What is Church? Part Three

by Vic Francis

“If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good!”
— 1 Timothy 3:1, Message

Or, if you will let me for a moment seriously mess with scripture, “If no one wants to provide leadership in the church, bad!”

Recognised, biblical leadership is a hallmark of the church – along with gathering and worship and fellowship, as already discussed in this What is Church? series.

So let’s consider what recognised and biblical leadership might entail.

A church needs recognised leaders – those who take responsibility in some way for the people and who are very much trying to be in tune with where God is leading them. These leaders may be appointed by vote or proclamation or even by accident – but they are essential if a church is to truly find its purpose and destiny.

Once they’re recognised, they need to be free in themselves and freed by their churches to actually lead, and Vineyard New Zealand national director Lloyd Rankin boils this role down to three key areas:

  • Receive and implement vision.
  • Raise up other leaders.
  • Ask the why questions (why we do what we do).

Sound easy? Well, if you’re a leader you will know it’s not! But it’s a good thing to try!

We are, indeed, servants who lead, not leaders who serve. That’s biblical leadership in a nutshell, and it should be a hallmark of the church.

So leaders need to be recognised; and leadership also needs to be biblical. What, then, is a biblical leader? 

Actually, the Bible is surprisingly (and encouragingly) elusive when it comes to defining leadership or describing who or what makes a good leader. 

Even a study of biblical leaders is inconclusive because they vary so much in personality, situation, achievement and strategy. Some were clearly God-ordained and gifted leaders with a title to match – among them Joseph, the Old Testament kings and the apostles and elders in the New Testament. Others never had any recognised title, instead leading by the authority of who they were and God’s evident anointing – Jesus and Paul would be among those. Some were reluctant leaders (Moses, Gideon), some were unlikely leaders (David, Esther), some were doomed leaders (Saul, many of the kings). All were flawed (except Jesus). 

Biblical leadership, then, doesn’t seem to be restricted to any particular type of personality. Ephesians 4:11-12 suggests leaders will come with all types of giftedness – pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets, apostles. The Bible is cautious on inexperienced leaders, but youth per se doesn’t seem to be an obstacle (Jeremiah 1:7). And while there appear to be some circumstantial biblical restrictions on women in leadership, it’s clear that women as well as men were leaders in the New Testament church (Romans 16).

What we can say with confidence is that leadership is God’s idea – he even bestows a gift of leadership (Romans 12:8). But we can also say with surety that God even more strongly desires his leaders to be men and women of high character. In fact, the two major New Testament passages on leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9) are far more concerned with the qualities of the leader than with job descriptions or key performance indicators. Vineyard churches worldwide have embraced this by valuing “character over giftedness” when they assess a candidate for a leadership position.

As with all things, however, Jesus is our model for leadership.

Jesus, as already mentioned, led from personal and spiritual authority rather than any title or formal role. And while that in no way negates a title as a legitimate means of reflecting calling or responsibility, it is a timely reminder that we need to lead by influence, anointing, vision and character more than from our position as a pastor, leader or minister. In fact, there are few things more pathetic than a leader who has to pull rank to get his or her followers to respond.

Jesus’ leadership style was vastly different to many business-inspired models of church leadership we see today. Indeed, “servant” is the word most commonly used to describe Jesus the leader, while the New Testament word for “minister”, diakonos, also means “servant, one who waits on tables”. So while a “minister” or “pastor” would today most often be identified as a clergyman or preacher, the origins of the word show that person should essentially be a servant leader to be faithful to the essence of the role.

We are, indeed, servants who lead, not leaders who serve. That’s biblical leadership in a nutshell, and it should be a hallmark of the church.

Ministry is a series of conversations and interruptions

Like most people, my life often feels over-full and very stretching. 

When people ask how I am doing, I don’t like saying, “I’m busy”, but try to reply, “My days are full.”

I say this for two reasons. First, when we say, “I am busy”, sensitive people easily interpret that as “he is too busy for me” and sometimes an opportunity is lost.  And second, being busy seems to be worn almost as a badge of honour these days.

But being busy isn’t a virtue: being fruitful or being effective really is much more important. Being busy can easily result from being disorganised, distracted or misdirected, as it can from doing too many things that make a difference. 

It is better to live full days which include time to listen, think and reflect, as well as time to do.

Sometimes, we have days that seem to get taken over with things we didn’t plan for. (Now I know well-meaning goal-setting, life-planning people say that you are in charge of your own schedule. Meanwhile, on Planet Reality, things happen that can’t be planned for, or even anticipated.)

After many years serving in ministry roles I have come to understand ministry as a series of conversations and interruptions. So often, Kingdom advances happen on my margins rather than in the middle of my planned activities.

Just last week I had had a particularly full week, and needed to write my sermon for Sunday, as well as have a couple of key phone/face-time conversations. I also had an evening commitment and a full Saturday. So there was no margin for not completing that main task of preparing Sunday’s teaching that day. 

By 2pm on Friday, I hadn’t even turned on my computer to study and write because there had been several long interruptions. But they were good and fruitful interruptions. They were Kingdom interruptions! 

So with the timeframe now severely compressed, I asked God for unusually quick clarity of thoughts, captivating images and sentences. And by the end of the day, God had graciously compressed a process that would normally take much longer, and require more work on my part.

After many years serving in ministry roles I have come to understand ministry as a series of conversations and interruptions. So often, Kingdom advances happen on my margins rather than in the middle of my planned activities. We know life consists of “Kingdom set-ups” where we serendipitously meet someone, or a conversation heads down an unplanned direction, or a simple (sometimes shallow) prayer suddenly ushers in a “God moment” when the Kingdom of God draws near and we find ourselves in what the Celtic church called a “thin place”. These are the moments of ministry.

While we must, of course, be present and attend to the things we have to do (though it is good to regularly prune what those things may be), so often it is the conversations and interruptions that bring the change. 

Being at our desk, reading blogs, listening to podcasts, having coffee with people and being at meetings isn’t always ministry. Ministry is about God and the people he brings to us to love and bless. Everything else we do is simply about getting to where we can do ministry as we join Jesus in what He is doing around us.

So just as fruit grows on the branches and not on the trunk, don’t be surprised that Kingdom advances happen in the margins rather than the centre of our activities. Ask our Lord to open our eyes to spot the God moments.