I am attempting another “multi-week” exploration of some truths which may be “outside the box” for many of you reading this newsletter. For many of our churches, this series of articles may be surprising, offensive, informative, challenging, mind-stretching, revelatory (in a non-biblical sense), and/or confusing. The topic which I will be discussing will be:
The “Polity” of our local churches.
In these articles, the term “polity” means the system for leading and governing our local churches.
As you sit and read this material, you may well experience “discomfort” as you read my words: please allow me to remind you of the fundamental premise of our polity that each and every one of our churches are an autonomous fellowship which will make its own decisions about its leadership and governance paradigms. No one else can instruct a church on how it must or even should frame its polity—certainly not some “over the hill”, washed-up, ole-fogey Director of Missions.
However, last week, I did discuss the orbit of polity as possibly being the “Sin of Achan” for some our churches.
I would like to begin this discussion of “leadership in the Bible” by initially taking a “big picture” look at the issue of leadership within the Kingdom of God. Like a view from an airplane at 30,000 feet, we need to consider the comprehensive perspective on how God has actually chosen to lead His People to do His work throughout the centuries.
I am very aware that not all of you reading this part of the discussion on biblical polity will receive this material well. In some respects, it may be both confusing and upsetting to some of you.
The only thing which I would ask of you is that you go to the Bible to see if what I am describing for you is correct.
If we want to get biblical polity correct so that we can repent of any “Sin of Achan” within our flocks (remember last week’s article), we must go straight to the very Word of God. We do not go to our traditions, or our history, or our preferences--we go only to the Scriptural principles prescribed by the Lord Himself.
If we draw our lines in the sand without doing serious study of the Bible on the issue of biblical polity, we may be doomed for our church to continue to take on casualties, to continue to be stopped in our tracks, and to continue to be walled off from Kingdom blessings and Kingdom victories.
It is sad, but I do not know of any other theological orbit in Christendom in which bible-believing saints are more sorely tempted to forsake the biblical precepts than in the orbit of “polity”.
This is probably a “soap box” issue for me. For my money, America culture has comprehensively lost all concept of true leadership. In place of leadership, we have substituted the concept of “politician”. The demise of leadership in this country probably began to emerge sometime between WWI and WWII and the roots of this change became firmly planted by the time of the hippies (my generation) in the 1960s. It has progressed exponentially.
In the orbit of business, company owners are often “hamstrung” in the leadership of their companies by being “overridden” by HR departments. In the orbit of the family, husbands today have no real idea of what it means to be “leader” of the wife and the home—men have been reduced to being “politicians” whose job is to broker compromises within the family in order to maintain the peace of the family. In the church, it is no better. With only rare exceptions, gone are the days when the Overseeing Pastor/Elder actually functions as an overseer (overall manager), a leader or a visionary. Rather, he has become a “politician” trying to influence people to see things his way and agree to a compromise from what they want.
Even in the orbit of the military (I used to be a Regular Army commissioned Infantry Lieutenant in the US Army), the clarion call of the Infantry Platoon Leader “Follow Me” (while still the official battle cry of the Infantry) has been replaced by an insidious paradigm depicting that the primary function of the Platoon Leader is to keep everybody happy with their unit and their function. The Platoon Leader “survives” in the modern day “peace-time” Army by keeping his men encouraged and inspired to stay in their unit. My suspicion is that this paradigm shift in the military does not really work at all when it comes to battle and actual warfare.
The corollary of this is that we now have a generation of citizens in our country and of members in our churches who have very little concept of what it means for a man to be a leader. As the world has gone so has gone our churches in America.
In my personal opinion, we in America desperately need people who will be:
- godly leaders in our business industries
- godly leaders in our government
- godly leaders in our families
- godly leaders in our churches
Specifically in our churches, we need godly men:
- who know how to lead.
- who know how to dream, to envision a plan, to design a plan, and to implement & orchestrate & manage a plan.
