Relationships Part 3
LEADERSHIP & HIERARCHY
By Benjamin Raven Pressley
I am amazed and broken-hearted at the competitive spirit in the church (I am referring to the church as a whole, no particular congregation). In this study I want to deal with this whole concept of hierarchy and put the issue of leadership and submission to leaders in perspective. A lot of the reason we have such a lack of unity in the church and are accomplishing so little is the hierarchy that has inundated what is supposed to be the house of God. People love to have their positions of authority in the church and use their position to control others and elevate themselves to a level that people have to look up at them. In the 1800’s we see churches with the pulpits prominently in an elevated area as if floating above the congregation. This was partly so the people could hear the minister better but I think in most cases it was no coincidence and was meant to have the so-called minister to appear high and elevated and better than those beneath looking up at him. This is still the case in some modern churches. I believe the scriptures teach that we are servants one to another and there is no person above another person. As I said in a previous study I wrote on relationships: “God desires a relationship with us and for us to have good relationships with one another. When man began to institutionalize what living for God meant and created organized religions then the division between God and man became even bigger as man made up his rules on how to live for and please God. As human belief systems developed they also affected our relationships with others. A hierarchy was put in the place of love and suddenly one person imagined themselves greater than another. And on it grew from Cain slaying Abel to the wars and divisions we have today. “
Jesus emphasis was constantly on Him being the vine and we are the branches (John 15), not branch managers. We yield fruit according to how we are connected to Him. We are useful and display gifts in proportion to the degree we are connected to that vine. People seem to have this need to classify themselves and establish hierarchy which more often than not either directly or indirectly says one person is superior and above another in some way. A hierarchy almost always stifles those less assertive among us and as a result we miss out on the gifts that they have for the body. Paul was a very highly qualified person on any level you wanted to apply him to in his time. He was a Pharisee trained by Gamaliel who was trained by Hillel, the greatest rabbi’s of their time. He was smart. He also was a Roman citizen and understood how their system worked. He wrote, under inspiration of God, one third of what we call the New Testament today. And yet he said he counted all his qualifications but dung for the glory of the cross. (Phillipians 3:8).
Consider Luke 22:27. In these scriptures we see Jesus saying “who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” What is He saying? Here is God, the Lord of the universe saying I am your servant. Matt. 20:25-28 He says: “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. 26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; 27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Basically He was saying only One, God, is your Leader, and the rest of us are brothers, sisters, servants of one another So, how can this be? Simply put, Christ is the only valid authority on earth. A true leader is a servant that puts the needs of others before themselves and the response to such a leader is to do the same. People love to be in authority over others by nature. But Jesus says if you want to lead others then lead them to be servants to all. A true leader doesn’t have to demand obedience. People will follow a true leader naturally. They will want to follow this person’s example and honor his gifts as they lead by being a servant to all. If congregations and the church in general want to truly resemble the church Christ meant for us to resemble then we must serve one another. So what would this look like? Let’s look at the example of my relationship to my pastor, no pastor in particular, any pastor. I do not consider my pastor superior to me but I honor his gifts and how God is using him to lead the congregation. I don’t consider myself ‘under’ him. There are things that with God’s power and gifting I can do better than him because of my connection to the vine and there are things he can do better than me. It is neither of us who has the gifts in and of ourselves. We have these gifts because of our connection to the vine. When we honor one another’s gifts we have no need to classify them as over us or under us. We yield to the area that God is using them in so that God is glorified.
I’m not saying I don’t believe in submission to authority, but who’s authority are we supposed to submit to? We ‘submit’ in as far as the leader obeys God and is not puffed up or haughty or abusive to their position and they are the servant leaders they should be, but, again, I am not submitting to them, per se, I am submitting to Christ. I am just saying if you think about it the way I am describing there will be no argument about who is in charge and more will be accomplished for God and His glory and bless the culture we live in and we will be more in unity as a church. There are no big ‘I’s and little ‘you’ ‘s in the kingdom. If we are submissive to Christ and He is truly Lord of our lives we do all things as unto the Lord (Col. 3:23). Going back to my example of my relationship with my Pastor, whomever my pastor is, what I do in my place in our church congregation I do unto the Lord, not unto my pastor. From outward appearances it may seem I am submissive to my pastor, and indirectly I am, but, in reality we are both being submissive to Christ and he is operating in his gifts which is leadership and I am operating in my gifts and the body is edified. It is the same with a husband and wife. You serve one another and submit to one another as unto the Lord. When you trip over those shoes in the middle of the floor don’t complain, you are tripping over God’s shoes, not your wife’s. So if we are submitting to Christ as we should there won’t be any arguments about who is in charge. We will submit to whomever’s gifts are being used at the time. Let’s say you and I go on a mission trip in the jungle and I am going as your intern. Suddenly we get lost in the jungle. I know survival skills and you don’t. Whom is submitting to whom then? If you want to live you will submit to me because I know how to keep us alive and you don’t. See what I mean? I think the point of view is important because too many people follow someone legalistically because they are ‘in charge’. That’s a worldly view. We do things as unto the Lord. Remember what Jesus said regarding this, as I have already quoted in Matthew 20:25-28. Jesus didn’t want us to lead like the world system did. Jesus’ way changes our attitude about everything, it keeps even the leader humble and submissive.
