I spent the last two weeks teaching a leadership class for our seminary’s summer school program. It was challenging and encouraging to spend four hours a day looking at this subject with men involved in and preparing for vocational ministry in the church. My last post came from notes I was preparing that addressed the topic of transparency and accountability in leadership. I would like to follow up on that, in part because I think more needs to be said, and, from reading some of the responses to what I wrote, it seems that I need to be more clear!
Let me restate my main point: leaders are obligated to lead within the boundaries established by the organization itself. I suppose there might be a case where an organization’s only governing guideline is do whatever the guy in charge says, but I don’t know of any churches or parachurch entities which formally say that. All of the ones I know have some kind of governance arrangement. Integrity demands that the leaders honor those boundaries, not circumvent them.
I left room for differing interpretations about how to honor them. I left room for changing them with integrity. What I said did not in any way rule out change; it attempted to articulate what could not be changed by the leader apart from the will of the led. And those who are being led should be able to make free, informed choices, not coerced or uninformed choices.
One of the sad realities of congregational life in a sin-cursed world is that some people will misuse something like I’ve written to further their own agenda. Their interest in what I wrote has very little to do with the concept and a lot more to do with party politics. The Scriptures are absolutely clear that God’s plan for the church is to have godly and gifted men direct its affairs (cf. 1 Tim 3:4-5, 5:17; 1 Thess 5:12; Heb 13:17). To deny this is to deny what God has plainly said.
Nothing in my previous post contradicts the clear biblical teaching about pastoral leadership. Within a context of congregational church government, God’s plan is for elders to serve as overseers over God’s flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2). My post addressed the possible danger to the congregation when the properly appointed leaders do not lead transparently and with integrity. It was not against leadership; it was against bad leadership.
Biblically, texts like Hebrews 13:17 teach that following leaders is a stewardship responsibility too. Obey and submit are pretty strong words. Since the context is the spiritual care of God’s people, I believe it is proper to say that the kind of obedience and submission God’s people owe to their shepherds is: (1) spiritual in nature (“watch for your souls” and (2) biblically defined (cf. “spoke to you the Word of God,” v. 7). When it comes to congregational life, it would seem that the disposition of the members should be toward following, not fighting with their leaders. If the leaders are violating God’s Word or breaking trust with the church’s governing documents, then God has told us how to handle it (1 Tim 5:19-21). Sadly, my observation is that most church fights are not about disobeying God’s Word.
Just to be clear, let me illustrate the kind of problem I wrote about in the previous blog post so people don’t misapply it. An example for church life would be a pastor who knows he has enough money in the bank to survive chasing off the people who disagree with him, so he launches the church in a new direction in spite of the majority’s disapproval of it. An educational example would be an administrator hiring faculty and staff who do not agree with the doctrinal statements of the organization in spite of his obligation to work within that boundary.
Here is an example of what I wasn’t talking about. I was not talking about a pastor who leads the congregation properly through the process of making changes to its constitution. I was not talking about pastors exercising proper authority with regard to the spiritual care of the congregation (which includes its unity and oversight of its ministries).
God calls leaders to lead with integrity. He also calls members of the assembly to follow its properly appointed leaders. Both sides of the equation should do so knowing that the church is the Lord’s and to Him each will give an account.