The New Testament Church Part 4: (Leadership)


Before you read this series of articles, it's important you read the general introduction.  In this series we've identified a number of features and qualities that can be found in the lives, experience and practice of the Early Church.  These characteristics, which are not set out in any particular order, are also being outworked in many congregations and faith communities today.

Through this series we hope to encourage individuals and congregations within the Church, to break free from the strait-jacket of religious tradition to re-discover their true identity and destiny as a living organism, a subversive and counter-culture movement, and the Bride of Christ.


So far in this series we've discussed the essential nature of Church, its prophetic mandate and the need for dynamic local fellowships of believers.  In Part 4 we're going to look at the issue of leadership in the New Testament Church.

Today, the institutional Church is generally led by those who've been trained at Bible college and are then assigned to local congregations, often for a limited period only.

This can also be true of youth pastors: it's now common to see adverts for youth pastors in Christian magazines.  These are the professionals and specialists, who are often found to be career minded.

Prior to their appointment they are relatively unknown to the vast majority within the congregation and virtually no one will know anything about their character, how they manage their households, whether they are full of the Holy Spirit, etc.

Because most ministers keep themselves relatively remote from the congregation during their term of tenure, they can still be relatively unknown when they leave and move on to their next flock! 

Even if subconciously, the ability to grow a large Church or good at preaching, are usually the deciding factors when seeking a new minister; a charismatic personality deemed more important than good character.  The 'cult of personality' has, as a result, become a problem in some mega-churches.

All of this is as far removed from leadership selection in the New Testament Church as the east is from the west.

Home grown and known

Leaders within the organic New Testament Church were always selected from within the congregation to which they belonged, i.e. they were 'home-grown.'  Character development was a primary concern in terms of their selection:

Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task.  Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.  (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.  He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap (1 Tim 3:1-7).

Wherever the organic Church is found today, the leaders are still generally chosen in this way.  They are not imposed from outside by some ecclesiastical hierarchical structure or selected by the local congregation following a 'preaching with a view' competition!  They are very much part of the local congregation and known just as well as any other person is known.

Gift and/or character?

Here at Christian Spectrum we believe that Godly character should precede gifting (both natural and spiritual) when it comes to appointing leadership at any level within the Church.  If we release gifted people into leadership who do not have a corresponding foundation of Godly character, we're going to meet difficulties.

Gifting however is not unimportant.  If we appoint a person of great character, but who's not gifted in any way, we will not bring the Church to a place of maturity.  

It is often thought that a dynamic supernatural ministry is an indication of Godly character and that the more supernatural the spiritual gift is, the more of a reward it is for the quality of the person’s life.  Sadly, this is simply not true.  Too many highly anointed celebrity preachers with character weaknesses, have caused untold damage to the Church.  We need both gift and character.

More than a diploma please!

To assume that a Bible college diploma, a professional leaning, a middle to upper class upbringing and a quiet respectable disposition, equates to character development, is also a mistake - Jesus' disciples were described as: 'unschooled, ordinary men' (Acts4:13).  The Apostle Paul describes the early Christians:

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth (1 Cor 1:26).   

Spiritual leadership and leaders as servants

Leadership in the Church is unlike any other form of leadership.  To be a leader in the Church doesn't depend on intellect, noble birth, a diploma from a Bible college, a charismatic personality or even a natural gift of leadership - or at least it shouldn't!

Whilst none of these things are wrong in themselves, if we prioritise these when we look to nominate spiritual leadership, we'll be looking in the wrong direction.

The spirit of the leader, and not these things, should be our primary focus, as Jesus made abundantly clear:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:25-28).

True leadership is not a matter of having authority over the people of God, but of serving the people, under God.  It's not to be understood as having a profession or even of holding a position, but as service to the congregation.

Weak leadership is seen where authority is imposed and obedience demanded; strong leadership is of service offered.  The paradigm for leadership in the Church is the Christ who knelt before his followers and washed their feet.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.  'Do you understand what I have done for you?' he asked them.  'You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them' (John 13:12-17).

Divine appointment

Leadership in the Church is always by divine appointment; no-one can set himself up as a leader. The wearing of a dog-collar is no guarantee of the Lord’s calling or approval.  Leadership in the Church is a calling and gift from Jesus to his Church:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 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 (Eph 4:11-13).

Spiritual authority is always given and received; never sought, assumed or taken - certainly not earned at a Bible college!  It will be recognised, acknowledged and confirmed by the congregation, otherwise it is worthless.

Jesus had spiritual authority which even the demons recognised.  He carried authority, but was also under authority - he only did what his Father told him to.  Those who carry spiritual authority in the Church must not only to be in submission to God (and to the denomination, in the institutional Church setting), but also answerable to the congregation (as is always the case in the organic Church).

As well as caring for the flock under their care, the leaders also have responsibility for maintaining and, if necessary, bringing discipline (hence the importance of their also being under authority) whenever it's needed within the Church.

