|Rethinking Leadership in the
If we strip it down to its bare roots, the idea of "covering" rests upon a top-heavy, hierarchical understanding of authority. This understanding is borrowed from the structures that belong to this world system. It in no way reflects the kingdom of God.
Let me unpack that a bit.
The hierarchical leadership structure, which characterizes the Western church, is derived from a positional mindset. This mindset casts authority in terms of slots to fill; objective job descriptions to carry out; titles to sport; and ranks to pull.
The positional mindset resonates with concern over explicit leadership structures. Terms like "pastor," "elder," "prophet," "bishop," etc. are titles representing ecclesiastical offices.
Parenthetically, an office is a sociological slot that a group defines. It has a reality apart from the person that fills it. It also has a reality apart from the actions the person in that office takes.
By contrast, the NT notion of leadership is rooted in a functional mindset. It portrays authority in terms of how things work organically. That is, how they function by Godís life.
NT leadership places a high premium on the unique gifting, spiritual maturity, and sacrificial service of each member. It lays stress on functions, not offices. It emphasizes tasks rather than titles. Its main concern lies in activities like pastor-ing, elder-ing, prophesy-ing, oversee-ing, etc. To frame it another way, positional thinking is hung up on nouns. Functional thinking stresses verbs.
In the positional framework, the church is patterned after the military and managerial structures of our culture. In the functional framework, the church operates by life. Mutual ministry comes about naturally. Structure and rank are absent.
Native to positional/hierarchical oriented churches is a political machine that works behind the scenes. This machine promotes certain people to positions of ecclesiastical power.
Native to functionally oriented churches is the mutual responsibility and collegial interplay of the members. They listen to the Lord together and affirm each other in their Spirit-endowed gifts.
In a word, the NT orientation of leadership is organic and functional. By contrast, the positional/hierarchical orientation of leadership is fundamentally worldly. And there is a natural affinity between the positional/hierarchical orientation and the idea of "protective covering."
Jesus and the Gentile/Hierarchical Idea of Leadership
The ministry of Jesus on the subject of authority clarifies the underlying issues that lurk behind the "covering" teaching. Consider how our Lord contrasted the hierarchical leadership pattern of the Gentile world with leadership in the kingdom of God.
After James and John implored Him to grant them the glorified power-seats beside His throne, Jesus replied saying,
. . . You know that the rulers of the Gentiles LORD IT OVER THEM, and their great men EXERCISE AUTHORITY OVER THEM. IT IS NOT SO AMONG YOU, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:25-28, NASB)
. . . The kings of the Gentiles LORD IT OVER THEM; and those who HAVE AUTHORITY OVER THEM are called ĎBenefactors.í BUT NOT SO WITH YOU, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.(Luke 22:25-26, NASB)
The Greek word for "exercise authority" in Matthew is katexousiazo. Katexousiazo is a combination of two Greek words. Kata, which means down upon or over. And exousiazo, which means to exercise authority. The Lord also uses the Greek word katakurieuo in this passage, which means to "lord it over" others.
What Jesus is condemning in these passages is not oppressive leaders as such. Instead, He is condemning the hierarchical form of leadership that dominates the Gentile world!
That bears repeating.
Jesus was not just condemning tyrannical leaders. He was condemning the hierarchical form of leadership itself!
What is the hierarchical form of leadership? It is the leadership style that is rooted in the benighted idea that power and authority flow from the top down. Essentially, it is built on a chain-of-command social structure.
Hierarchical leadership is based on a worldly concept of power. This explains why it is endemic to all traditional bureaucracies. It is present in the vicious forms of liege-lord feudalism and master/slave relationships. It is also seen in the highly stylized spheres of military and corporate America.
While often bloodless, the hierarchical leadership style is undesirable for Godís people. For it reduces human relationships into command-styled relationships. By that I mean relationships that are ordered along the lines of a military chain-of-command structure. Such relationships are foreign to NT thinking and practice.
Hierarchical leadership is employed everywhere in pagan culture. Regrettably, however, it has been adopted into most Christian churches today.
