by Rayola Kelley
Q: There is a growing movement among some believers that there should be no real leaders overseeing the local fellowships. To me this is confusing. Could you clarify this matter?
A: I have been aware of this movement for a while, and have even met people who advocate it. Like all movements, you meet those who are using it for their own self-serving agendas and those who are sincerely convinced they are on the right track. I even understand the premise from which this movement has gained its momentum: that of abusive power within the Church.
To answer this question properly, one must understand the purpose for leadership. God clearly established leadership in the Church to ensure its proper function. There must always be leadership in place to ensure order and purpose. There cannot be order without proper authority to ensure power to carry out the commission or responsibility. All authority comes from God, and our main responsibility is to build up the Body into the head, Christ. However, it is not unusual for people to abuse authority by misusing the power they have been entrusted with, thereby, changing the intent and purpose behind such leadership positions.
God established five positions that are necessary for establishing and building (edifying) the universal Church, as well as a leadership that would serve the local bodies to ensure sound judgment and proper growth. The five positions that have been put in place to ensure edification of the Body as a whole are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers(Ephesians 4:11-13). The apostles are sent out to establish local bodies on the foundation of Christ; the prophets are to warn, exhort and watch over the Church to ensure that it lines up to the cornerstone (Jesus); the evangelists are to challenge and revive the vision of the Church; the pastors are to lead the congregations to the Chief Shepherd by their example, and the teachers are to establish the Church in sound doctrine. We clearly have examples of how this leadership was instrumental in the establishment of the new Church. The Apostle Paul was an apostle who established local churches in Asia Minor and Europe on sound teachings and doctrines. There was the prophet Agabus who warned Paul, as well as the traveling evangelist Philip, who had five daughters who also traveled and operated in the gift of prophesy (Acts 21:8-12). Peter, who was an apostle, was also clearly called to be a pastor, and we know that Aquila and Pricilla were teachers (John 21:15-17; Acts 18:24-28).
Elders and deacons have been established to ensure the well-being of the local bodies. Elders are to serve as pastors and teachers, while deacons are to serve the needs of the local bodies (Acts 6;1 Timothy 3; Titus1:-16). James, the half-brother of Jesus, served as an elder to the Church in Jerusalem and the first martyr of the Church, Stephen, was a deacon.
We know God does all things well. In God’s kingdom, true leaders were and are to be marked by submission towards Him, and humility and servitude towards His people. I do not see in the Bible where God has changed His mind about the leadership He has devised, nor has He instructed that these positions cease due to abuse. The problem does not rest with God’s design of leadership; rather, it rests with man’s perversion of it. When misguided or wicked men become part of the equation, they will pervert what God has done well to fit their own agendas. This is where the abuse of godly leadership has wounded many people and caused many of God’s sheep to scatter, often seeking other means to hear the real voice of the Shepherd.
Let me give you an example of this abuse. The so-called “apostles” have replaced Jesus as the foundation; “prophets” have redefined the cornerstone to fit their own agendas; “evangelists” have been forced to become entertainers; “pastors” are establishing worldly kingdoms, and “teachers” are often pushing worldly philosophies, popular teachings, and lifeless facts, instead of the Bible. Elders and deacons make up Church boards instead of being leaders, teachers and servants. As a result, there is chaos, which causes dissatisfaction and disillusionment.
The problem with such chaos is that instead of people coming back to the center of truth and realizing that man is the culprit as to the abuse in God’s kingdom, many of them go to the other extreme, thereby rejecting the leadership that God has put into place. Granted, there is greater damnation on those who abuse what God has ordained, but to reject God’s ordained plan and teach contrary to His Word is also a grave offense. Jesus said it best in Matthew 5:19: “Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
We do not have to submit to erroneous leadership, but we do have to recognize God’s design and be prepared to take our rightful position in His kingdom or discern and submit to godly leadership when we encounter it. We must be careful not to throw out what God has designated because man has perverted it. If you would like to know more about this subject, you can obtain my e-book entitled: FOR THE PURPOSE OF EDIFICATION.