Foundation of the apostles and prophets

In terms of leadership, the Bible talks about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, elders and deacons.  These ministries, supplemented by the practice of discipleship, are given in order that the Church will attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

The Church is to be built on the foundation of apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20).  We need those carrying an apostolic and prophetic anointing to put in solid foundations and to call forth vision.  Since not every congregation necessarily has a prophet and apostle, it would be hoped that they could be networked into these ministries, based on relationship and as the Lord leads.

There will generally be apostles and prophets in any region which are recognised as such by the organic Church.  The institutional Church thinks of bishops or the equivalent in this regard, but we would suggest that they may not have the prophetic or apostolic gift we're referring to.  The local Church leaders, however, must always retain overall spiritual responsibility for the congregation they lead.

Priesthood of all believers

All leadership is to be based on an understanding of the universal priesthood of all believers.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood , a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).

The 'one-man ministry' model is, in our view, unbiblical.  Church meetings were never intended to be front led in the way we see them being led in the vast majority of institutional churches.  An organic Church meeting looks very different:

What then shall we say, brothers?  When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  All of these must be done for the strengthening of the Church.  If anyone speaks in a tongue, two - or at the most three - should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.  If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the Church and speak to himself and God.

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.  And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.  For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.  The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.  For God is not a God of disorder but of peace (1 Cor 14:26-33).

Team ministry is clearly set out in the scriptures.  Decision-making should not be left in the hands of a single professional, but should be reached by consensus and should be the shared responsibility of the leadership team ideally, and then embraced by the majority of members of the congregation.  Only then is the decision truly accepted and embraced.  'It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us' (Acts 15:28).

Situational leadership

Throughout the Bible we see that leadership was always situational - appointed to meet the needs of the situation.  For example, when God wanted a visionary leader, he chose Moses; when he wanted a warrior leader he chose Joshua; when he wanted a worshipper and man after his own heart he chose David.

Depending on the specific mantle God places on any particular congregation, we believe that he will raise up a corporate leadership equipped for the task and with the appropriate anointing.  In this way, from time to time, God will (in a positive way) remove certain leaders and include others in to serve a changing situation or congregational vision.

Submit to and pray for leadership

After men are recognised as leaders and are serving the congregation, our responsibility towards them is clear - we are to submit to them and pray for them:

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.  Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.  Pray for us.  We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way (Heb 13:17-18).

We should respect them and hold them in esteem:

Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work (1 Thess 5:12-13).

Submission had a bad press in the early years of the House Church Movement, and clearly some abuses occurred.  But the opposite of bad use is good use, not disuse.  At its best, authority and submission go hand in hand.

There are times when strategic decisions have to be made on behalf of the congregation as a whole, and in those instances the leadership team will have to make them.  The congregation, in acknowledging the humility and authority of their leaders, are then generally able to follow their lead.

An external trusted friend and advisor

From our experience over the years, we'd also advise any Church leadership team to solicit input and help from an externally trusted friend and advisor, who can be called upon for advice and to arbitrate when irresolvable disputes arise within the leadership team.  Members of the congregation can also be given access to the external advisor.  This prevents any authoritarian control being exercised by the leaders and brings security to the body as a whole.

Women in leadership

We're often asked about women in leadership and our own conviction is that the Bible, taken as a whole, supports the notion of male leadership, without demeaning women in any way.  Deborah’s role as judge in Israel and Lydia’s conversion and founder member of the congregation in Philippi, may be exceptions. 

In our view bottom-line leadership should be male, although leadership teams could include females, which has been the practice employed within the congregations and communities we've been part of.  However, we would not disagree with churches, denominations and streams who insist on male only leaders, and we would certainly not be in favour of women being given bottom line leadership.

Help required?

Should you wish to discuss any of this further why not give us a call.  Over the years we've worked with many different leaders and leadership teams (both within the denominational scene and amongst the newer churches) helping them to build leadership teams and to clarify their identity and vision.  We'd love to hear from you.


Mutually beneficial characteristics

It's important to bear in mind the overlap and relationship that exists between the different characteristics of the New Testament Church:

General introduction to series . . .
Part 1 in this series discusses Eschatological focus . . . 
Part 2 in this series discusses Prophetic mandate . . .
Part 3 in this series discusses Meeting in houses and community living . . .
Part 4 in this series discusses Leadership . . .
Part 5 in this series discusses Discipleship . . .
Part 6 in this series discusses Spiritual gifts . . .
Part 7 in this series discusses Pioneers or settlers . . .
Part 8 in this series discusses Identity precedes function . . .
Part 9 in this series discusses Relational unity . . .
Part 10 in this series discusses Kingdom message and proclamation . . .
Part 11 in this series discusses The persecuted Church . . . 

True leadership in the Church is therefore always by divine appointment and no-one can set himself up as a leader.  A diploma from a Bible college or the wearing of a dog-collar is no guarantee of the Lord’s calling or approval, anymore than a church building is a guarantee that it houses the Body of Christ on a Sunday morning . . .

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