Summing up our Lordís teaching on this style of leadership, the following contrasts come into sharp focus:
In the Gentile world, leaders operate on the basis of a political, chain-of-command social structureóa hierarchy. In the kingdom of God, leadership flows out of childlike meekness and sacrificial service.
In the Gentile world, authority is based on position and rank. In the kingdom of God, authority is based on godly character. Note Christís description of leaders: "let him be a servant," and "let him be as the younger." In our Lordís eyes, being precedes doing. And doing flows from being. Put differently, function follows character. Those who serve do so because they are servants.
In the Gentile world, greatness is measured by prominence, external power, and political influence. In the kingdom of God, greatness is measured by inner humility and outward servitude.
In the Gentile world, leaders exploit their positions to rule over others. In the kingdom of God, leaders deplore special reverence. They regard themselves "as the younger."
In brief, hierarchical leadership structures characterize the spirit of the Gentiles. Therefore, the implanting of these structures into the church is at odds with NT Christianity. Our Lord did not mince words in declaring His implicit disdain for the Gentile notion of leadership. For He plainly said: "It is not so among you!"
All in all, there is no room in Christís teaching for the hierarchical leadership model that characterizes the modern church.
Jesus and the Jewish/Positional Model of Leadership
Our Lord also contrasted leadership in the kingdom with the leadership model that marks the religious world. In the following text, Jesus vividly expresses Godís perspective on authority in contrast to the Jewish concept:
But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, AND YOU ARE ALL BROTHERS. And DO NOT CALL ANYONE ON EARTH YOUR FATHER: for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And DO NOT BE CALLED LEADERS; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matt. 23:8-12, NASB)
Gathering up the content of Christís teaching here, we may glean the following:
In the religious climate of the Jews there exists a class system made up of religious, guru-like specialists and non-specialists. In the kingdom, all are brethren in the same family.
In the Jewish world, religious leaders are accorded with honorific titles. (Examples: Teacher, Father, Reverend, Pastor, Bishop, Priest, Minister, etc.) In the kingdom, there are no distinctions of protocol. Such titles obscure the unique honor of Jesus Christ and blur the NT revelation that envisions all Christians as ministers and priests.
In the Jewish world, leaders are exalted into positions of prominence and glamorous display. In the kingdom, leaders find their work in the lowly towel of servitude and in the unassuming basin of humility.
In the Jewish world, leadership is rooted in status, title, and position. In the kingdom, leadership is rooted in inward life and character. (In this vein, the current fad of bestowing honorary "doctorates" before the names of countless clergy is one example of how the modern church mirrors those leadership values that run contrary to Godís kingdom.)
In sum, leadership according to Jesus is a far cry from what it is in most modern churches. Our Lord dealt a deathblow to both Gentile/hierarchical and Jewish/positional leadership models.
These ego-massaging models are incompatible with the primitive simplicity of the church and the upside-down kingdom of Jesus Christ. They impede the progress of Godís people. They suppress the functionality of the believing priesthood. They rupture the image of the church as family. And they place severe limitations on the Headship of Christ. For these reasons "it is not so among" those who bear the name of the Savior!
The Apostles and Positional/Hierarchical Leadership
We have seen that our Lord condemned positional/hierarchical leadership structures. But what about Paul and the other apostles?
In contrast to popular thinking, the NT letters never cast church leaders in terms of "offices" and other conventions of human social organization. (We will deal with the various passages that some have used to support church "offices" later.)
Whenever the NT describes those chiefly responsible for spiritual oversight, it does so by mentioning the work they do. Hence, functional language dominates. Verbs are prominent.
Local overseers are called elders and overseers (Titus 1:5-7). This is simply because they elder-edóthey acted as seasoned models to the less mature (1 Pet. 5:3). They also oversawóthey watched out for the spiritual well-being of the church (1 Pet. 5:2).
The task of the elders is also depicted by the metaphor of a "shepherd" (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). This is because they were caretakers. Just as literal shepherds care for literal sheep.
