Leadership? – Part Two-A – Paul in Ephesians, Romans, and the Corinthians

To start at the beginning click here.

I didn’t realize how frustrating researching this topic would be. 

Holding to the assumption that we will only be examining expectations of leadership different than expectations applied to “normal believers” (because that is how we treat leadership in our current church culture – as people “specially called”) makes the project especially difficult. 

Take Paul for example.  Like Jesus he didn’t play by our rules.  Modern day church leadership conversations assume that leadership is a special office that requires specially gifted people who can hone their gifts through the practice of strategic actions.  The success or failure of a modern day leader is typically judged by the numbers of people that leader is influencing; for example, by the numbers of people showing up to Sunday Morning worship.  For more progressive missional churches it is judged by the number of people served in a various way by the organization.

Paul, as we will see in a moment, did not view his office as special (or even and official office for that matter).  Nor did he give any strategic pointed advice on how to succeed in the office he refused to recognize as official.   He also did not point to numbers as his measure of success.

What did he point to?  How did he measure success?

By the number of times he had been beaten and imprisoned for the cause of Christ (see 2nd Corinthians 11).

Not exactly a measurement of leadership I’m pumped about replicating into a model. 

Imagine a group of pastors sitting in a hip, trendy, local coffee-house, sipping lattes, not asking one another, “So how many people do you  have coming on Sunday?” nor “How many have you baptized this year?”;  but rather, “Dude, how many times were you stabbed this year for Jesus?”  or “Bro, check out this scare…thats right baby…bullet wound for Christ!”

As you can probably tell, my frustration doesn’t lie with Paul; but rather with our current system of church leadership that looks so wildly different from what Jesus described and what Paul lived.

Now that I’ve vented, lets begin looking at Paul’s take on leadership.  I’m starting with Ephesians, Romans, and the Corinthians because they each talk about Spiritual Gifts.

First, Ephesians.  As in most of his writing, Paul did  not directly lay out what it means to lead a local church in this letter.  He did however make some interesting statements about his leadership.  Speaking about the Gentiles (non-Jews) receiving the good news of Jesus, Paul said…

“…of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.  To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ…” (Ephesians 3:7-8)

Paul’s description of his own leadership here falls very much in line with Christ’s comments on leadership.  It is centered on a specific group of people.  They, not the calling, are the defining focus of his position.  His leadership is an act of service to them; and thus he approaches it with intense humility, recognizing that it does not make him something special.  Finally, it is not a job for him; it is his life. 

This is a very different perception of leadership than what I (a professional pastor) was trained in (formally and informally). 

The Corinthian letters begin with an interesting discussion that is also contrary to our current practice of church leadership.  The Corinthian church has divided itself.  Different factions of the church have declared allegiance to different celebrity pastors.  Some are yelling, “I’m an Apollos Christian.”  Others are declaring, “I’m a Pauline guy.”  And still others, “Cephas is my boy!”

Imaging what this must have looked like quickly brought to mind my friends and I making statements like, “We are a Purpose Driven church.”  or “I’m a missional pastor.”  or “Organic all the way baby!”  At some point and time I’ve declared myself in all of those camps.

So the problem is not unique to us; but Paul’s response is.  After explaining that all wisdom comes from God, not great teachers, and that it is all accessible to believers because they carry in them “the mind of Christ”, Paul said…

“So then let no one boast in men.  For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.” (1st Corinthians 3:21-23)

Crazy right?  Have you ever heard anyone in our day talk about celebrity teachers/pastors in that way.  “Bro, they aren’t special.  Everything they are saying came from Christ and you have the mind of Christ as well.  So enjoy their stuff, but understand that they are not unique.  You can get everything they are saying from the Spirit because you too belong to Christ.”

Now you might be thinking, “Surely they are specially gifted though right?  I mean, Paul definitely talks about some people having the gift of teaching, right?”

Let’s start our look at spiritual gifts in the book of Romans.

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.  For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness…”  (Romans 12:3-8)

That passage alone would make it sound as though, yes, some are specially gifted to lead and they should be given the authority and position to do so; but if we look at similar conversations Paul has on the topic we will see this is not what he intended.

Remember the division in Corinth.  Well, Paul brings up spiritual gifts to them as well.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.  And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Paul goes on to give examples of the gifts and then describe how they need one another, how they cannot operate on their own.  Then he makes this statement…

On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable member have no need of it.  But God has so composed the body giving more abundant honor to the member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that members may have the same care for one another.  (1st Corinthians 12:4-7 and 22-26)

Did you catch all that?  Every individual believer is gifted for the good of the church.  If a member’s gift does not receive a lot of attention we should give it special honor to reinforce the equality of all individuals.  No individual believe should be uplifted as special because it would cause division in the Body. 

Not division as in “I like Apollos and you like Paul.”

Division as in “he is the leader and I am just a member of the congregation.” 

Wait.  Isn’t that exactly what we do?

Paul brings up the topic again in Ephesians.  Again, the conversation revolves around unity.  Paul again listed the gifts and then said the gifts exist…

…for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…  (Ephesians 4:12)

Then he drops this bomb. 

…we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

So, let’s break that down.  Gifts, which all members have, exist so we might equip one another to serve. 

One leader equipping the others?  One pastor of teacher giving a central vision the others follow.

No.  All members equipping each other.

Practicing these gifts unites us to one another.  We are held together by our interdependence as we all grow into the image of Christ.

Alright, that is enough for now. 

To be continued…

Leadership? – Part Two-A – Paul in Ephesians, Romans, and the Corinthians

10 thoughts on “Leadership? – Part Two-A – Paul in Ephesians, Romans, and the Corinthians

    1. jeffandwendy says:

      Nothing worth doing is easy.

      How fully they are used should be up to them. I would love to figure out how a modern church body might run under a system that provides all to be fully empowered to go 100% if they want to.

  1. You had me and I’m in agreement up to the Ephesians 4:12 passage . . . you “conveniently” left out the first half of the verse that “lists the gifts.” Compared to any of the other gifts passages, Paul clearly listed specific gifts here that are designed “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service.”

    I tend to call these gifts “leadership gifts” or “communication gifts” or something like that . . .

    It does NOT negate the calling and necessity of every follower of Christ to build up other members of the body of Christ through the use of their gifts, therefore there is NOT a “he is the leader and I am just a member of the congregation.” (Agreed.)

    But a careful study of the passage, IMO, does seem to lay the primary responsibility of EQUIPPING the rest of the body on those with certain gifts. Not necessarily (and probably not) ONE specific leader, but on certain people with certain gifts.

    Connecting it to your other thoughts and passages, those with the equipping gifts may be more visible, but those with other gifts often receive greater honor when they are doing their thing, as the “rewards” for exercising their gifts are often more personal and impactful.

    I still agree with: “Practicing these gifts unites us to one another. We are held together by our interdependence as we all grow into the image of Christ.” Good stuff.

    1. jeffandwendy says:

      Your comment is crazy “timely”! I learned a ton about this at Verge that makes a lot of sense to me. I just wrote a full post on it…to much to put here. I would love to here your thoughts on that post.

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