Category Archives: Church Leadership

The Symptoms and Source of a Body Severed from the Head

And he is the head of the body, the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn for the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. – Colossians 1:18

If the body of Christ in it’s local expression… is in anyway disconnected from the head, is in any way doing anything other than submitting to the headship of Christ, then it will become apparent in:

1. It doesn’t move easily or with confidence and authority in ministering with relevance to godless world.

Disconnected from the head, you will not speak freely and relevantly and impactfully to your pagan friends and neighbors because you’ve lost the connection necessary.

2. Such a church will constantly display a frustration at a gap of what it should be doing and what it is actually doing.

3. It will seem to take forever to respond to and complete even the most straightforward of tasks.

Sometimes I wonder, why does it take so long to get anything done around here.  If this was any other place, this thing would be bankrupt, you know.  What is going on here?  Well it’s not the only answer, but one of the answers is that there’s a disconnection, you see.  The information is not flowing from the head in a way that it needs to flow.

4. The communication of such a fellowship will often be vague and jumbled.  No one will actually know what it’s saying or even if it’s saying anything at all.  And after any unusual exertion, it will be exhausted and protest that it needs time to be given to it to recover.

Now all of this is a failure on the part of the body to submit to the head.

It would be nice somehow or another if we could go in and then give a variety of explanations as to why the body and the head would be disconnected.  There is never any possibility of disconnection from the head to the body in relationship to the headship of Christ.  Therefore, it is all from here to there and it is all addressed in one simple word – sin.  If I am disconnected from the headship of Christ the answer is sin.  If you doubt that, read your Bible.

When you think of the word sin, most of us are so familiar with it we say “Sin… what is sin?” First of all, sin is not a deed, it is a condition.  It’s a state of being.  It’s a mentality. It’s an approach to things.  But it expresses itself in a variety of different ways, and that is why in the New Testament we are given all kinds of words to indicate the nature of sin:

1. hamartia (English transliteration) – it’s a shooting term, from archery.  We’re familiar with it. We know it to be that missing the mark.  We all fall short of the glory of God.  We miss the mark.  We know we are not what we ought to be.  Sin.

2. parabasis (Eng. transliteration) – it means to step across the line.  Those of you who fought your friends at school and then made up very quickly will remember those times on the playground when some character determined that he would dare you to step across the line.  And then he made a line, often drawing it in the dirt with his foot, and he says I dare you to step across it.  And ever so often we were foolish enough to step across it and we live with the consequences as we clutched our noses and ran home to tell our mothers about the evil that had been done to us.  But we stepped across it deliberately, intentionally, premeditatively.  Listen, and listen real carefully – when you and I look at the instruction of the headship of Christ straight-on, when we understand where the lines are drawn and we say, “I know I shouldn’t say this, I know I shouldn’t do this, I know I shouldn’t be there,” and we say it, do it, and go there, then we engage in willful sin and the idea of being able to enjoy the full flow of the communion and guidance and growth of the headship of Christ simultaneous with that is a feat uncountenanced in the whole Bible.  Anybody stepping over the line willfully?

3. paraptoma (Eng. translit.) – means to slip across the line.  This is something that is impulsive, it is unpremeditated, it is unintentional.  We find ourselves saying, “I have no idea why I did that. I didn’t mean to say that.  I didn’t want to do that.”  And we didn’t.

4. anomia (nomos – Greek for law, a – the prefix as in anomoly) – lawlessness.  I’ll do what it want.  I’ll think what I want. I’ll go where I want.  Just total rebellion.

5. opheilema – a debt.  When I fail to give God and other people what is their due.

Now do you understand this?  It is very simple, isn’t it?  If there is any disconnection between the head and the body, it is a result of sin.  Sin that works its way out in my life in lawlessness, in stepping over the line, in slipping over the line, in incurring a debt to God that should be dealt with as I come to him in confession.  And you can’t take the cumulative impact of that amongst the company of God’s people and expect that the power of the Spirit of God will be pulsing throughout the body you see.  That’s why our sins as individuals are not individual sins, for none of us sins to ourselves no more than we live to ourselves or we die to ourselves but we live and die to the Lord and we sin and it impacts everybody else.