Consequently, equating overseers with a sociological slot (an office) can only be done at substantial risk. We have to evacuate "shepherd" of its intended meaning (one who tends sheep). We also have to evacuate "elder" from its intended meaning (an old man). Not to mention having to evacuate "overseer" from its native meaning (one who watches out for others).
It ought to be noted that all Christians participate in corporate leadership. Each member leads as he or she exercises his or her spiritual gift. As I have demonstrated in Rethinking the Wineskin, direction and decision-making come from the whole church. Oversight comes from the elders once they emerge (and this takes time).
The Role of the Elders/Overseers
In the Greek language, elder (presbuteros) merely means an old man. An elder, therefore, is a seasoned saint. A senior brother. That is its fundamental meaning.
NT elders were simply spiritually mature menóexemplary Christians who superintended (not controlled or directed) the affairs of the church.
Elders were not organizational figureheads. They were not hired pulpiteers, professional clergy, or ecclesiastical chairmen. They were simply older brothers (elders-in-fact) carrying out real functions (elder-ing, shepherd-ing, oversee-ing, etc.).
Their chief task was threefold: to model servanthood in the church; to motivate the saints for works of service; and to mold the spiritual development of the younger believers (1 Pet. 5:1-3). The elders were also the ones who dealt with sticky situations in the church (Acts 15:6ff).
But elders never made decisions for the church. As I have demonstrated in Rethinking the Wineskin, the NT method for decision-making was neither dictatorial nor democratic. It was consensual. And it involved all the brothers and sisters.
As overseers, the elders supervised the work of others (instead of substituting for it). They prayed with their eyes open. They had their spiritual antennas perpetually raised to check for wolves. As older men, their wisdom was sought after in times of crises. When they spoke, their voices possessed the weight of experience.
Because they possessed a shepherdís heart, the elders bore the burdens of the church. They helped guide, protect, and feed the younger believers until they could stand on their own two feet.
Simply put, elders were spiritual facilitators who supplied guidance, provided nurture, and encouraged commitment in the church. Eldership, therefore, is something that one does. It is not a slot that one fills.
The NT bears this out rather clearly. For if Paul and the other apostles wanted to paint elders as officers, there were numerous Greek words they could have used to do so.
Significantly, however, the following Greek terms are missing from the apostlesí ecclesiastical vocabulary:
arche (a rank-and-file leader, head, or ruler)
time (an officer or dignitary)
telos (the inherent power of a ruler)
archisunagogos (a synagogue official)
hazzan (a public worship leader)
taxis (a post, position, or rank)
hierateia (a priestís office)
archon (a ruler or chief)
The NT never uses any of these words to describe leadership in the church. Like that of Christ, the apostlesí favorite word to portray church leaders is diakonosówhich means a servant or a waiter.
The penchant to depict servant-leaders in the church as officers and professional clerics guts the true meaning of the Biblical language and cuts the nerve of the believing priesthood!
The Problem of the Modern Pastoral Role
By the same token, the commonly accepted notion of "sola pastora" (single pastor) is at odds with the NT. The Bible knows nothing of a person who stands at the helm of a local church, directs its affairs, preaches to it every Sunday, conducts its baptisms, and officiates its communion (or Lordís supper).
The highly specialized, professional "pastoral role" of modern Protestantism is a post-Biblical novelty that evokes a tradition of humane (but not so helpful) sacerdotalism! It is essentially a carry-over from Romanism (the priest). As such, it better reflects the weak and beggarly elements of the Levitical priesthood than anything found in the NT.
Just as serious, the pastoral role warps many who fill this position. Those who get seduced by the trappings of clerical professionalism are virtually always tainted by it. God never called anyone to bear the heavy burden of ministering to the needs of the church by himself.
Perhaps the most daunting feature of the modern pastoral role is that it keeps the people it claims to serve in spiritual infancy. Because the pastoral role usurps the believerís right to minister in a spiritual way, it ends up warping Godís people. It keeps them weak and insecure.
Granted, many who fill this role do so for laudable reasons. And not a few of them sincerely want to see their fellow brethren take spiritual responsibility. (Many a pastor live with this frustration. But few have mapped the problem to their profession.)
