Lecture 12: Pastoral Leadership and Church Structure (Part 1)
We are making a shift in this section. We have been focused on pastoral care. We are going to shift to leadership because both of these are really essential. In fact, they are essential to the very identity of a pastor. It reminds me, however, of Eugene Peterson who has a lot to say about care, not so much to say about leadership. It comes out particularly in his book, “Under the Unpredictable Plan” in which he writes, “Every few days or so another pastor gets out of bed and says, ‘That’s it, I quit. I refuse to be branch manager any longer in a religious warehouse outlet. I will no longer spend my life marketing God to religious consumers. I have just read over the job description that culture handed me, and I am buying it no longer’”
What Peterson is speaking to here is this necessary administrative leadership part that sometimes can feel like it is distorting who a pastor is. He goes on to write about his own personal experience. He says, “I found that I could no longer invest my time where they wanted me to invest my time” That is, his elders. “I went to my church session and I resigned. I told them the story, the wakeup call from my daughter. I told them that I had no time for close personal relationships, no time for prayer. Not only was there no time, but my very capacity for love and prayer had atrophied alarmingly. I told them I had been trying to change, but I couldn’t. I could see no way out but to get out of there and get a new start somewhere else. I said, take me up and throw me into the sea. Well, they asked, what is it you want? I had answer for that, but I did not know how to do it. My answer was that I want to deal with God and people. I want to study God’s word long and carefully so that I stand before you and I preac
h and I teach and I will be accurate. And I want to pray slowly and I want to pray lovingly, so that my relationship with God will be inward and honest. And I want to be with you often and leisurely so that we can recognize each other as close companions on the way of the cross and be available to one another. One elder said with some astonishment, ‘Well if that is what you want to do, why don’t you do it? Nobody told you you couldn’t do that, did they?’ I with a touch of anger said, because I have to run the church. Another elder said, ‘Why don’t you let us run the church?’ I said, you don’t know how. You say, ‘It sounds to me like you don’t know how to be a pastor either.’ “
These are nice words. I remember reading this some years ago and thinking, “That is what I would like to say to my elders.” But the reality is, when you do ministry, you don’t get a pass from this leadership role. Alongside care it is the necessary part of our identity. We are going to talk about leadership and administration. Yes, I think where Peterson can help us is, to be careful we don’t get off the rails and go too far the other way.
I. Two Misperceptions Regarding Church Leadership
I want to start by talking about two misperceptions regarding this thing called leadership and administration.
A. Administration is not important to my ministry
The first misperception I note here is that administration is not important to my ministry. I think many pastors, just by the way they are wired, gifted, often feel this way, that maybe I could just delegate this part to someone else. When it comes to managing ministry, running the church, most of us imagine more of an experience like Eugene Peterson. If only we had the courage to tell our board these things. But the problem is, this is not reality. You engage in ministry and you discover several things. You discover that if you are going to really be effective, that the church is going to be this finely tuned organization with good systems and procedures, it requires a pretty organized pastor to do this. It is critical. Ministries, by their very nature, are ordered. Maybe I could put it another way. The organism itself needs some organization.
Richard Neuhaus?_____(05:06.2) who wrote a book, “Freedom from Ministry” years ago, talked about the importance of this when he said, “I’ve never understood what people mean when they talk about the institutional church. There is no other church of historical or social significance, the church in all its smelly, sweaty concreteness.” In other words, what he is saying here is that people get down on institutions, but institutions are part of what churches are. That is their ethos structure. There is this necessary organization.
The church exists in time and space and it requires a certain temporal governance. Leadership therefore must include some administration, this word that I find many pastors just don’t like to use or say. “I’m gifted to preach. I love to care for people. I love to hang out and talk about life. I want to spend time in prayer. I don’t want to administrate.”
Even the word itself reminds us of the necessity of it, to administer, think about it. It is two words, one of them is “minister.” It is ministry. It is literally “towards ministry.” In fact, you could say, to administrate is to intensify ministry. The word itself says that there is something to it we must give attention to. That is, we must give attention to a certain order. There will be measurements. There will be assignments. There will be planning. There will be an order to even a worship service. Even as we talked about earlier, intentionally meeting with people. When it is done effectively, it insures that the work gets done, like shepherding and preaching and leading. Even Peter Drucker _____?( 07.09.8). the business specialist, put it this way: “Pastors need management, not because they should manage, but because it is the only way to get the time, thought and freedom for the real job.” So what Peterson seems to be saying, “I just want more space and time for this real work over here,” Drucker w
ould say, “If you are leading skillfully and administrating and keeping things in their proper order, you will have the time over here.”
