2 Corinthians 1:24
When the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit, he started a new people of God. This one people is made up of many groups of his followers across the world. In regard to many ways of being his people, he has given us freedom to live together, as we keep in step with the Spirit. For example, we are free to sing his praises according to our musical preferences. We are free to order our gatherings for worship. There is no set order of worship in the Bible. All this provides ample topics for discussion. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion on what is the best model, but we must recognize the scriptural idea of liberty within the boundaries of the word of God.
The same is true of the functional leadership of local gatherings. One thing I learned through over forty years of serving as a pastor or pastoral assistant is that every local group or collection of local assemblies has vehement opinions that their structure is biblical, and probably the only one that is acceptable to God. In practice, churches will tolerate much doctrinal error, as long as everyone agrees with their leadership structure. Yes, that truth hurts, but that is the painful reality.
However, in this article the subject is not the structure of leadership but the pattern or paradigm of the way leaders lead. This is not a matter of preference but of clear biblical teaching. Yet structure has always been of greater importance to Christians than the character and attitudes required of leaders. This is one source of much conflict in churches, as sinful pastors, elders, and deacons (and all these are sinners) lead sinful followers of Christ (and all followers are sinful). If the local leadership does not measure up to the expectations of the people, a rebellion of some sort is organized to change the leadership. But here is the problem. The leader or leaders are blamed, and not the paradigm of leadership. People are blamed and not the ideas that perpetuate the problems.
This is a vast subject, and I needed to say all of that to look at our text. We want to see the pattern of leadership that Paul modelled to the church in Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm (NIV).
- Paul renounced a certain style of leadership. He did not act as lord over them. The nations of this world love a lordship style of leadership. Too many churches buy into the worldly style that the Lord forbids (Matthew 20:25-28). Leaders seem to love the authority to direct the church according to their preferences, since by virtue of their position they automatically “know what is best for this local church.” But the apostle Paul loved people deeply. (If you don’t think of Paul this way, reread Romans 12:9-21 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 where he gives two of the longest teaching sections about love in the NTS.) He also loved the Lord Christ deeply, and wanted him to be the lord of the church. Real biblically transformed leadership requires genuine love for the people who are served. Though true for many reasons, this kind of leader recognizes that he is also one of Christ’s people and needs to be lead. He is not in love with his position or function but in love with Christ and his people.
- Paul set forth a correct objective. He worked for the joy of people. Knowing the high importance of joy in the true Christian way of life (Romans 14:17; Galatians 5:22; Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16), he worked hard that others might have the joy of the Lord in their experience. Lack of joy in the Holy Spirit is of great concern to godly leaders. The joy of others requires sacrificial love and labor from those who would develop Christ’s followers.
- Paul reaffirmed the necessity of faith. Too often, church leaders look for obedience or conformity with the standards or rules of their church. But they forget that obedience is the fruit of faith, not of pressure from the leadership. A thoughtful reading of Hebrews 11 will show how faith produces godly actions or works, as James also teaches (James 2:18-26). But leaders must focus on faith first of all.
So then, there is a pattern for Biblical leadership. Do we desire it? Or are we content with “business” as usual? True godliness is conformity to the God’s word, not to the traditions of people.
Grace and peace, David