- who know how to apply themselves in a dedicated work ethic to follow God into His Kingdom victories,
- who know how to gently, humbly, but biblically assert themselves as leaders called by God to lead our churches
A. God raised up Stable Primary Leaders who were called to lead His People
- God breathes vision/calling into the leaders and equips the leader to lead;
- Consider: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, the Judges, Kings, David
B. Sometimes, God positions the leaders to lead His People and facilitate them to begin a new congregation
- Abraham: called to lead a new People of God (Israel)
C. Sometimes, God positioned the leaders into an existing “congregation” for the purpose of leading them:
- Moses: called to lead the pre-existing congregation of the People of God (Israel)
D. When the People fail to follow the godly leader (or choose to follow ungodly leaders), God removes the Lamp Stand from the People (Israel & then later Judah)
E. When the leader fails to lead the People in the Way they should go, God removes the leader (King Saul)
The Word of God in the New Testament clearly teaches that God chose to do His Kingdom Work through Stable Primary Leaders:
A. God (Jesus) raised up twelve men whom He trained to become Stable Primary Leaders.
Note: The Twelve are a not committee who helps the One Stable Primary Leader (Jesus) to decide how to lead; nor are they a group who in any way votes or has any kind of authority over how the One Stable Primary Leader leads. (When Peter tried in Matthew 16: 21-23, it did not go well.)
B. God (Jesus) then trained/discipled the Twelve to lead His People
C. God then unleashed the Twelve (minus Judas) upon the People (in 11 different ministries as primary leaders all who went to the far corners of the earth) to lead His People into the work of the Kingdom of God.
D. Jesus also later raised up James (His half-brother) and Paul to become stable primary leaders.
E. The Holy Spirit used these 13+ men to turn the world upside down- with the help of other AWE People (meaning of this term to be explained later) whom He raised up (e.g. Barnabas, Timothy, Titus, Silas, etc.) who themselves sometimes later developed into stable primary leaders.
In the big picture from 30,000 feet, God’s Word does not depict the Lord utilizing groups, committees, or congregations to accomplish the leading of His People or the making of the decisions concerning the Kingdom work which is to be done:
Now, I can almost hear some of you saying: Wait a minute; we have always done the significant leadership ministry decisions in our churches via groups, committees, or congregations. I always thought that is what made us “congregational”; we vote on almost everything.
As those words begin to roll around in your mind and begin to stir your emotions, the foundational question which I wish to pose for you is this: Where in the Bible do you see such leadership and governance by congregations or committees?
As I study the Scriptures, I see man’s attempt to do leadership via groups, committees, or congregations consistently resulting in poor outcomes which do not seem to be blessed by the Lord.
A. Numbers 13: 25-33- Consider the “committee” work of the 12 spies entering the Promise Land This “vote” (10-2) was a Kingdom disaster.
B. 1 Samuel 8: 1-22 Consider the disaster of the congregation deciding on what kind of leader they wanted; like all of the other nations, they insisted on Samuel giving them a king.
I do realize that some folks want to argue that the NT congregation of 120 elected Matthias to replace Judas as an Apostle; Exegetically, however, that simply is not the case. Please study carefully what happened in Acts 1:15-26:
Step 1: The Apostles (leaders) determined the qualifications of the replacement:
1. This man must have accompanied them during the entire time of Jesus’ earthly ministry (Acts 1:21)
2. This man must have witnessed not only Jesus’ ministry but also His resurrection & His ascension (1:22)
Step 2: “They” (grammatically uncertain: it could possibly have been the 120 congregants, but most likely it was the leaders-the11Apostles) identified two possible candidates who met the qualifications prescribed by the leaders:
Step 3: Clearly, the Apostles (not the 120) decided who the replacement would be by “drawing lots”, not by vote.
Likewise, some folks endeavor to suggest that Acts 6:3 indicates a significant involvement of the congregation (or a portion of the congregation) by electing the seven “Ministry Team Leaders” to assist with the ministry to the widows.