At least in this introductory way as we talked about administration, we need to discover its importance. We also need to realize something else, and that is, it can’t be delegated. Pastors sometimes think, I’ll get a new executive pastor. I had an executive pastor, a great help to ministry. But I learned that I can’t just shift it all to him so I can focus over here on preaching and caring for people and counseling. The reality is, especially as the church gets larger, you have to be engaged and involved. You need to manage the schedule. You need to meet with the board. While maybe not budgeting, you need to have a role and a place in that. It is a volunteer organization and the staff can’t be given everything to do completely. A pastor must be involved.
Thomas Oden put it this way: “Experienced clergy understands that they are not just pastors to individuals, but to a community that hungers for a wise and useful ordering of itself.” So this is what we do. It is a requirement. It is a requirement of God. Ephesians 4 is this mandate to equip the saints. We have talked about his passage a lot so far because I think it is a fundamental passage. But to equip is not just about caring. There is also an ordering piece to the definition as well. To equip the saints is not just coming alongside and building them up. It is also giving direction and leadership and assigning roles and tasks.
So this is one misperception, that it should be something that a pastor doesn’t really need to be engaged in.
B. Ministry centers in administration.
There is another misperception, the second one. Obviously it goes to the other extreme. This is where in a lot of large churches today, pastors have almost pushed the care role over here, giving almost all of their attention to administrating and leading. This can also be really dangerous to ministry. It can skew, it can mess up ministry. Ministry in this case can be led by some who are all about effectiveness and metrics and image building and marketing and managing the operation and performance review. This is what Eugene Peterson often warned against, pastors who become shopkeepers, as he puts it, or CEOs who are focused on the computer more than the vocation, giving lots of time to meetings, but little time to people.
So what at least I would argue for in this introductory way, is that as we think about leadership administration in ministry, there has to be some form of balance. There has to be essential care and all of the attention we talked about with people, shepherding their lives. There also has to be this important role of leading the church. This is what we should be doing as we train people for ministry.
With all of that as introduction you hear me saying, there is an essential role of care, essential role of leadership. What I would like to do for these next few sessions is really dig into what that looks like. What exactly do pastors do? What is it they should do?
II. Pastoral Leadership and Structure
A. What should the church structure be?
I want to start by talking about pastoral leadership and structure itself because when we think about leading an organization, we have to understand its structure and a structure is necessary. Out of this comes a number of questions when you think about a church structure such as, who runs the church? How do we go about making decisions? Is it in the hands of a hierarchy of priests or some elected assembly of elders? Are we governed by pastors, or is governance something that is the role of the congregation? You can’t just assume people will figure these things out. There has to be some way to lead the church in answering these questions.
Is scripture clear as to what the structure should be? This is a big challenge because scripture is not as clear as we would like it to be. How much should we be guided by early church practice? That is a good question too, because you see lots of different structures. Who are the officers of the church? Should there be a plurality of elders? Should pastors and elders be distinct? That is a good question. Or are pastors and elders the same? What authority do pastors have? Is it different than the authority of elders? What is the role of deacons? Should we even have deacons? So part of this managing structures, at least starting here, is to begin to address some of these questions. Not that I am suggesting I have all of the answers. But let me give you some guidelines that have helped me, that I have worked through over the years.
It is a good place to start with being clear on the types of structures found in most churches. What we discover in scripture is that there is a certain ambiguity. The church at Antioch probably didn’t replicate the Jerusalem church when it came to structure. This may have been true in Ephesus, I don’t know for sure. But I find it interesting, Paul in Ephesus talks about pastors, he doesn’t even mention elders. But then he gets to the pastoral epistles and talks about elders, but does not mention pastors. Was he just messing with us? I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder. Sometimes it feels like that.
B. Respect the various leadership structures
Historically there have been at least three major models. There is this Episcopalian model that is a more hierarchical approach. There is the bishop who ordains and governs leaders under him. This is what is pretty much the definition of structure for the first 1500 years of the church. We see this in the Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran. So that is one historical model.
The second historic model is the Presbyterian, the more representative approach. The local church is ruled by a group of elders which is called “the session.” The Presbytery is a group of sessions that get together and they preside over a larger group of churches, but there is a certain representation.
The third structure is the Congregation, Congregationalism as we call it. Each church is autonomous. This was a lot of my experience for a lot of my pastoral life, at least my first 10 years especially where the church governs itself, there is no ecclesiastical authority over it. There is the priesthood of the believers, in which we all serve together; and under this structure there are several models. Let me break these down for a moment.