Yet the modern office of "pastor" always disempowers and pacifies the believing priesthood. This is so regardless of how uncontrolling the person who fills this position may be.
Since the pastor carries the spiritual workload, the majority of the brethren become passive, lazy, self-seeking, and arrested in their spiritual growth. In this way, both pastors and congregations alike cannot help from being spiritually lamed by this unbiblical office.
While the NT calls Paul an "apostle," Philip an "evangelist," Manaen a "teacher," and Agabus a "prophet," it never identifies anyone as a pastor! In fact, the word "pastor" is used only once in the entire NT (see Eph. 4:11). And it is used as a descriptive metaphor, never as an ecclesiastical office. This flies in the face of common practice. Today "the pastor" is regarded as the figurehead of the church. His name is exclusively splashed on church marquees all across America. (One wonders why other ministries do not appear on these marquees when they are given far more attention in the NT.)
In the final analysis, the modern pastoral role undermines the Headship of Jesus Christ. It has a spiritually crippling effect on the church. It robs Godís beloved priesthood (of all believers) of its full employment. Further, its mere presence diffuses and stalemates those "ordinary" believers who are equally gifted to shepherd and teach the flock. (Never mind that the Bible teaches that every church is to have multiple shepherds. Or that all members of the Body are to bear pastoral responsibility.)
Typically, if someone other than the pastor dares to shepherd or teach the sheep (even if he may be trustworthy, mature, and gifted), the pastor will feel threatened. He will then snuff it out under the guise of "protecting" the flock!
To be more specific and pointed, the present-day conception of "the pastor" is far removed from the thought of God. It puts the dynamic of NT community into an Old Testament straightjacket.
Yet regardless of the spiritual tragedies it engenders, the masses continue to rely upon, defend, and insist on the existence of this most unbiblical role. For this reason the so-called "laity" are just as responsible for the problem of clericalism as is the "clergy." As Jeremiah 5:31 says, "the priests rule on their own authority; and my people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?"
If the truth be told, many Christians prefer the convenience of having someone other than themselves shoulder the responsibility for ministry and shepherding. In their minds, it is better to hire a religious specialist to tend to the needs of the brethren than to bother themselves with the self-emptying demands of servanthood and pastoral care.
The words of the old prophet capture the Lordís displeasure with this mindset: "They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not . . . " (Hos. 8:4a).
In light of these sobering facts, one may intelligently ask how it is that the modern pastoral role remains to be the commonly accepted form of church leadership today. The answer lies deeply entrenched in the history of the Reformation. And it continues to be reinforced by current cultural imperatives.
In short, our 20th-century Western obsession with offices and titles has led us to superimpose our own ideas of church order onto the NT. Yet the very ethos of the NT militates against the idea of a single pastor system. It also militates against the idea of offici-elders. ("Offici" is shorthand for official.)
Scripture is equally at odds with the "senior pastor" concept. This is the common (but unscriptural) practice of elevating one of the elders to a prominent authoritative position. Nowhere does the NT sanction the notion of primos inter paresó"first among equals." At least not in any official or formal way.
This disconnect between "the pastor" and the other elders was an accident of church history. But because it meshes perfectly with our acculturated Christian mindset, modern believers have little trouble reading this false dichotomy into Scripture.
In sum, the modern pastoral role is little more than a one-size-fits-all blending of administration, psychology, and oratory that is packaged into one position for religious consumption. As such, the sociological role of pastor, as practiced in the West, has few points of contact with anything or anyone in the NT!
The Dramatic Lack of Attention Given to Leadership in the NT
Paulís letters make a lot of noise about exemplary action. But they show no interest in titular or official position. This fact deserves far more air-play than it has gotten.
Consider this. Every time Paul wrote to a church in crises, he always addressed the church itself rather than its leaders. This is consistent from Paulís first letter to his last. (Note that the "Pastoral Epistles"ó1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titusówere written to Paulís apostolic co-workers, not to churches.)
Let me repeat that. Every time Paul wrote a letter to a church, he addressed the whole church. He never wrote it to a leader or leaders!
