This year's speaker was Dr James Renihan of Westminster Seminary California (more details here), who had been given the subject of biblical church leadership. Coming as it did on the heels of a hectic couple of days in London at the Peruvian Consulate, I went along with a slight concern that my concentration and engagement levels might be a bit lower than normal. I need not have worried, as Dr Renihan brought two staunchly biblical and stirringly practical messages on the vital area of leadership in Christ's Church. Much of what he said resonated deeply with my own experience of ministry, and provided me with rich food for thought as I contemplate being involved in local church work in Peru.
The following are the main points from his first address, and I will post the second set of notes in a couple of days.
The Mandate for Biblical Church Leadership
The topic given is suggestive of an underlying assumption that there is a biblical authority for the leadership of a local church, and authority which comes from Scripture. Several abuses of this authority have been evident in history. On the one hand those in authority have rountinely abused their position, as was evident in NT times in terms of individuals such as Diotrophes. There has also been abuse by those under the authority of church leadership, a pertinent case in point being the Corinthian church, as evidenced in 2Corinthians. Occasionally men are derelict in authority. There are those who are called, but simply won't act, and others who have their own ideas of what leadership is without any reference to Jesus' teaching. Sometimes churches are sloppy about leadership - either because of traditions within a denomination, or alternatively because of a desire to pursue pragmatic innovation. Another school of thought is that the NT simply has no settled pattern of what leadership is about.
Any study of biblical church leadership must take the Lord Jesus Christ as its starting point. He is the One who has authority, and all of our ideas about leadership are necessarily derivative from Him.
The text of Matthew 28:18-19 clarifies many of these issues for us.
Firstly note the setting. These are Jesus' last recorded words prior to His departure, and thus they take on great significance. Notice secondly the audience - Jesus words are addressed to the 11 apostles who will carry His message into the world. Note the speaker, it is the Lord Jesus Christ, He is the subject of Matthew's Gospel and all of the foregoing material in the text has led up to this point. Note also the content of these verses. They speak of Christ's possession of authority, the extent of His authority ('all authority') the dominion of His authority (heaven and earth, referring to the whole moral universe, which is subject to Him) and the grant of His authority (it has been 'given' to Him, the purpose of which is that His Church might be built).
Taking all of the foregoing into consideration, it can be asserted that when we speak of leadership we must speak first of Jesus Christ: He is the One with all authority. Ephesians 1:15-23 fleshes this out further for us. Jesus' authority is unique, and the resurrection saw the consumate demonstration of this.
As a result, the authority of Christ in the Church encompasses all of the subordinate offices. Jesus is the real and true Apostle to the Church, He is desribed by Peter as the Shepherd or Overseer of the church, and Romans 15:8 speaks of Him as a deacon. Whatever office we think of within the church must be thought of as belonging primarily to Christ. We thus look to Jesus as the One who epitomises these offices. We might ask how He functions in these offices? The answer is that He founds and builds the Church, He rules and administers the Church, and He vivifies the Church by giving gifts to it (Ephesians 4).
If we divorce our authority from the authority and headship of Christ we are in danger.
All of this leads us to consider the next reality with regard to Church leadership: the Apostles. Ephesians 2:19-22 makes their role clear. As the chief Cornerstone, Christ gave Apostles and prophets to the Church. The Apostles were hand-picked companions of Jesus. They were to function as representatives of an authoritative sender, and their mission thus carries His authority, having been covenantly commissioned to fulfil God's purpose. The Apostles were commissioned to communicate truth, calling for people to turn to Christ. Apostleship also encompasses all other subordinate offices. Peter describes himself as an elder, and Paul as a deacon. The Apostles are mentioned first in listings because they were foundational. Ridderbos has described them as 'guarantors of the deposit of faith...the canon of the church to come'.
The Apostles fulfilled their role (a) personally, as they spoke as Christ's representative and (b) by letter, ministering as representatives of Christ in writing. When the Apostles died, what happened to their office? It is still theirs! No others can hold this office, and they continue to administer their authority through the Apostolic writings. It is foolishness to try to relay a foundation.
A third reality can also be observed, that of pastors and deacons. In the NT several terms are used of leadership:
(a) 'Elder': which literally means older man. In the culture of the NT an older man was 50+. The term was frequently used of leaders in a Christian church, and this was based on contemporary Jewish and Greek usage. In terms of the NT, it had lost all, or at least some, of its connotation of age. The term is always used in the plural, and refers to one's spiritual maturity. An immature man (spiritually) cannot hold this office.
(b) 'Bishop': this term was also found in the language of mediterranaen culture. It literally means to watch over, to guard, to protect. Elder and bishop are synonymous: in the NT both terms are used of men in the local church.
(c) 'Pastor': this is the term most used by us, but least used by the New Testament. In Acts 19 Paul used 'pastor' along with 'elder' and 'overseer', thus tying them together. The pastor nurtures, feeds, exercises, leads, gives direction, heals, fends off wolves, and keeps the sheep safe.
A number of wonderful pictures in the New Testament depict the role of the pastor. Such leaders are portrayed as:
*A shepherd over a flock of sheep
*A parent over a household
*A mother caring for a baby
*A good father to his children
*A watchman in a city
*An overseer in a group
*A governor over a city
*A teacher over pupils
How is such a man to function? By looking to Christ and the Apostles. Such a servant of God is to be meek, approachable, compassionate, empathetic, sympathetic, a man of disinterested love, and of Christ-like diligence.
The office of Deacon denotes a servant. Philippian 1:1 envisions a complete church as encompassing both offices of pastor and deacon. A Deacon is one appointed to serve others. Great good can come to the cause of Christ when Deacons show leadership in their office. This is a work focussed on benevolence and goodwill, expecially helping fellow-believers, but also extending care to those outside
It is so important to think in terms of the structure that Christ Himself has established. We look to the Apostles in their Word, and by looking to Jesus Christ in His offices and ministry.