In some congregational structures there is a single elder Congregational church. That is, the local church is overseen by one elder or pastor and assisted by a group of deacons and other staff. A lot of small Baptist churches could be described as this. In another congregational structure there is the plural elder congregationalism model where local churches are governed by a plurality of elders or pastors. Yet, you can break this down too. It can take various forms: Elders and pastors with distinct roles. There are pastors over here with staff. There are elders over here ruling together. The elders have the more fiduciary role, the staff have more the leading, directing the ministry over here. Some churches are elder led, meaning that they make most of the decisions. Then there are some that are elder ruled where they make almost all of the decisions. On the other side of that in this congregationalism is the congregation that makes all of the decisions, at least all of the significant decisions.
This was sort of my baptism into ministry. I came into a Congregational church. I discovered early on that it is the congregation that makes the decisions. I thought I was the pastor, the leader. I think it was more just by name than anything. I discovered I didn’t have really very much authority at all.
These are some of the structures and we have to find our way. Scripture does not seem to say that this is the one that is Biblical, or this one is Biblical. I think it is just a lot of tradition and somewhere we have to find ourselves in these traditions perhaps where we fit. Within these broad structures are other structures of course in the church, committees and councils and ministry teams. That is the first guideline, thinking about the structure and what do we discover.
C. Know the main scriptural texts for each structure
Here is the second. We need to know the main scriptural texts for leadership structure. What do we find when we look in scripture? Again, a certain ambiguity.
Regarding leaders. Does the scripture refer to leaders? Of course it does. In fact, it describes leadership in Ephesians 4. There are five leaders. We talked about them yesterday. This is what I mentioned as this APEST model that some like Alan Hirch?_____(18:45.3), Michael Frost, would argue that the church should be led by - apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds or pastors, teachers. Is that a valid leadership model? You have to read their books and think it through. I did an analysis of this presented as a paper, it is on my blog, drjohnejohnson.org.
There were some good things to say about this model of leadership. It seems to me at least in Ephesus it was the model of leadership. There were apostles, there were prophets, evangelists, there were these pastors and there were teachers. The question of course is, who does ultimate leadership fall to? I think in their model they would say, it really falls on the five. They all team up and work together. They are reacting as I’ve mentioned already, to a more pastor-led church, that typically pastors, at least according to their thinking, are not so gifted to be leaders, but more caregivers, more shepherds. What the church needs is a combination to lead the church.
If we go by the Book of Ephesians, you could say, This appears to be the model of leadership for the church. Of course, again what is sort of confusing is, Paul does not seem to use this model with other churches that he speaks to. Of course it raises questions. Are there still apostles today? Are there still prophets? Are there still evangelists?
We know there are evangelists, we know there are pastors and we know there are teachers. Part of the question that this raises is, Is pastor distinct as an office from an elder? There are lots of questions, lots of debate on that. Some would say, I don’t see any pastoral office except for here in Ephesians chapter 4. If it is an office that should be leading the church, why doesn’t Paul refer to pastors in other books? Some will say, at least he speaks to shepherding. When we see ?poimen_____(21:08.1) used outside of Ephesians 4, it is verbal, it is not a noun, if you will, it is not an office. Some might question whether it belongs as an office. But those who would take Ephesians 4 would argue I think that yes, it is an office just like elder is an office that we see in Titus or Timothy.
What we do know for sure, we will start here, there are leaders. We see leaders as a term itself used in 1 Thessalonians 5:11-12 and Hebrews 13:17. This word, ?_____hegemon (21:50.6) is translated “leader.”
What we begin to discover as we look at leadership in scripture is, there are different terms. We have leader, ?_____(22:04.3). We have elder, presbyteros. We have pastor, poimen. In different churches Paul uses different words.
As we look at the scriptural texts for leadership structures, it is important obviously to always go back to scripture and people are going to have a certain emotional attachment to different structures. I think here is what I would say, don’t get too attached, don’t try to come down too hard to say it is this versus this because I think you could build an argument, it could be a number of different structures.
I see leadership for sure and then leadership gifts, which we see in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Even there, the gift of leadership is two different words. What you discover in Romans 12 is ?_____(23:05.7) and then you come to 1 Corinthians 12 and there is ?______(23:10.2). Some people make a distinction. I remember back to old spiritual gift surveys, to which there is the administrative role and the leadership role. But I think when you look at these two Greek terms and you look at how they are used, ?______(23:29.2) really has a piloting leadership definition, just as the word Paul uses in Romans 12.