Galatians 1:1-2: Paul, an apostle . . . to the churches in Galatia.
1 Thessalonians 1:1: Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians . . .
2 Thessalonians 1:2: Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:1-2: Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God . . . to the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christótheir Lord and ours.
2 Corinthians 1:1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia.
Romans 1:1,7: Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God . . . to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.
Colossians 1:1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse.
Ephesians 1:1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:1: Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and servants.
More striking, every church that Paul wrote to was in a crisis (excepting the Ephesians). Yet Paul never appeals to the elders in any of them!
Take for instance Corinth, the most troubled church mentioned in the NT. Throughout the entire Corinthian correspondence, Paul never appeals to the elders. He never chastises them. He never commends obedience to them. In fact, he does not even mention them!
Instead, Paul appeals to the whole church. He shows that it is her responsibility to deal with her own (the churchís) self-inflicted wounds. Paul charges and implores "the brethren" over thirty times in 1 Corinthians. He writes as if no officers exist. This is true for all of his other letters to churches in crisis.
If church officers did exist in Corinth, surely Paul would have addressed them to solve its woes. But he never does. At the end of the book, Paul tells the Corinthians to subject themselves to the self-giving Stephanas and his household. But he widens this group to others saying, "and to everyone who does likewise."
Notice that Paulís stress is on function, not on position. His stress is also placed upon the whole church. For the entire book of Corinthians is a plea to the entire assembly to handle its own problems.
Probably the most acute example of the absence of offici-elders in Corinth is found in 1 Corinthians 5. There Paul summons the whole church to discipline a fallen member by handing him over to Satan (1 Cor. 5:1ff.). Paulís exhortation clearly runs against the grain of current thinking. In todayís thinking, only those possessing "ecclesiastical clout" are regarded as qualified for such weighty tasks.
The difference in the way Paul thinks of elders and the way most modern churches think of them could hardly be more striking. Paul does not utter a whisper about elders in any of his nine letters to the churches! This includes his ultra-corrective treatise to the Galatians. Instead, Paul persistently entreats "the brethren" to action.
In his last letter to a church, Paul finally mentions the overseers in his opening greeting. But he does so in a very fleeting way. And he greets the overseers only after he greets the whole church (Phil. 1:1).
His letter opens with: "Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons" (NASB).This is a rather strange order if Paul held to the notion of church officers. Following this greeting, Paul talks to the church about its present problems.
This trend is highlighted in the book of Hebrews. Throughout the entire epistle the writer addresses the entire church. Only at the very end of the letter does he off-handedly ask the saints to greet their overseers (Heb. 13:24).
In sum, the deafening lack of attention that Paul gives to elders demonstrates that he rejected the idea that certain people in the church possessed formal rights over others. It also underscores the fact that Paul did not believe in church officers.
Peterís letters make similar music. Like Paul, Peter writes his letters to the churches, and never to its leaders. He also gives minimal air-time to elders. When he does, he warns them against adopting the spirit of the Gentiles. He makes the specific point that the elders are among the flock, not lords over it (1 Peter 5:1-2).
The elders, says Peter, are not to "lord it over" (katakurieuo) the flock (1 Pet. 5:3). Interestingly, Peter uses the same word that Jesus used in His discussion on authority. His exact words were: " . . . the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over (katakurieuo) them . . . but it shall not be so among you" (Matt. 20:25).
This same emphasis is found in Acts. There Luke tells the story of how Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders to "be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers . . . " (Acts 20:28, NASB). Notice that the elders are "among" and not "over" the flock.
James, John, and Jude write in the same strain. They address their letters to the churches and not to leadership. They all have very little to say about leadership. And they have nothing to say about official eldership.
It is quite clear, then. The NT consistently rejects the notion of ecclesiastical officers in the church. It also greatly downplays the role of elders.
Eldership vs. Brotherhood
It would do us well to ask why the NT gives so little air-play to the elders of the churches. The oft-ignored reason is surprising to institutional ears. It is simply this: The bulk of responsibility for pastoral care, teaching, and ministry in the ekklesia rests squarely upon the shoulders of all the brothers and sisters!
