On Leadership in the Church
This article is a working edition of an explanatory position paper for a church plant. The question of who leads in the Church—when it comes to offices and gender roles—remains an oft debated topic with which all churches must wrestle. This is especially true of new churches, which have less working tradition to fall back on. The purpose of this position paper is to outline some of the considerations and boundaries for leadership in a church to be planted in the Greater St. Louis area in 2020.
Mere Christianity Preamble
Scripture was written in and for diverse contexts and situations. Accordingly, within the New Testament there exist affirmations of “mere Christianity”— a focus on the core proclamation of the Risen Jesus while simultaneously allowing for freedom when it comes to non-essential beliefs and practices.1 We see this applied to various issues, including baptism, communion, eschatology, leadership structures, how to interpret the Old Testament, and the like. In each of these areas, there is a core idea that allows for a relatively diverse expression of practice. Following the New Testament model for the Church, then, is not so much about discerning the single way to understand what Scripture says, so much as discerning what is core to faith in the Lord Jesus. Put another way, gospel freedom, when properly focused on the Good News of Jesus Christ as the redeemer of creation, allows for a certain amount of diversity on non-essential issues. An appropriate guiding principle for Christians, then, is “In necessary things, unity; in unnecessary things, liberty; in all things, charity.”
Principles for Church Leadership
Because of our belief in biblical and historical mere Christianity as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, we understand that Scripture provides instruction on the issue of Church leadership. Key principles are as follows.
First, the purpose of the Church—to spread the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection by making disciples of all nations—must dictate the form and function of all leadership in the Church.2 The disciple-making mission of the Church—not tradition or preference—serves as the starting point for considerations of Church leadership.
Second, that Scripture serves as the authority on all matters of life and faith.3 In the words of the Protestant Reformation, Scripture is the norma normans, the rule that rules, that guides Christian belief and practice. Christian leadership structures and practices must abide by the clear teachings and principles of Scripture.
Third, Christian ethics speaks to the importance of sacrificial love and submission to others.4 In the words of the Apostle Paul, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Christian leadership should thus be servant leadership, leadership that focuses first on the well-being of the community to which Christians belong.
Finally, Christian leadership must reckon with the equality of every individual before God because of their personhood (the imago Dei) and because of the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross.5 As the Apostle Peter says to the Church, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Every person—not just leaders—possess dignity, value, and gifts for the benefit of the Kingdom of God.
While specific churches and institutions continue to debate the finer points of leadership, these principles serve as the basis for establishing, vetting, and confirming leadership structures and persons in the Church of Jesus Christ.
Women in Church Leadership
The question of women in Church leadership is one that has often been asked in the history of Christianity. Much has been written by a variety of perspectives on this often-contentious issue.6 The mere Christian approach suggests trajectories for the issue of women in leadership, but nothing clear and concrete enough to render a non-tentative conclusion. That is, we fully recognize that our viewpoint may be wrong, and we commit to holding it lovingly, in a spirit of dialogue, and with the desire to continually grow and learn more. Additionally, we recognize that both the “complementarian”7 and the “egalitarian”8 viewpoints are plausible and legitimate interpretations of Scripture.
From a desire to properly interpret Scripture while also taking seriously the Great Tradition of Christianity and the contemporary mission field to which we have been called, on the question of women in Church leadership we conclude that Church offices and roles are open to any Christian—male or female—who meets the character and competency qualifications of Scripture.9 The exception to this is the position of lead pastor which, in order to balance scriptural evidence, the history of interpretation, and contemporary concerns, should be male. Applied to our church, this means that while the lead pastor is male, all other Church offices—including those of pastor, elder, deacon, teacher, missionary, and staff—are open to all Christian men and women who meet the Scriptural character and competency requirements for those offices.10
Similar to the question of women in leadership, the mere Christian approach suggests trajectories for the question of Church offices, but nothing clear and concrete enough to render a non-tentative conclusion. Thus, we again fully recognize that our viewpoint may be wrong, and we commit to holding it lovingly, in a spirit of dialogue, and with the desire to continually grow and learn more.
From a desire to properly interpret Scripture while also taking seriously the Great Tradition of Christianity and the contemporary mission field to which we have been called, on the question of Church offices we conclude that: the offices of Elder, Pastor, and Deacon are appropriate for the Church. Furthermore, additional authority should be invested in both vocation staff and the membership of our congregation.
Applied to our church, this means that the membership of the congregation confirms or rejects the Church’s bylaws, budget, and election of Elders.11 Elders provide oversight, vision, spiritual leadership, and Church discipline, being composed of a plurality of persons, the majority of whom are lay persons. Pastors implement the Church’s vision, lead ministry, equip the saints, and provide pastoral care, under the leadership of the Elders. Deacons serve as ministry leaders, working alongside staff persons who are hired to provide additional support roles.12
Recognizing the scriptural and historic complexity of Church leadership, and operating within the parameters of Christian humility, ongoing conversation, and mere Christianity, our church functions as an elder-led, staff-implemented, congregation-approved, soft egalitarian Church, meaning that qualified men and women can serve in every leadership capacity, save that of lead pastor. This position seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us as a way to appropriately reflect the intersection of Scripture, Church history, experience, and culture on the question of Church leadership.
1 1 Corinthians 15.1-34; Romans 14.1-23. See also C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.
2 Matthew 28:19-20.
3 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Matthew 5:17-19.
4 John 13:34-35; Luke 22:25-26; Philippians 2:3.
5 Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:24-28.
6 The crux of the debate on the issue of women in Church leadership centers around the interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:8-15, especially verses 11 and 12. For a thorough treatment of the ways to interpret these verses, we suggest Two Views on Women in Ministry: Revised Edition, ed. James Beck (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005).
7 The complementarian view holds that male and female were created by God as equal in dignity, value, essence and human nature, but also distinct in role whereby the male was given the responsibility of loving authority over the female, and the female was to offer willing, glad-hearted and submissive assistance to the man.
8 The egalitarian view holds that God created male and female as equal in all respects. Biblical evidence expresses the grand truth that in Christ, the false and sinful basis of male/female hierarchy has been abolished, so there is no legitimate distinction, in God’s kingdom, between female and male.
9 Titus 1:5-11; Hebrews 13:17; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-4; and 1 Timothy 3:1-7. See also John 20:1-21 (and parallels); Acts 18:24-26; 2 Timothy 1:2, 4:19; Romans 16:3-5; Romans 16:1-2; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-2.
10 To facilitate ease of conversation, on the issue of women in leadership, our church will self-identify as a “soft egalitarian” Church.
11 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
12 For other specifics on the Church offices, see the the Church Bylaws.
Image courtesy of SWNCDN.