I am excited about the potential of the churches of Christ! I am excited because of how great God is. I am excited because I know how powerfully God can move through the hearts and lives of people.
I am excited because I know that all over the world there are elders, ministers and lay people opening their hearts up to the Lord's direction and seeking him first.
God gave leaders to churches “to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13)
It is far past time for us to embrace again the idea of equipping people for ministry. Real equipping is far more than permission giving. It is more than putting a sign-up sheet in the lobby. Real equipping takes seriously both the call that everyone shares to ministry and the unique gifting that each person has, which comes from the Spirit, “just as He determines” (1 Cor. 12:11b). Thus, God calls us to more than merely filling any role in ministry with anyone who will take it. God calls us to give permission, to train, to release, to empower, to mentor, to let go. To be sure, this is easier said than done.
In some cases, leadership becomes a bottleneck to ministry unknowingly - believing with all of its heart that it is “governing” the way that God intended. In other cases, the stem of the problem is simply pride. In other cases, leaders desire to remain in control because it makes them feel valuable or better about themselves. After all, one feels more important when he believes that he is the only one in the church who can do what he does. This increases feelings of personal worth and supposedly increases one's value in the eyes of others.
Leaders who view themselves in this way will end up leading through the cheaper mode of positional authority, not through moral suasion, as God would have them.
This of course is not to say that roles have no intrinsic value. However, roles of leadership have value because those blessed with the honor of ministering within these nameplates prove themselves worthy of them through their discipleship. This is why character is center-stage when the Bible describes elders, deacons and ministers.
Even in churches where leadership is effective at equipping the body for ministry, some church members simply refuse to follow church leadership. The reasons for this are many, and the need for brevity precludes in-depth discussion of them.
Let's just say that often, it again has to do with control. Others simply have problems with authority, others may believe that virtually any monkey can do what an elder or minister does. Others believe in American democracy and import that into the church. This leads to the belief that decisions should be made by the whole church body ... or at least a committee of them.
A biblical view of equipping is not a call to democracy or committee forms of church ministry (neither is exclusive of them). Ultimately, equipping is about the releasing of the Spirit's power into the church and world to accomplish God's will.
Elders and ministers usually bring experience, formal training, and practical expertise that leavens the ability of the church to handle ministry and crises. This is not something to be resented, but something to be thankful for and stewarded. Church members can, thinking that they are doing themselves a favor, be chronically critical of leadership - ascribing to them impure motives or quickly charging them with incompetence because they do not perform ministry as members think they should. I am certainly not suggesting that all leaders have the best motives and are infinitely competent. I am suggesting that God offers leaders to the church as blessings for the equipping of his people. Leaders who fear the congregation may be easily controlled, but they will not be effective leaders - and the church is far worse off for it.
In order for the church to move forward, we are going to have to do more than just “respect” our leaders. We are going to have to learn the art of equipping our leaders as they equip us. Equipping a leader is often as simple as following. Sometimes equipping comes through a letter of appreciation or encouragement. Sometimes, it is simply saying nothing at all. At other times, it may be challenging the leaders in a spirit of love to become even better than they are.
This much I can say, having walked both sides of the pulpit: Church leaders have a very tough task as it is. We need not make it harder.
The leadership dilemma is far more complex than I can address in a thousand words. We have not even discussed yet the issues that leaders confront among themselves. That is another article. This issue, if addressed, will lead to exponential growth and strength in the church.
More importantly, it will honor God.
The people of God brim with Spirit's power and the task of leadership is to call out and channel that power to the glory of God. This happens when leaders resolve to invest significant time and resources into creating other leaders. As people of giftedness and character, leaders must train others to do what they do (skills), be even better people than they are (character), and how to relate to others in ways that would glorify God (love and accountability).
If we choose a path that views power as finite rather than ad infinitum, our churches will never rise above what can be decided or carried out in an elders' meeting, staff meeting or committee meeting. God is calling us to more than that. God is calling everyone to pursue His heart relentlessly and embrace His mission fully. This transcendent call should help us overcome propensities toward control, apathy, egotism or the need to be right.
The hope of the world is the power of God working through the hearts and lives of people. We must not hold it back any longer.
TIM SPIVEY is pulpit minister for the Highland Oaks church, Dallas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org