Church Leadership

Leadership comes in many forms.  It ranges from absolute dictatorship (as in Hitler's or Saddam Hussein's rule) to Charisma (as in Jesus' example, where people followed without any compulsion, because they wanted to).  In between, there are many examples of various types of leadership underwritten by different types of political ideals: Democracy (where everybody has a say), Socialism (abolishing private ownership), Communism (work according to your ability, earn according to your need), Anarchy (where everyone runs wild and the biggest bully wins), Theocracy (where the leaders claim divine commission). Every one of these systems is vulnerable to corruption. But this essay is not an exposé of political systems, I only mention them to show how many different ways there are to lead people.  

In the army, a soldier is expected to obey orders without question (I was very pleased to learn that in our air force, pilots on a bombing raid are given discretionary powers to abort a mission, if they believe intelligence doesn't match conditions on the ground). In a cult, brain-washing techniques are employed to ensure faithful following, often accompanied by unspoken threats.  Ways to get people to do what you want them to range from mind manipulation (generating emotional co-dependence), to the carrot-and-the-stick approach, to intimidation and ultimately enslavement.

In eternity, God's rule won't resemble any of these leadership options.  He will always remain God. And we will always remain in submission to Him.  To some indeterminate extent, we will be One with the Trinity (The Holy Spirit will indwell all of those who comprise the bride, and they will be joint heirs with Christ. However, we will continue to worship God, not the other way around).  Exactly how all that will work is beyond my speculation.  Besides, it is not the purpose here to delve on God's rule in eternity.  Rather, the objective is to examine the style of leadership that ought to be practised in the church today. Fortunately, the Bible does have a lot to say about that.


The secular way of leadership usually involves creation of a chain of command.Governments, defence forces, religious organisations and corporations function this way. The person at the top is responsible for everything happening below in the hierarchy. Communication channels flow both ways - instructions from the top down, feedback as to progress from the bottom up.  When things go wrong, the buck has to stop somewhere.  Often someone is made the scapegoat, someone to take the blame and cop the punishment, preferably someone other than the person at the top.

Because of our familiarity with these principles, we almost naturally revert to them whenever we feel separated from God. We feel separated when sin makes us temporarily ashamed to face God, which unfortunately is a frequent occurrence for most of us.  The show must go on.  Organisation enables the show to go on, even when we are not in touch with Him. Organisation provides the opportunity for us to pretend nothing's wrong.


Jesus envisaged a totally different system of operation. The very fact that the church is organised along secular principles ought to ring alarm bells. We shouldexpect that this great divine commission would operate in a totally unconventional way. Jesus Himself was the example we must strive to emulate. As our leader, He came to be a servant.  He came to lay down His life for us.  He really could have called on a legion of angels to save Him from the cross! But instead He chose to sacrifice Himself for us, to take the punishment for our sin.  In secular scenarios, the scapegoat is some poor guy in the middle, who just couldn't talk his way out of it. Jesus, the man at the top, volunteered to be our scapegoat, something you just don't see in the worldly scene. Just as Adam had a choice whether or not to give in to temptation, so Man has a choice whether or not to let Him be the scapegoat. But in some weird and wonderful way, this is God's ordained plan for us to escape our just deserts.

Jesus said many who are first shall be last, and the last first (Matthew 20:16). He was talking in connection with the acquisition of material possessions, and how we should be careful not to esteem people on that basis.  We tend to put people who have a lot on top of the hierarchy.  Jesus had nothing, not even a place to lay His head, yet He was the top. He was the fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17). Love is the fulfillment of the Law (Romans 13:10). He didn't come to abolish the Law, but He fulfilled the Law's requirements on our behalf.  Jesus, the Servant King, then died on a cross to bring the eternal purpose to fruition. God died a human death, so that I might live! A greater demonstration of humility this world has never seen.

Jesus washed the disciples' feet, to demonstrate the humble attitude we ought to have towards each other. His example to us was leadership by servanthood (Matthew 20:20-28).  We sometimes religiously conduct a foot washing ritual, but often our attitude is nothing close to humble  (I remember a bush walk in the mountains when my boys were 7 or 8.  The narrow track would only allow single file and they were arguing over who would be at the front. I told them that Jesus had said the first would be last and the last first. So they moved to the back and argued over who would be at the end!) .  If we really felt humble deep down in our hearts, we would volunteer to clean each other's toilets, and the leaders in our church would be the first to offer to get their hands dirty to help the needy.


Matthew 23 is possibly the most revealing passage on the organisational format Jesus had in mind for the Church.  He invalidates the 'respect' that church leaders seek, then says: 


"But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.  And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." (NASB)

In addition, The New Covenant, (the only claim Gentiles have to be included in the promises of God, because Jesus is its Mediator), reinforces this.  Hebrews very clearly states:

“And they shall not teach every one his fellow citizen and every one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord”, for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest of them.” (Hebrews 8:11)

Think about it for a moment. Empty your mind of preconceptions and let the facts sink in. Then realise the absolute absurdity of what is happening in the church: God gives us Gifts (Corinthians 13, Ephesians 4) intended to edify the Body, then we turn around and charge the Body for delivering them! Whether the Gift is healing, prophecy, tongues, interpretation, wisdom, faith, miracles, teaching, pastoring, evangelism, whatever, the concept of charging a fee for sharing these gifts is equivalent to profiting from what Jesus accomplished. In other words, it is virtually passing on God's blessings as if they were your own! It is selling the Gospel as a commodity.