Jesus set the example when He washed the disciples’ feet. He constantly reminded people the greatest among us would be he who was a servant (Matt. 23:11). That is trusting in and doing things God’s way. We have to trust God more in the church. That is why so many churches are afraid to teach grace because they think people will use it as a license to sin. So then that church plays God and beats down and controls people. When in reality it has the opposite effect. It sets you free to live right because you love the Lord not because you are commanded to. Same with pounding the people with Malachi 3:8-10 on tithing when the Word says God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). Stop pounding people and threatening them with curses and I believe it will set people free to give generously. Part of my ministry is to let people know they are free from bondage and legalism and open up a whole new world of serving God and one another God’s way with joy because they have a desire to not because they think they have to.
Have you ever been passed by, ignored or overlooked because you weren’t considered that important? Sure you have. We all have. And to most people they accept it as the way of things. We all know of situations where someone less qualified was placed in a position. If we are operating with kingdom principles though we look among us with God’s lead and find that person who is most qualified no matter who they are or what degree they hold. Most qualified does not always mean the most experienced either and it definitely doesn’t mean the most popular or good looking. God very often takes that which we would not have chosen and uses it greatly. Then God is glorified and not the person. There are so many examples of this in the Bible. How do most people get chosen? They are chosen like the people chose King Saul, because he was tallest among the people, big mistake (1 Samuel 10). God chose David who was but a lowly shepherd boy that his family basically kept ‘out of sight’ (1 Samuel 16). What about Jesus’ disciples? Rough old fishermen, despised tax collectors, doubters, cowards when it came time to stand up and be counted. At the crucifixion, they all scattered, Peter even denied Him 3 times. Need I go on? “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.”
(1 Corinthians 1:27-29)
In Matthew 23:8-12, Jesus says: ” 8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”
This is radical stuff! But it shouldn’t be. It is taught all through the scriptures. Paul said in Ephesians 5:21 “ Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” We don’t submit to leaders. We submit to one another. Don’t take this as if I am encouraging rebellion and haughtiness. I am teaching just the opposite. I am saying if we submit to one another then we truly act as the body of Christ and He is the head. As you submit to the authority of Christ you will recognize those who excel in leadership gifts and follow Christ as you submit and acknowledge that one who excels in leadership gifts as unto the Lord and God will be glorified as you serve Christ together. In fact the moment you look at your needs as more important than others and view yourself as over another human being you disqualify yourself from being a Christ-like leader. Look at the life of Jesus. Look at His model of authority. He never lorded His authority over anyone. He never forced people to accept his teaching, yet there is no one who can deny His effectiveness or that He changed the world. Jesus’ authority was founded in a love that was prepared to give its life for all. People were humbled and attracted to Him and His message. They wanted to follow Him. Even the religious sect of the scribes sent to spy on Jesus for the Pharisees came back saying, “Never man spake like this man.” (John 7:46). People were constantly astonished at Jesus and described him as one who, “taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matthew 7: 28-29). They recognized His authority in all that He spoke though He never asked anyone to bow before Him or demanded that He was their leader. He didn’t have to. Sure He was the Son of God but even in the form of man He was saying people will recognize true authority. It does not have to be demanded or lorded over people. It is when we submit to His authority and we are filled with His Spirit that true authority is displayed that no person can deny. Sure people rebelled against it on many occasions and even denied it verbally but in their hearts they recognized His authority and could not truly deny it.
The centurion in Matthew 8:5-10 was a man in authority and He recognized Jesus’ authority as superior to his. Jesus made it very clear that you cannot serve two masters in Matthew 6:24. So I ask you whom do you serve? I also ask you who demand others submit to your authority, whom do you serve? If you serve Christ as you claim you cause others to err when you demand they serve you. As far as I can tell there is no pyramid structure with a man or a group of men at the top according to scriptures. The gospel teaches that there is Christ on top and then a group of slaves beneath Him and Him only on an equal level serving Him and serving each other. The apostles were called revolutionaries and rebels, accused of organizing nationwide rebellions and turning cities and even the world upside down. They recognized that there was no authority except God’s and that it is always necessary to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). When we truly comprehend this we know when to obey another person and we know when it is necessary to disobey. We are not to blindly obey any person in authority. We answer to a higher authority. It is because we understand this that we as Christians can be the best employees, the best husbands, the best wives and the best and most effective servants in our individual congregations and communities we serve in. Why? Because we understand who our Lord and authority is and we love Him so much we cannot help but do the best jobs we can. Our responsibility is simply to be the servant of all.
In conclusion, I will say, DO NOT read into what I have written that I am encouraging anarchy. In fact if you read carefully and prayerfully before God I think you will see I am teaching just the opposite. We will be in submission to authority as a servant to all and as unto the Lord. Then Christ is glorified and the church will once again turn the world upside down as we go forth in His power, love and authority.