However, a close study of the Acts 6 passage reveals that this involvement was not an election at all but rather a “ratification” that these seven men met the qualifications prescribed by the leaders (Apostles). The leaders, not the congregation, are the key actors here in this event in Acts 6:1-6:
1. It was the leadership (not the congregation) who determined that a Ministry Team needed to be formed to help them with ministry tasks
2. It was the leadership (not the congregation) who determined and defined the actual tasks to be tackled by the Ministry Team
3. It was the leadership (not the congregation) who determined how many men would serve on the Ministry Team
4. It was the leadership (not the congregation) who specified the qualifications of the members of the Ministry Team (6:3):
- a good reputation
- full of the Holy Spirit
- full of wisdom
5. It was the leadership (not the congregation) who summoned the congregation to meet.
6. It was the leadership (not the congregation) who put the Ministry Team members in charge of the task by praying and setting them apart for this Ministry Team task. This was the only real “action” taken in this passage.
The seven men were “brought before the Apostles”. There is no explicit explanation for the meaning of this phrase, but it is often inferred that the leaders themselves examined and/or considered the qualifications of these men as they prepared to pray for them and to set them apart to serve on this Ministry Team. Acts 6: 3 makes it clear that the Apostles said: “we will put them in charge of this task”. It is the leadership, not the congregation, who made the decision to “call” these men and put them in charge of the task of the Ministry Team.
So what was the actual involvement of the congregation in Acts 6:5?
After being assembled by the leaders of the flock and instructed what to do in the matter at hand, they looked around their flock and made suggestions to their leaders of seven men whom they felt met the three qualifications prescribed by the leaders. No other considerations (except the qualifications) were to be considered by this group doing the suggesting.
Note that this was not an election per se as we understand an election (I vote for Stephen, not Fred); rather, the “suggesting group” was tasked by the leaders simply to search for and to identify seven men whom they felt met these three qualifications specified by the leaders and to recommend these seven men to the leaders for their consideration. Thus, the suggesting group was only ratifying their sense that these men met the qualifications.
The leadership then acted upon the congregation’s ratification of these seven men’s biblical qualifications.
7. Conclusions: The “decision-makers” of Acts 6 are the actual leaders themselves, not the congregation.
BOTTOM LINE: In the Scriptures, committees, “groups of believers”, and congregations are rarely to never depicted as voting on ministry matters, setting policy, or making any kind of key decisions concerning Kingdom ministry except for a handful of biblical matters all of which apply only to congregations:
- The suggesting/ratifying of potential Pastors who meet the biblical qualifications for biblical leadership
- The dismissal of the same Pastors when appropriate
- The pulling of the “emergency brake” on the leadership when they are leading the church into sin
- The removing of church members via “church discipline”
As will be discussed in a later article on polity in this newsletter, there may also be a handful of legal, corporate, and/or fiscal dynamics which may need to fall under the purview of the congregational responsibilities.
Thus, this should give us pause to question any posture of polity which might encourage us to conclude that God will lead His People without a stable primary leader to lead His People and to oversee His Kingdom work .
“Since it is difficult to find any place where God called a committee, I (Paige Patterson, a congregational polity guru) believe that the pattern in both Testaments is for God to call individual leaders for his people. A congregational polity encourages maximum freedom, participation, and responsibility for every believer-priest. A church should choose its elders... based on the qualifications set forth in the New Testament under the leadership of the indwelling Holy Spirit. One of these should be the primary leader and preacher-teacher for the flock.” WRTC, p.152
The Word of God in both Testaments teaches us that the stable primary leader chosen by the Lord needs A-W-E people.
AWE People Defined: Obviously, the term “AWE People” is not found in the Bible. This is my word.
But the Scriptures consistently teach that God raises up persons or groups of people whom He causes to come alongside His Stable Primary Leader to help him in three general ways:
They provide Advice to, Work with, and Encouragement for the Stable Primary Leaders.