Let me qualify those very strong assertions to some extent.

First of all, there are many people in the church who have natural talents.  (You would be surprised to learn how many of the pastors in the Charismatic church started their careers as salesmen!)  There are many talented speakers, singers, musicians, motivators and entrepreneurs in the church. It would therefore seem reasonable that they sell their expertise at a premium.  Hang on, but if their talents are natural, are we hearing from God when they show them off?  Do we come to church to hear and see talented people perform, or do we come to hear from our Master?  And, in selling their stuff, do they do it with the subtle suggestion that what you are receiving is in fact the genuine article (i.e. from God, as opposed to their natural abilities.) 

We often go to church because the musical talent is great. And recognizing audience expectation, those who sing out of tune are not allowed to be part of the choir. Those with mediocre instrument skills are encouraged to practice at home.  I have heard people who can’t sing a note glorify God in song when the Holy Spirit takes over, and it was the most incredible experience. There is no room for this in the church today.

We often go to church to hear a great speaker. More often than not, he or she learned the skill selling ice to the Eskimos.  Yet in an age when we have come to resent high-pressure salesmanship, we willingly expose ourselves to such salesmanship at church.  Yes, we need persuasive speakers, but only if it is the Holy Spirit who gives the utterance.

How many times have you heard someone say: "God told me to tell you..."? 'Prophets' are particularly good at this, standing in front of a large gathering, switching to King James English for effect: "The Lord sayeth ..."  Yet we don't keep record of their prophecies, to see if they come true. I myself have had several 'prophecies' spoken over me which have never come true, and now have no chance of ever coming true. 

I, for my part, am not interested in going to church to hear and see people perform.

Secondly, OK, everybody needs an income. If we don't earn enough money to keep our heads above water, we become 'part of the problem'. In some circumstances, it would seem reasonable that, if the congregation decides that a particular brother or sister with a special gift has been called by God to serve full time, that some allowance be paid. Even Jesus told His disciples to expect to be housed and fed (Mathew 10:10) when they went out in twos.  And Paul told Timothy the laborer was worth his wages (1 Timothy 5:18).  But that is no excuse for making a personal fortune out of the Gospel.

And the people in the congregations share one peculiar quality: they are eager to hear from God. There's nothing wrong with that, in fact it is much to be desired. However, the danger that accompanies that mindset is that it makes them psychologically ready to believe anything that looks like a touch from God.  They become a field ripe for the picking by con artists who infiltrate the congregation under the guise of wanting to help everyone to be 'successful'.  This is why we are better off seeking intimacy with Jesus and revelation in the privacy of our homes. Once the Church starts functioning the way it was designed to operate, the power of the Holy Spirit will either keep the conmen away, or convict them of their sin.


We desperately need people in church leadership to be convicted and have revelation of the things I have outlined above.  To put them in point form:  


  1. Matthew 23 does not mean there is no place for leaders. It means
  2. Leaders should only be people gifted to lead by the Holy Spirit.
  3. And if they are genuinely gifted to lead by the Holy Spirit, their leadership ability is there solely by the grace of God and does not make them any more important or worthy than any other member of the Body.
  4. Awareness of the source of the gift should produce a great humility and sense of privilege in the person so gifted.
  5. Charging a fee for passing on God's gifts is outrageous.
  6. If the congregation decides to financially support a genuinely gifted brother or sister in fulltime ministry, that is fine, as long as the amount of support is decided by the congregation and remains their prerogative.
  7. We will recognize the gifted of leaders by the drastic difference from secular leaders. Servanthood will be the quality that sets them apart. 

As with all things spiritual, intellectual persuasion does not bear spiritual fruit. The only way we can turn this thing around is by all of us nurturing the intimacy of our personal relationship with Jesus.  That will open the way to revelation and release spiritual power to bring about change. When enough of us recognise Truth from direct contact with Jesus, false doctrine can no longer survive.  

And here is another vital ingredient: You don't have to be frightened to come to Jesus when you have sinned.  There's no harm in being ashamed, and you definitely should be repentant.  But whatever you do, don't let it interfere with theintimacy of your relationship with Him.  What is the relationship counselor's advice?  Talk about it!! Communication is the key to resolving relationship problems.  The same applies to your relationship with Jesus. If you have sinned, talk to Him about it!!


Leadership in the Church should work on principles virtually the opposite of secular systems. It will require a very large shift in the way we think, to come to terms with this concept.  And initially, it will be so strange, almost alien, that we will have no idea what to do. The temptation will be to return to the way we know so well, as quickly as possible.  (It is so comforting to know what comes next!).  Successful implementation of this change hinges on the attitude of our ‘leaders’. Genuine humility is the crucial element. (And that can only be the fruit of our combined intimacy with Jesus).

What I’m saying may seem impossible to readers used to functioning in the secular environment, in the comfort zone of familiar systems of operation. But the Truth is there in Jesus' own words, right in front of our noses, ready for anyone with an open mind to read. Isn't it time we trusted Him enough to step out of the boat, even while the storm is raging, and walked towards Him, in total faith?

Leaders, Jesus is calling you to become servants.

What don’t we like about God?  We don’t like being personally and equally accountable to Him.  We don’t like the work involved in seeking personal revelation direct from Jesus. We much prefer to pass the buck, by paying someone else to be our leader. I am sure many of us entertain some illogical semi-conscious thoughts, which minimize our personal and individual responsibility when we function under leadership.