Leadership is a gift with even different words. All that to say, what am I trying to say? It is rather confusing. As we start to think about leadership and we start to think about structure, maybe the first thing we will start with here in this session is to say that scripture gives us a certain latitude, if you will, for churches to look maybe in different ways when it comes to leadership. It may have to do with maybe where the church is, its history, its tradition. It may have something to do with the kind of people God brings to lead the church. But what is true for all and certainly the point I want to make at the beginning is, that churches need to be led and they need to be led by effective leaders.
We are going to stop here and in the next session we will continue with looking at some of these scriptural texts as we move to the role of deacons. Then we give more attention back to looking at elders.
A. Are there apostles and prophets today?
Question: You may be getting ready to answer this later on, but for those of us who haven’t read the books you mentioned, do you want to come out and give your opinion on, are there apostles and prophets today? As we are talking about church structure, should they be allowed for?
Dr. Johnson: I did pretty extensive work looking at their positions and then going back and thinking it through scripturally. I am going to probably express a bit of ambiguity like I have with all of this so far. It is to say that though I see an apostolic gift at work today, as I understand the work of an apostle, I believe I have met apostolic types who have a certain vision and are leading in an apostolic way. That may even sound vague itself, but when I think of the role of an apostle, it wouldn’t surprise me if God still has that gift in motion. Just as prophets. There seems to m, certainly not only in The Old Testament, but The New Testament, there were prophets in both. I can’t build a hard argument that they have ceased. Clearly like Ephesians 2, I think is underscoring the foundational role they play.
I have been on a couple of boards where I would almost have to say, I believe this person’s gift was prophecy in the sense that people like that I’ve seen, every now and then stand up with almost a prophetic voice. There is some discerning of the Spirit of God and understanding of the Word of God that brings the Word of God at just the precise moment. Certainly evangelists, I know some who clearly have that gift. Then I think the pastoral role itself, sure. And the teaching role.
There are some things that you would die for. I wouldn’t die for this. But I wouldn’t be surprised if all five are in motion. I have a little problem with Frost and ?_____Hirsch (27:06.6) that it sounds a bit idealistic, to let the five lead the church. But I believe ultimately that the buck has to stop somewhere. The question is, where does it stop?
I think if you press Frost and _____?Hirsch, they would probably say, it stops with the apostle.
Question: You mean the modern apostle?
Dr. Johnson: Yes.
Question: I hear a lot today about people claiming to be apostolic, lower case, or an apostle, lower case, and they want to distinguish that from a First Century Apostle. Yet it seems to me they are claiming the authority of speaking for God. I think that is kind one of the modern concerns about someone claiming to have an apostolic ministry. Do you understand an apostolic ministry needs to be one of vision and leadership; or is there a sense of what the apostle says, God says.
Dr. Johnson: I guess you could ask that question about the pastor. I think we would typically look at the pastor as having some authoritative role as well. He does speak for God. There is this authoritative role that comes with, “Thus saith the Lord” that happens in the pulpit. If we recognize that is true there, then I think we could easily say that is also true for apostles.
Granted, we talked about this in our last session, that there can be abusive authority. Sometimes in my observation, people take this apostolic role so they can exercise a certain top-down authority, that can be really unhealthy. Then again, pastors can do that as well.
Maybe in each one of these, there can be abuse of authority, people saying, “This is my role and therefore my authority.” I would not just say that apostles are the ones who have authoritative issues here, they all could.
Question: I had always thought of a pastor’s authority of “thus saith the Lord” is when he is reading the text, when he is reading the Bible; and the authority is not his, it is the Bible. Would you say that is the same thing for anyone claiming an apostolic gift, their only real authority is the text and then the application of the text to a specific situation?
Dr. Johnson: I believe so. I believe any authority we have does not come from within.
It reminds me, I was preaching one particular Sunday night and this young man came to church and when I got up to speak, I started with an introduction of sorts. He held the Bible up like this as I was introducing my sermon. As soon as I said, “Now, let’s look at the text,” he brought it down. As soon as I finished reading the text and I then began to talk about the text, he held it up, almost to kind of make a point that the only authority and the only thing worth hearing from you is the actual Word itself. I think that was one of my more bizarre experiences as a pastor, someone trying to make a point like that.
I think that authority isn’t all from just centered in reading the text. I think it is the authority that flows out of the text where there is proper interpretation. I think for an apostle, if he is going to stand up and speak with the authoritative role of the divine, I think we have to trace it back to the Word of God. Otherwise I would be pretty nervous.