God often raises up AWE People to support & assist the Stable Primary Leader—consider the OT:
- Moses & Aaron
- Moses & the Elders
- Moses & Joshua
- Elijah & Elisha
- David & Jonathon
- David & Nathan
- Kings & the Prophets
- Leaders & the congregation of the People of God
Note: It is necessary to note that the function of these AWE People is never to lead; also, it is never to have authority over the Stable Primary Leader; the functions of these AWE People seem to be at least as follows:
- to assist the Stable Primary Leader by reducing his workload: Moses & the Elders
- to assist the Stable Primary Leader by encouraging him: Elijah & Elisha
- to assist the Stable Primary Leader by being a friend to him: David & Jonathon
- to assist the Stable Primary Leader by giving him “God-given” advice: David & Nathan
- to assist the Stable Primary Leader by pulling the “emergency brake” when the Leader takes the People down an evil and God-dishonoring path:
Examples of the AWE people pulling the “emergency brake” in the OT:
- see the role of the People of God (the congregation) when they correct King Saul in
- 1 Sam 14: 25-46 (when Saul was going to kill Jonathon because of Saul’s foolish oath; the congregation said no because the King’s intended action was a biblical evil)
- or consider 1Sam 8:1-6 which is the case of the congregation overriding Samuel on the matter of Samuel’s sons succeeding Samuel because his sons were assessed to be unworthy leaders.
God often raises up AWE People to support & assist the Stable Primary Leader- consider the NT:
- Paul & Barnabas -friendship/team/encourager
- Paul & Silas -friendship/team/encourager
- Paul & Timothy -team/mentorship
- Paul & Titus -team/mentorship
- Barnabas & John Mark -team/mentorship
- Peter & John Mark (scribe) -team/mentorship
B. Groups: Although not as common as individual AWE support, sometimes God uses AWE “groups of believers” in a variety of ways to assist the Stable Primary Leader:
- To ratify the call of Stable Primary Leaders: Acts 13:1-3—Barnabas, Simeon [called Niger], Lucius, Manaen, Saul ratified the call of both Barnabas and Saul to serve the Lord as missionaries
- To pull the “emergency brake” on the stable primary leader (in the NT):
- consider the NT case of Jesus instructing the Church at Pergamum to repent & remove the false teachers/preachers (i.e teachers of Balaam & Nicolaitans-in Rev. 2:14-16); in this illustration, the congregation is called to act to pull the emergency brake on the leader who is teaching false doctrine.
- or consider when the congregation (disciples) barred Paul from going into the angry Ephesus assembly (Acts 19:30);
Summary: God, in His wisdom, has structured the “overseeing” leadership over His People to be invested in a Stable Primary Leader who is advised, is assisted in the kingdom work, and is supported through encouragement by a variety of AWE groups which he himself will create.
Jumping Ahead: In order to jump ahead and give you a sense of how you might envision AWE teams in your church, you might think of the following teams to serve and to assist your Lead Pastor in your church:
- a Team of Pastors/Elders to help the Lead Pastor lead, oversee, manage, and implement the ministries of the church
- a Team of Deacons to assist the Lead Pastor and Team of Pastors with the “servant ministries” of the church
- a Team or Council of church ministries to help the Lead Pastor and Team of Pastors to schedule the church’s ministries
- a Ministry Team created to accomplish specific purposes on the behalf of the Lead Pastor or Team of Pastors
- in a broader sense, the congregation as a whole constitutes one big AWE team to support and to assist the Lead Pastor and Team of Pastors in the ministry of the church
What’s next in this contemplative series of articles on biblical polity?
Polity Part 3: A leadership study of the Biblical Role of the Lead Pastor/Elder
Polity Part 4: A leadership study of the Biblical Role of the Team of Pastors/Elders
Polity Part 5: A study of the Biblical Role of the Servant Ministers (diaconia)
Polity Part 6: A study of the Two Aspects of Congregationalism
Polity Part 7: A study of the Biblical Role of the Congregation
Polity Part 8: A discussion of how to actually change your “polity” paradigm for your church