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How about Paul? Did he have authority? He had abundant positional authority as a Pharisee—so much authority that he authorized the death and imprisonment of followers of the Way. However, he completely lost all of that hierarchical power when he became a Christian. Subsequently, however, he came into enormous spiritual authority. This authority was evidenced in the miracles that had been performed through him as well as in his suffering for the Lord and His Church, which he points out in his apostolic defense.

But did Paul have the kind of authority that pastors and leaders wield in the Church today? How did Paul exercise authority in the early Church? Ecclesiastical power? He said this interesting thing in 1 Corinthians 4:19-20: “But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” What kind of power was Paul referring to? Ecclesiastical power? No. What Paul wielded was spiritual power.

Was that spiritual leadership effective? Again, there clearly were problems. It didn’t take much time before there was divisiveness in Corinth and death-producing legalism at Galatia. Paul exhorted and attempted to persuade the believers in these places to correct these issues. However, what authoritative structure did he build? He told Timothy to appoint elders in every church, listing for him the qualities needed (1Timothy 3:2-12). What other organizational things did Paul set up or establish? I can find none.

The closest example I can find of the kind of leadership we exercise today is in Acts 6:

“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’” (Acts 6:1–4).

This seems like a hierarchy was being established because of a ministry need. However, this was simply an administrative act, and, as we’ve seen, administration is a ministry of the Holy Spirit. It goes without saying that administrative and organization skills are required whenever people gather or work together to get a task done. We see this when Paul and the Church collected an offering for the poor in Jerusalem: “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you” (Romans 15:25–28).

In addition, it appears that the appointing of men to serve as waiters was not permanent. Two chapters later, we see that one of those appointed to serve widows, Philip, has traveled to Samaria. It’s also interesting that immediately following the passage about choosing men to serve that Stephen and Philip were exhibiting stunning spiritual power. Stephen did “great work and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8), and Philip was preaching and performing miracles in Samaria (Acts 8:4-8). It’s almost as if the Lord is saying, “Don’t think that the gift of service equals the permanent residency of an underclass that only performs menial tasks while others do significant ministry. Those great ones will also become least and serve as menials. And those who are least will be exalted.”

How significant is leadership as we view it today? I don’t find leader or leadership in the list of ministries in Ephesians 4:11-14:

“And gave the, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for up body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in schemes.”

Nor do I see it in 1 Corinthians 12:27-28:

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.”

In fact, some of what we call leadership is administrating, and while it is needful, it’s at the bottom of the list, just above tongues.

I do, however, finally find it toward the bottom of the list of gifts in Romans 12:4-7:

“For as in one body we have many members and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

That Paul either ignored the ministry of leadership or put it almost dead last in the Romans 12 gift inventory should give us pause, especially in light of how much emphasis we put on it today. Paul is indicating that the gift of leadership should not be exalted—it should be minimized. This makes perfect sense, in light of our knowledge of human nature and what the disciples were concerned about when they were walking with their Master: “A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24). It was this dispute about “greatness” which immediately led to Jesus’ response about leadership, which we’ve looked at before: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:25–26).

In contrast, what do we find at the top of these lists? Prophecy is consistently first or second. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:1, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts especially that you may prophesy.” He repeats this admonition at the end of the chapter. “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy…” (vs. 39a). Paul tells us to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts—earnestly. Twice, he tells us to desire to prophesy. Where is leadership in all this? Why doesn’t he say, “Earnestly desire to lead?” Is it because doing these things actually is leading?

Love is also high in importance in Paul’s view and is considered the greatest ministry of all, certainly required if one is to “lead,” which, according to Jesus, looks much like being a slave.

Paul lists the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, but wisdom, knowledge and faith are prominent in these verses.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

Do you see the gift of leadership here?

There are a couple of places where the idea of being over someone or ruling them is in the New Testament. One is in 1 Timothy 5:17: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” The other is in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.”

However, in light of what Jesus taught about leadership, I must ask what “rule well” and “over you in the Lord” mean here. If Jesus meant what He said, “leading” would not be “ruling as the Gentiles do,” but being a slave to the members of our group, while having spiritual authority. The way we would “lead” or “exercise oversight” according to Peter, the one who walked with Jesus, is by example, not with ecclesiastical or organizational authority:

“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).

My opinion is that we have organized our churches, established programs, and built teams in ways that neither Jesus, the Lord of the Church, nor the leaders of the early Church did. My opinion is that this method of leadership has played very well into our Western view of hard work, individualism, and materialism. We lead, as Jesus instructed us not to, as the Gentiles do. We work hard, there is no doubt about that, but we work hard to build an organization that is contrary to the biblical pattern. We don’t work hard to simply, purely follow Jesus, hear God’s words and act upon them, while eschewing Gentile leadership principles, according to the biblical pattern. We don’t work hard to operate in the supernatural power of God, as every leader in the Bible did—because we’re too hard at work building and organizing a religious structure.

So the question: Is it possible for us, in today’s Western Church, to lead biblically?

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