Alistair Begg, “exert from sermon “Who’s in Charge of the Church?“, October 22, 2000.

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Filed under Bible, Christian Living, Christology, Church Health, Church Leadership, Colossians, Commentary, Division, Ecclesiology, God, Headship, Preaching, Sin, Theology, Unity

Who’s in Charge Here?

churchquestionsIt happens often, probably more than you might think, or maybe less that you think it should happen, but it does happen.  The question is asked: “Who’s in charge here?”  You’ve seen it in Sci-Fi movies, when the alien lands and first encounters human beings and says, “Take me to your leader.”   This is that question in statement form.  Maybe at school in class, your teacher steps out of the room and things get rambunctious for a bit and another adult steps in and asks the question.   Or it could be children in a home watching mom and dad bicker and challenge one another and in their hearts, or possibly verbally as kids often do, ask, “Who’s in charge here?”  It is a good question to ask, particularly in times of chaos, rambunctiousness, and challenge, but it is even a better question to have rightly answered and for those “in charge” to act as though they are.

Concerning the local representations of God’s church, the question is of particular importance for it is His church and He has told us in His Word who is in charge.  When it comes to understanding who’s in charge in the church, rather than focusing upon levels of authority, though definitely an important aspect, two words are helpful and will be used to direct this discussion: responsibility and accountability.  You see, all authority is delegated by and flows from Christ, who is Lord over all, but the way in which the Bible reveals who has authority and what kind of authority they bear is described by means of what each person or group is accountable for and is therefore responsible to do.  You may ask, “How do I know if I have authority to do something in the church?” to which I would respond with, “Are you accountable before God for that which you are wanting to do?”  If the answer is yes then He has delegated that authority to you to do such by His Word and in His name.  If you are not accountable to God for what you are seeking to do, then you do not have the authority to do such.  God, in His wisdom in creating and sustaining the church, has provided all we need to be faithful, if we will but listen to Him.

To clarify, let me illustrate.  In a family there are different levels of authority revealed in differing levels of accountability and responsibility.  Simplistically, God created the husband to be and holds him accountable as the shepherd of the family, to physically and spiritually provide and protect, loving his wife as Christ does the church and training his children in the fear of the Lord.  With this the husband/father bears a delegated authority from God in which to carry out those things for which he will give account before God.  This accountability means that he is responsible for those roles in the family and no one else.  The wife/mother has been created by God and is held accountable before Him as the complementary helper, nurturing, submitting, and respecting her husband as unto the Lord, and caring for her children physically and spiritually.  With this, the wife/mother bears a delegated authority from God in which to carry out those things she will give an account before God.  This accountability means that she is responsible for those roles in the family and no one else.  Even children are accountable to God as they have been created to and therefore responsible to honor and obeying their parents, but also loving the other siblings.  To this, kids will give account.  Though the authority needed to fulfill this responsibility is low, it still exists for no one should interfere with a child seeking to honor and obey his or her parents.  While, not a one to one comparison, this family structure of accountability and responsibility is like that of the church.

When it comes to the church, according to the Word of God, there are 4 levels of responsibility and accountability within: Jesus, pastors, deacons, and the congregation* (see end).  Each will be reflected upon, listing what each group is responsible for and therefore accountable unto God.

1. Jesus: The Good Shepherd

It may seem unnecessary to include Jesus in a discussion of who’s in charge of a local church, but it is absolutely the contrary.  The church is His church (Eph. 5:25-27), bought with His blood (Acts 20:28), He is the head of it (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18), He declared that He would build it (Matt. 16:18), He cares for and nourishes it (Eph. 5:29), and He has told us who we are as His church and how we ought to function as His church.  Jesus holds all authority over His church and bears faithful responsibility over it as the One who has given account for it with His life, for He is the Good Shepherd who has laid His life down for His sheep (John 10:1-18).  There is nothing lacking in His work for the church from the past, in the present, and through to eternity.  He is the promised Shepherd that perpetually and graciously shepherds His sheep.  Apart from giving us the Spirit and His Word to feed us and guide us, Christ shepherds His people by calling and equipping undershepherds (pastors) to shepherd His flock wherever they serve.