The richness of Paulís vision of the Body of Christ stems from his continual emphasis that every member is gifted, has ministry, and is a "responsible believer" in the Body (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:1ff.; Eph. 4:7; 1 Pet. 4:10). As a consequence, ministerial responsibility is never to be closeted among a few.
This explains why the word adelphoi, translated "brethren," appears 346 times in the NT. It appears 134 times in Paulís epistles alone. In most places, this word is Paulís shorthand way of referring to all the believers in the churchóboth men and women. By contrast, the word "elders" only appears five times in Paulís letters. "Overseers" only appears four times. And "pastors" only appears once!
The stress of the NT, then, is upon corporate responsibility. It is the believing community that is called to carry out pastoral functions. The brothers and the sisters (=the whole church) are called to:
organize their own affairs (1 Cor. 11:33-34; 14:39-40; 16:2-3)
discipline fallen members (1 Cor. 5:3-5; 6:1-6)
warn the unruly (1 Thess. 5:14)
comfort the feeble (1 Thess. 5:14)
support the weak (1 Thess. 5:21)
abound in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58)
admonish one another (Rom. 15:14)
teach one another (Col. 3:16)
prophesy one by one (1 Cor. 14:31)
serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
bear one anotherís burdens (Gal. 6:2)
care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)
love one another (Rom. 13:8; 1 Thess. 4:9)
be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10)
show kindness and compassion to one another (Eph. 4:32)
edify one another (Rom. 14:19; 1 Thess. 5:11b)
bear with one another (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13)
exhort one another (Heb. 3:13; 10:25)
incite one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24)
encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11a)
pray for one another (Jas. 5:16)
offer hospitality to one another (1 Pet. 4:9)
fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7);
confess sins to one another (Jas. 5:16).
With dramatic clarity, all of these "one-another" exhortations incarnate the decisive reality that every member of the church is to bear the responsibility for pastoral care. Leadership is a corporate affair, not a solo one. It is to be shouldered by the entire Body.
Consequently, the idea that elders direct the affairs of the church, make decisions for the assembly, handle all of its problems, and supply all of its teaching is alien to Paulís thinking. Such an idea is fantasy and is bereft of Biblical support. It is no wonder that in elder-led churches spiritual maturity atrophies. And members grow passive and indolent.
Stated simply, the NT knows nothing of an elder-ruled, elder-governed, or elder-directed church! And it knows even less about a pastor-led church! The first-century church was in the hands of the brotherhood and the sisterhood. Plain and simple.
The example of the early church shows us how the ministry of the whole Body is to overshadow the oversight role of the elders. By virtue of their spiritual maturity, the elders simply model pastoral care to the rest (Acts 20:28-29; Gal. 6:1; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; Heb. 13:17b). Their goal, along with the extra-local workers, is to empower the saints to take responsibility for the flock (Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Thess. 5:12-13). Elders can simultaneously be prophets, teachers, and evangelists; but not all prophets, evangelists, and teachers are elders. (Again, the elders are the older, trusted men in the church.)
The emphasis of the NT, then, is upon the responsibility of the entire church. Leadership and pastoral responsibility fall upon the shoulders of every member. It does not fall on the back of one person or a select group.
In Godís ecclesiology, brotherhood precedes eldership. Brotherhood supersedes eldership. And brotherhood overshadows eldership. This explains why Paulís letters read awkwardly when we try to force an offici-styled vision onto them. Paulís understanding of leadership is corporate and it condemns overlordship. For this reason he speaks far more about the brethren than he does about elders.
In sum, the testimony of the NT denouncing positional/hierarchical authority is unmistakably clear. And it is in direct harmony with the teaching of Jesus. As such, the final word to the Christian regarding Gentile and Jewish leadership structures is incarnated in our Lordís piercing phrase: "But it shall not be so among you" (Matt. 20:26). That is the linchpin of the whole matter!
This article has been excerpted from Frank Viola's book Who Is Your Covering? A Fresh Look at Leadership, Authority and Accountability.