Quickly let’s review (unless you have been following this series…then just scroll down to the new stuff)…
Review / Intro
We are in the middle of a discussion about church leadership. We have assumed that leaders are passionate, Christ-loving, Holy Spirit following believers; therefore, we are not going to examine commands and guidance given to every believer. Only those that pertain specifically to leadership.
“Why only these?” you ask.
Our contemporary understanding of “church” is built on a foundation of centralized positional leadership. Whether it be a priest, pastor, preacher, or Great and Mighty Holy Righteous Apostle and Missionary (I saw that title on a church sign downtown), our current structures are dependent upon clergy.
Size of the congregation doesn’t matter – mega to house church; there is usually someone with positional leadership over the group.
This cultural context is why we are looking specifically at New Testament texts that speak to leaders of the church. My hope is that we can build a clear picture of what church leadership should look like.
We began by looking at what Jesus said about leadership – here.
In this post we are going to look at the remaining letters Paul wrote to large groups of people – Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and the Thessalonians.
The Silence of Galatians and 2nd Thessalonians
Galatians has some beautiful passages about a believers freedom from the rituals and rules of religion. For example:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (5:1)
But it says nothing specifically to leaders.
Similarly, there is great stuff in 2nd Thessalonians…but none of it written specifically to leaders.
“Admonish” in Colossians and 1st Thessalonians
Before we jump into the bigger passages first lets discuss an anti-leadership phrase. In the opening of Colossians Paul was ranting about Jesus. He called Jesus “the head of the Body, the church.” This is an incredibly interesting phrase that I will return to in the conclusion of the series. For right now we will simply acknowledge that it is to short and nondescript to stand-alone.
Also, in 1st Thessalonians 2:6-9 Paul briefly talked about why he did not receive pay from the Thessalonians even though he had a right to as an “apostle.” We will take this passage (along with 1st Corinthians 9) to simply point out that leadership in the New Testament was sometimes paid. Although the terms and reasons for this payment are not described in either passage. We will get a better picture of payment from the book of Acts.
Now for the big dogs…
When I started in professional ministry the college group I worked for used a passage from Colossians to describe leadership. It was our battle cry as leaders that served to keep us focused on our job. We even had it printed on little bussiness cards we carried
We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. Colossians 1:28-29
When you read the word “teaching” please don’t make the assumption that Paul was speaking about preaching or some lecture style. “Teaching” came in many different varieties from public speaking to one-on-one coaching.
The word “admonish” means: to indicate duties or obligations, to express warning or disapproval especially in an earnest or gentle manner, to give friendly advice or encouragement.
The word “admonish” appears in 1st Thessalonians as well.
Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who are admonishing you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
Colossians first. Although I was taught this was a passage that is speaking to leadership concerning their role in the church, now I question who the “we” of the passage was. In the context of the passage it seems to me that the “we” refers to every believer in Colossians. I think the picture here is of a pot-luck, not a banquet. At a banquet one person prepares a meal that everyone eats from – a wonderful picture of centralized leadership. At a pot-luck everyone prepares a meal to be shared with the group. This is what I believe Paul was describing. Everyone was admonishing and teaching everyone else so that they could all come to God together, perfect in Christ.
Therefore, Colossians 1:28 is not a leadership specific passage. (See the intro to this passage if you are confused.)
1st Thessalonians on the other hand is clearly about leadership. What do we learn from it?
- There are members of the Thessalonica church that have risen into leadership through their intense passion for Jesus and service (their “work”).
- There seems to be some sort of resentment toward them that leans toward disrespect of them.
- These that have risen to leadership are giving friendly advice or gently expressing disapproval or warnings to the rest of the Body.
I see this a lot with highschool students. Here is how it plays out. Jen, a bright and sweet girl who is like but not super popular, shows up with her homework completed and neatly arranged in a nice looking folder. She studied hard and is excited about discussing the project. The rest of Jen’s classmates were slackers. Those that attempted the homework did it quickly and poorly. Most didn’t even try. How does the rest of the class treat Jen? Do they applaud her efforts? When she innocently offers to help one of the slackers does the slacker respond with thanks and gratitude? No. They mock her. They call her a suck-up or a dork. They make her feel bad for leading the way.
I imagine that is what Paul is addressing in Thessalonica.
In the book of Philippians, as in 1st Thessalonians, we get further confirmation that some form of leadership existed in the early church.
Paul addressed the letter to “all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons.” Why he did this completely confounds me. This was the only place in which Paul singled out leadership in the address of a letter. One would think that content to the leadership would follow, but it does not. I read a few commentators to get a scholarly consensus, but they seemed as confused about it as I am.
At the end of chapter 2 Paul told the Philippians that he was going to send them Timothy and Epaphrodititus. These men were clearly leaders so surely we can learn something from their roles in Philippi.
For those of you unfamiliar with Paul, he had a gang. That’s right. Paul was a gang leader yo. There was a group of guys that followed Paul from place to place working with him / studying under him. It was very similar to Jesus’ disciples but less organized. Timothy and Epaphordititius (who we shall from this point forward call E-Dog) were two of the gang members.
So Timothy – We learn from 2:19-24 that: Paul was sending him because he loved the Philippians more than the other gang members; and that he proved his worth by looking out for others over his own interests, specifically in service to Paul.
And E-Dog? – He is from Philippi and joined the gang to help Paul while he was imprisoned. He also loved the Philippians; and the Philippians should celebrate/honor him because he was a rocking awesome preacher and incredible visionary leader he was so sick he almost died while serving Jesus.
These small paragraphs don’t give us much to go on. At best they affirm some things we have already seen:
- Leadership is more about the people you serve than you special giftedness or calling.
- Leadership is given to those who earn it through their sacrificial service.
- The justification of a leader is his/her suffering for Christ as he/she serves.
There is one final note on leadership from Philippians. Paul said toward the end of the letter, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.” For those that lead in the church – could you say this? What a terrifying model of leadership!
I can hear Paul’s leadership training now. “Okay…so…to lead…just chase Christ faster than everyone else. Be more passionate about Jesus, sacrifice more for others, love with all you got. It would help if suffered a little for the cause. That would give you some authority. You get arrested or love so hard someone beats the crap out of you. Then you can look at the rest of the church and say, ‘Do what I’m doing.’ That’s really it. Any questions?”
To be continued…