Leadership in the New Testament
Do you somehow have structure in order for everyone to be accountable and work together? When you build a house you need an architect, so would you need some sort of leader who is doing things? How would that work?
Those are very good questions. In the pages of the New Testament can you find accountability based on structure? If you can find it, you would be the first person on Earth to have ever found it, because no one has ever been able to locate that. I suggest—
I found it.
There’s Abraham and then there are the tribes. Then there are the heads of the families and it goes down from the eldest.
Well, the patriarchal system in the Old Testament doesn’t show up in the New Testament. You don’t see it there, although you do see leadership and you do see gifts, unquestionably. Samuel obviously had the status of a king, so I’m not minimizing leadership.
Did Paul have a staff of people? No. Sometimes he had Timothy or Titus or Silas with him. Colossians 4 lists a whole bunch of men that were never mentioned before, but he said they were with him all the time. Romans 16 has a long list of people that you never see mentioned anywhere else. “So-and-so was like a mother to me.” He mentions Andronicus and Junias who “stood out among the apostles.” Whose names did he say? Andronicus and Junias. They are apostles, and even though you see them mentioned only one time, they obviously played a very integral part in the life of the Body of Christ. Paul talks about the great influence they had on him. But you don’t see them as part of a staff or on an organizational chart. It’s relational.
You can see a dynamic in which people come and go. In 1 Timothy, Paul says, “Everyone has deserted me except…” When he was in Philippi he said that those from Thessalonica sent him help again and again, but he never took support from anyone other than what was given to him organically. (These things are difficult to explain and I know we also have a bit of a language barrier that makes it somewhat more difficult to follow and understand.)
Think about what was happening in Jerusalem in Acts 6. Several thousand people had converted to Christianity by that point in time and the Grecian widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. No food was available at times and things were confusing. They had a large problem because of the large numbers of people and the needy people among them. What was then the solution? They were to choose from among themselves seven men full of the Holy Ghost and full of wisdom to be over the matter.
You could call that “structure,” but in a sense it’s really not because the people were selecting men from among themselves. That means the apostles didn’t choose those seven men. The people who chose those seven men were those who had been affected by those men. The people saw that these men were full of the Holy Ghost and full of wisdom which means it was relational. They were selecting the men that weren’t appointed from above but that welled up from within.
What exactly then were those seven men in charge of? The restaurant business.: ) They distributed food, but they were also full of the Holy Ghost and full of wisdom. Why is that required? Why wouldn’t you just get the person who has the most experience in the food business? It’s because they were supposed to be seers who knew God and knew His ways so that they could be responsive to the needs. What else were they in charge of besides food? People sometimes call them deacons, but there were no such qualifications mentioned in Acts 6. The qualifications for deacons are in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 which are almost identical pictures. In Acts 6 there were no such qualifications mentioned. There, those men didn’t need to be married, for example. So, there’s something very different happening in Acts 6. What were they in charge of? Food, yes…but there was more to these men than that. Later on you see Philip as the only person in the New Testament referred to as an evangelist. And Stephen was rather prophetic and it cost him his life.
So these were very good men, but was it a system or a structure, per se? I would say that leadership in the New Testament was like Samuel but it was not like Saul. They weren’t “minister-kings.” They weren’t even elders, per se and they certainly weren’t deacons, biblically speaking. You can’t make a case for them having been deacons based on qualifications they met at that point in time or that they met even in their future lives.
It depends then on what you mean by “structure.” Every group wants to have some kind of structure.
Yes, it depends on how you define structure. The leaders didn’t sit on thrones and make all the rules. What leaders did came from their knowledge of God and their relationship with God and the respect others had for them. Those men were able to draw others into responsibility by putting other people’s hands into the hand of God.
In the normal, denominational church world, how does leadership usually play itself out? A pastor is in charge of a congregation. Is that in the Bible? No. There is not one church in the New Testament that has a pastor that makes the decisions and does all the preaching and is in charge of the money for a congregation. If you read through 60 years of recorded history in the New Testament, you can’t find one example of a pastor or preacher being “in charge” of the congregation.
Is there a gift of shepherd—called “pastor” by most people? Absolutely. Do we function correctly with that gift? Probably not. What almost everybody in today’s world does is different from anything that you can find in the New Testament. The gift does exist and there’s a function that is unique and special to that gift. That much we know is true. Do you see the gift of shepherd expressed in the religious world as it expresses itself in the Bible? In the religious world the way it normally functions is that one man does all the preaching and makes the decisions for the money and so on. Well, that’s not in the Bible. So this gift of shepherd exists, but the way we normally view the gift needs some adjustment if we’re going to do it the way they did when the apostles were here.
I agree with that, yes.