous interaction of all believers, where only the Spirit leads, as well as the gifted leadership and pastoral oversight of those gifted and mature to perform those roles. Leaders do emerge as the mature serve the needs of the immature. At the same time God inspires and empowers some to lead by caring for the spiritual needs of others. In the perfect church both of these ministries would operate seamlessly without conflict.
I suspect that the abandonment of leadership positions in the OC is an over-reaction to the abuses and failures of leadership in the traditional church. History, including church history is littered with movements motivated by an overreaction to the failure of previous generations. We throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don’t assert, but I strongly suspect that the bias against encouraging leadership roles in the Organic Church is an overreaction to the failures of traditional church methods, coupled with the post modern idea that every individual should have an equal voice in all things. The approach of the OC reminds me of a Facebook chat where everyone puts in their 2 cents. Again, this is a wonderful part of church life, but only a part and not all that God intends.
Please find no critical spirit contained in these words, only a seeking for clarification and a desire to edify your readers. As always, mine is an imperfect opinion continually progressing.
Al, I think you failed to click through to the blog linked to this “nugget” on “The Question of Leadership”. There, I clearly acknowledge the need for elders and other gifts in the church. I simply make the point here that the pattern in the NT was for local leaders to emerge from fellowship, rather than our method today of trying to create fellowship from leadership.
For example, Paul would leave a new church for months or more, then return (or send Timothy, Titus, et al) and see who was functioning as an elder. Only then, after local leadership emerged within the functioning fellowship, did anyone ever lay hands on them and recognize them as elders.
Those elements of the organic church community that reject recognized leadership in the form of elders and other gift ministries are, as you state, out of sync with scripture.
However, “Elders, Pastor-Teachers, Overseers” are all elders. Those are simply synonyms emphasizing different functions for local elders. Furthermore, there was always a diversity of multiple elders in any local fellowship.
I think where some go into error today is in either rejecting distinct leadership, or in elevating it too high. For example, leaders in the NT were to function through example and persuasion, not command and control. Even the oft cited passage in Hebrews 5 about “obeying” leaders in the church is a gross mistranslation (as most commentaries agree). It should read “be persuaded” by those who lead. Big difference!
Even Paul in his apostolic capacity persuaded and led by example.
So yes, there are elders (i.e., overseers, pastors, “bishops”, presbyters, depending on the translation) and they are distinct individuals. There are those who function in other gifts, as you mention. But at least as to elders, they arise from within the fellowship and from the fellowship, and not the other way around. And they lead by example and persuasion.
I hope that clarifies my views and returns me to your good graces! 🙂
I have been involved in pentecostal type services for over 40 years, but never in a leadership capacity so give my two cents worth as a pew sitter (or as James Rutz in his Open Church book described me as ‘Mr and Mrs Lunchbucket in the 42nd row’), but I have functioned many years in the prophetic, and prophets often challenge the status quo and aren’t ‘yes’ men to pastoral leadership so are not always that popular on church boards.
From my readings of the NT, Paul was an instituitonal man being brought up a Pharisee, and hence in his writings we see the multitude of leadership offices that he introduces to the emerging Christian church. I find it interesting though how John, who survived Paul by some 30 years, and whose epistles were written probably 10-20 years after Paul was martyred, how John (like Jesus) describes the church more in family and friendship terms rather than organisational and officer type terms that Paul uses. This is not to say Paul was wrong, but as coming from an institutional background the lens though which he saw things would have been swayed by this background, whereas John, being an ex fisherman focuses more on the anointing and love within the believer to be the guide and builder of the kingdom within and without. Although John refers to elders, fathers and children from which there is a natural hierachy depicted, it is based on a loving family concept, rather than institutional office. However in Pauls defence, I think that when we read Pauls writings today and the offices we read in our Bibles of bishop, deacon, pastor, teacher are clouded by today’s institutional churches definition and interpretation of such terms, and in Organic church circles there is a kick back against this model.
Like you I agree that God can and does continue to move in the organised structures of the institutional church, but like Jim has expressed in this post, in the NT writings leaders emerged out of function within the fellowship, or by appointment according to their character as to how noble they were as individuals. The problem as I see it in most institutional churches is that the whole meeting is largely driven by the predetermined agendas and whims of two individuals – the song leader and the preacher, and this is not the NT model, and does not encourage the individual growth of the believer. In Organic church circles, the emphasis is much more participatory, interactive and inclusive, which IS the NT model.
Jim, indeed I ate the dessert and missed the meal, but haven’t drank the Kool-Aid yet. 🙂
The full article provides helpful clarification and I thank you for it.
Also I thank God for you, a believer who is gifted and prepared to explain while also mature enough to discuss differences without debating or arguing. I only seek mutual edification with all my siblings in Christ.
