My own spiritual journey has, in many ways, been a pursuit for meaning in church leadership. As I’ve viewed scripture, what becomes clear is the model of team-leadership; a leadership functioning together in community and mission. Team leadership is a model reflected in the Trinity. Jesus demonstrated team leadership during his earthly life and ministry.
It is necessary that church leadership be reflective of biblical models rather than cultural ones. Both today’s church and its leadership must be strong, steady, biblical and theologically sound. Scripture emphasizes Spirit-led, Spirit-gifted, collaborative team fellowship and amazingly today's western culture is receptive to such a leadership style.
A brief lesson from the Reformation…
We must realize we are shaped by previous generations. In 1991, mission theologian David Bosch of South Africa noted (in lectures at Western Theological Seminary in Michigan) that churches shaped by the Reformation were left with a view of church that was not directly intended by the Reformers. This view resulted from the way that they spoke about the church. Those churches came to view the church as "a place where certain things happen." The Reformers emphasized as the "marks of the true church" whereby a church exists wherever the gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered.
Over time, these "marks" narrowed the church's definition of itself toward a "place where" idea. The church became less of a community and the bearer of missional responsibility throughout the world. The church became "a place where" Christians gathered for worship and where the Christian character was cultivated. The church became a building where certain things happened. The leadership became a professional class, educated to carry out the church's organizational and authoritative activities. One would "belong to” and "attend" a church. The church was located in a facility for its activities with little relevance to a world outside that facility. The Reformers and those that followed believed that the commission to disciple the nations had been accomplished in the first century. The church ceased to be missional.
Later the colonial expansion of European nations began to raise questions as believers encountered people who had never heard the gospel. This gave rise to voluntary missionary societies. Mission continued to be conceived as something that happens at a physical or social distance. The missionary movement throughout the 19th century did not alter the concept that church was "a place where" certain things happen.
In the latter half of the 20th century with major renewal, the church has begun to be reconceived as a community, a gathered people brought together by a common calling to be a “sent people” (David Bosch). During these transitions, para-church organizations have developed as the institutional church changed slowly. New churches were still heavily influenced by the era of modernity (which highlights the autonomous self and promotes independent churches) and could not meet the challenge of mission. Churches need to see that "they can do together in multiplied fashion what they could never accomplish on their own."
The recent return to Ephesians 4 ministries brings us into a restoration of the missional church community. The church brought together and motivated by an apostolic company returns to its original purpose as a “sent people”.
We are now more able to view the church as a community, a gathered people, brought together by a common calling and vocation to be a sent people. This “definition” of the church, of who we are as God’s people, helps us realize what our life together is all about.
There’s more on how church leadership has been affected by the Reformed perspective in my next post…