2. Pastors: The Undershepherds

The next level of responsibility and accountability below Christ is that of pastors (synonymous with overseers, elders, bishops, and leaders in Heb. 13).  They are called undershepherds because under Christ, the Good Shepherd, they bear the greatest amount of responsibility and are therefore the most accountable to God in the church for how they use their delegated authority and fulfill their responsibilities.  Broadly summarizing, pastors (note the plurality nearly always used in Scripture concerning them) are responsible for caring for and protecting themselves and the flock (Acts 20:28-32; John 21:15-17), exercising oversight leading the flock (1 Peter 5:1-4; Heb. 13:7, 17), believing, handling, defending, preaching and teaching the Word of God rightly (2 Tim. 1:13-14, 2:15-17, 4:2-5; 1 Tim. 6:2-4; 1 Peter 3:14-17; Jude 3-4), reproving, rebuking, exhorting with all authority those in error (2 Tim. 4:2-5; Titus 2:15), being an example to the flock (1 Tim 3:1-7, 4:11-16, 6:11-16; Titus 1:5-9), equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for maturity in Christ, unity in the gospel (Eph. 4:11-14), and pastors are responsible for obeying God and not men (1 Thess. 2:2-8, 11-12).

Another area in which pastors bear responsibility is for the calling out, training, and appointing other pastors in the body in which they serve (2 Tim. 2:1-2; Titus 1:5-9). These men, called out and equipped by God to shepherd His flock, are accountable to Him for all of these things (Heb. 13:17; James 3:1; Acts 20:26-27) as well as accountable to the flock.  Pastors bear the authority needed to do these things faithfully by delegation from Christ and by the authority of the Word.  Pastors care for, protect, preach, equip, and rebuke/correct not by their own authority but by the authority of the Word of God.  All this applies to every and any man who claims to be called of God into pastoral ministry of any sort.  In Scripture and therefore before God there are not mere staff ministers and then a pastor but a plurality of pastors that each bear this responsibility and accountability before God and His church.  If any don’t want the responsibility or to be held accountable for this then they are not called by God to shepherd His flock, but are imposters, wolves in sheep’s clothing, seeking their own kingdom and good.  Even if one holds the office but ignores or is ignorant of these responsibilities, they are still accountable to God for them.  Pastors are called to die for they are called to follow in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd who laid His life down for the good of the sheep.

3. Deacons: The Servants

The next level of responsibility and accountability falling under Christ and pastors is deacons.  It may be offensive to some that the label “servants” are given to deacons but it ought not be offensive for it what the very word “deacon” means and as well as it defines their role in the church.  Deacons are not mentioned very much in the Bible (3 passages and one inference), which makes sense when you think about the non-public nature of their work.  While sharing in nearly identical characteristics/qualifications as pastors, deacons do not have the responsibility and therefore not the authority to teach or lead the church spiritually (1 Tim. 3:1-13).  They are called and responsible to serve, meet physical needs, and seek to maintain the unity of faith.  They must be of exemplary character and are to be selected because they are already doing the work of a deacon (serving) not so that they can have an official title or acknowledgment before the church.  Though the designation of deacon is not specifically mentioned in the text, the role of deacons is illustrated in Acts 6:1-4, where the apostles (spiritual leaders of the church) were being pulled away from the responsibilities God had called them to, so they called faithful men to serve those in need.

The needs of a church are endless so the opportunities of service and ministry for deacons are endless as well.  The work of deacons is crucial to the health of a church as they assist the pastors of the church by meeting necessary needs of the flock that would hinder pastors in their responsibilities and as they serve the church.  This responsibility bears accountability before God and to the pastors and the congregation.  With this comes the authority to take up the task before them and serve.  No one needs to tell a deacon to serve for that is what they have been called to do, and when they see a need they are to seek to serve and do so by the authority of and in unity with the Word.  All Christians are called to be servants/ slaves of Christ in service to Him and to His church.  Deacons are those who are recognized in the church as servants of God, the pastors, and of the congregation, meeting everyday needs not leading spiritually.  Rightly understood, there are those not known as deacons who are truly deacons before God and His people because of their dedicated service to the church and those with the name deacon who are not truly deacons due to their lack in service and the pursuit of their own good and way.

