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We Need a Paradigm Shift About Authority in the Church

In one of last week’s posts, I made a strong statement concerning leadership and submission.  “If a church leader tells you that you must submit to them…you should run away…and fast. That is simply abusive and not what Jesus modelled for the church.” I want to explain why I believe that. But I think I […]

by bob

Mar 7, 2023

In one of last week’s posts, I made a strong statement concerning leadership and submission.

 “If a church leader tells you that you must submit to them…you should run away…and fast. That is simply abusive and not what Jesus modelled for the church.”

I want to explain why I believe that. But I think I can do it best over a series of posts rather than one really long one. 

Without question, topics like submission, authority and leadership are discussed throughout scripture, in both the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures. However, I want to dig into how these ideas tend to be misused by those in power. 

As I mentioned in the post entitled “Mind the Gap“, my hope for what I write here is to demonstrate where the church is or tends to be and contrast that with where it should be. 

And when it comes to how leadership, authority and power are dealt with in the church, a good place to start is with Jesus at the last supper. 

In Luke 22, an argument breaks out among Jesus’ disciples. The disagreement is about which of them will be the greatest. We know from a previous conversation with James and John that when they requested to sit as Jesus left and right hands, these arguments dealt in part with who would have power and authority and how they would wield it.

Luke then records this:

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.

Luke 22:25-26

The world in which Jesus lived was full of examples of hierarchical leadership. The Roman Empire was chief among them. Jesus explicitly states that he desires something different for his followers. 

Among the Gentiles, authority is lorded over others. But you are not to be like that. In Jesus’ kingdom and in his church, leaders will not lord authority over others.

(I’ll explain the benefactor in more detail in a later post).

Peter, who was present during this argument and who we can easily imagine stating his case for being the greatest, would later write this: 

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

1 Peter 5:1-3

As we begin this series, one of the first things that needs to happen is a paradigm shift.

Because of the churches most of us grew up in, we just assume hierarchy. Somebody has to be in charge. Somebody has to have power and authority, right? Hasn’t it always been this way?

When I share this topic, someone will bring up deacons and elders. The argument is that the church clearly has authority and hierarchical structures from the start because Deacons and Elders are in the New Testament.

But when we do that, we take our current experience of those roles and slap it onto the New Testament. Because we view these as roles with authority, they must have had authority over others back then too.

That is a mistake.

Part of the shift that needs to take place is that we need to see various positions in the church as “roles”, not “offices”. A person was a deacon, a pastor, or a leader because there were duties they performed, not because they were moving up some leadership ladder and gaining more power and authority along the way.

Look back at the third verse from that passage in Peter (where he calls himself an elder, writing to other elders).

Peter confirms Jesus teaching that leadership is not about authority being lorded over others. Instead, leadership is an example of what it means to follow Jesus. This is a theme you will notice over and over. 

This post is simply an introduction to a broader topic I want to address. Questions and comments are welcome, but please keep in mind that this is not the whole argument.

Photo by Pete Alexopoulos on Unsplash

What about Bob?

bob

I grew up in Western New York and have started and led missional church planting efforts for a little over 30 years. As you might gather, I have opinions about the church, and I share some of them here.

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