The study of the different leadership terms, Elder, Pastor, Overseer, etc is beyond my immediate goal, but I believe you are correct that the differing terms describe the various functions needed by the church.
I do appreciate the idea that the true leaders of the church “emerge” from within the fray to humbly lead and influence through their wisdom and walk. I shy away from the word persuasion with its connotation of one convincing another, but when done rightly, for right reasons, persuasion is beneficial. While leadership positions exist in God’s plan for the church, simply holding a position is far different than the influence of the mature Christian leader whose words & walk carry weight because they build up and guide truly.
The traditional church has wrongly adopted the worldly view that graduate level education is the priority preparation for a leadership role in the church. I teach Ministers in Training in a seminary where the focus is very bible centered, training them to look deep into the word using Hebrew & Greek within a literal Hermeneutical system. Yet, graduation from school has little to do with maturity, wisdom and the capacity to consistently love under pressure. We allow these academically trained believers to grow in their walk with God before they are considered ready to take leadership roles. You can’t lead others where you have not been yet. The goal, as I see it, is to grow into the fullness of the stature of Christ as the basis of good works, not just to perform good works, even in a leadership role. So, best I can tell, we are seeing a similar model of healthy, God ordained church life.
Yet, even in your own writings there seems to be a reluctance to openly acknowledge that Christ enables, prepares and then appoints men and women to be the ones who emerge and lead. From your article:
“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 puzzles me is that with the scriptures clear that God enables certain believers by gifting and by the mentoring of the Spirit, that He prepares them through growth in the word, learned, believed and lived while facing the issues of life and that He inspires in these same believers the desire to teach, to lead, to mentor and to make disciples, that there is a reluctance, a passion and even pride that avoids recognizing anyone as an official leader. Not to read into anyone’s motives, but there seems to be even a pride expressed that “our group neither has nor needs any leaders” (paraphrase from several blog readings). Are they not sheep without a shepherd? While Christ is our Great Shepherd, He gave under shepherds to the church to lead and feed them.
The Apostle Paul, discussing the particular gifts designed to teach and lead said this:
Ephesians 4:11-12 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.
Here are believers gifted to lead, mentor, teach and be examples to others who God intends to grow into their role as leaders, be recognized as those having been gifted and prepared to lead and then appointed into leadership positions at an appropriate time allowing them maximum opportunity to nurture and disciple others. These gifted, prepared and humble leaders are God’s plan to train and equip the believers, enabling them to perform the work of service and to edify the body of Christ.
There is no question that much/most of the traditional churches have lost touch with the Lord’s plan to go out into the world and make disciples. No question that the structures in these churches are egalitarian, seeing in their position the power to command rather than influence. No question that God’s people have corrupted His model of church structure into an exclusive club of clergy over laity. As a leader in a semi-traditional bible church, I see the same problem, but sense that the cure is as extreme as the illness. Again, what I sense and suspect is the reluctance or even rejection of God ordained leaders in the church is coming from an over-reaction to the failure of the leaders in the traditional church.
So my point, hoping for either acceptance or further clarification is that these leadership roles are not the invention of man, but God. These roles and those God has prepared to fill them are to be embraced and encouraged, not minimized or rejected outright as some are doing.
Because other men fell into the trap of pride, used their office for personal gain, ruled other believers rather than serve them and hindered the church’s growth and function, does not allow us to simply write off God’s structure or even minimize its importance. It is the deceived heart that has corrupted God’s plan for leading the traditional church, not the leadership roles themself.
The real issue is having men of true Christian maturity and character, servants of God who humbly serve His people filling these positions and leading the people. When gifted, prepared, humble men and women who emerge by the will of God are embraced by the church, then all that the Organic church cherishes will occur and much more. It is the much more that also inspires me to speak out in this manner.
In the organic church, who are the prepared teachers who devote their lives to understanding the word so they can faithfully explain it to others, digging out the categories of topics and developing them to see the absolutes that apply to life. Is the babe and infant in Christ given the same standing to teach as the learned and mature? This is what I am reading around different sites. If so, how can the newborn believers gain the milk/word so they may grow into the security of their salvation? How can the immature be mentored and instructed in the precious promise giving them wisdom for life? If everyone’s perspective, be it the novice or the mature is given the same weight, all the time, then very little learning can take place. Intimate fellowship and sharing yes, which is a critical piece of the church’s life. Heartfelt worship and music yes, but even then just a little preparation and craft gives worship music a lift.
As you can see, my brow is furrowed over how the church without prepared teachers and leaders can ever progress beyond just the rudiments of the biblical message. I apologize for burdening your blog with my rantings but I do believe these questions are important ones for those who are interested in the organic church but are outside looking in.
BTW, as you remain in God’s good graces, so you remain in mine, even when we see issues differently.
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