4. Congregation: The Body

The last level of responsibility and accountability falls on the congregation.  God has the most to say to this group concerning their responsibilities.  Apart from the expectations of every believer (being filled with the Spirit, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, praying, reading the Word, etc) the New Testament, particularly the epistles, shows that the congregation is responsible and therefore accountable for much, as individuals and corporately.  The largest portion of responsibility is easily found in the “one another’s” of the New Testament.  Every Christian and, therefore, every church body are responsible for carrying out each and every one another as they have the occasion.  This includes, though not exhaustively: loving, comforting, bearing with, being kind and compassionate to, forgiving, encouraging, edifying, praying for, being at peace with, serving, living in harmony with, instructing, correcting, admonishing, counseling, speaking graciously to, submitting to, exhorting, gathering with, and giving to one another.  Each member of the body is responsible for these and therefore accountable to God and to one another for fulfilling them.

Another area in which the congregation is responsible is dealing with sin in the church.  Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 6 make clear that while the pastors have a role in church discipline, it is further in the process and the congregation bears the greater responsibility for pursuing the sinning brother or sister’s repentance and restoration or removal.  Jesus in Matthew gives the instructions to every Christian, giving them authority to deal with sin in the church, whereas Paul rebukes the church at Corinth for not dealing with those in sin showing the responsibility and accountability they bore before God and one another for such things.

The next area for which the congregation is responsible is in the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-16).  We have already seen that pastors are responsible for equipping the church, but they do so for the purpose that the church, the congregation, would be able and would do the work of ministry.  Pastors are the spiritual leaders of the church and are responsible for much before God and the church but they are not expected to do it all, for they are not able to do it all and they were never meant to do it all.  The congregation is taught, trained, and counseled by the ministry of pastors according to the Word, not to merely be served but that they may teach, train (disciple), and counsel others according to the Word.

Another area of responsibility is the congregation’s command to submit to their pastors (Heb. 13:17).  This makes sense when you understand that they are bearers of Christ’s delegated authority to care for and serve you, so you submit to your pastors as unto the Lord, not because they are lords.  They are mere men who God has given a weighty responsibility and are fallible, which leads to the next thing for which congregation is responsible: pastoral accountability.  The pastoral submission mentioned above is not calling for blind or negligent submission but with it comes pastoral accountability, meaning that the congregation has the responsibility to hold their pastors accountable for fulfilling their responsibilities faithfully and honoring those who do so or rebuking those who persist in sinning by not being faithful (1 Tim. 5:17-20).  Again, with these responsibilities for each group comes the authority from God by His Word to do these things.  The previous two groups (pastors and deacons) bear the responsibilities of this category as well but are given more responsibilities and are therefore accountable for more before God and the church, but each will have to give an account before God for what they were responsible for in this life in the church (Rom. 14:12).

Conclusion:

These things are the key to a healthy church – everybody doing what God has called them to do according to the Word:  pastors leading with the Word as Christ would have them, deacons serving the daily needs of the church, and the congregation doing the work of ministry unto one another.  This is a high calling.  It is a calling to die to ourselves, our traditions, and our wisdom and a call to follow Christ, and it is there that we will find life, grace, and joy forevermore.  That is church.

So when you ask the question, “Who’s in charge here?” the right answer is Christ.  It is His church and we would do well to listen to how He would have us carry things out.  Anything more would be a questioning of His wisdom and grace and anything less would be mockery.

* Note: this has been an attempt to discuss what God’s Word says concerning the structure of His church and how He, in His wisdom, would have it function.  It is recognized that there are groups not mentioned above (e.g. committees or councils) as those who have taken on responsibility and authority in a church that may exist in the church or denomination in which you are a member.  This is due to the fact that they are not recognized as such in Scripture and are therefore only legitimate if they do not take on or exercise the responsibilities or authority of one of the God-ordained groups mentioned above and if they do not hinder those groups from fulfilling those responsibilities for which they are accountable.  This is not a matter of interpretation for it is a product of clear revelation, nor is this a matter of tradition, for those even vary in the same circles over generations, but biblical faithfulness unto God.  If the church cannot pick up the Word of God to find its identity and instruction, it has little reason to bear the name “church” or of the One who purchased it.

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