|LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES
|CHURCH GOVERNMENT: AS CLEAR AS MUD
Dr. Stephen Crosby
I AM REVEALED
Oct 07 2012
A Leader Is…Not…
A leader is not the chief visionary. A leader is not the chief executive. A leader is someone who accepts the stress and
strain of the present inconvenience of service in order to bring the ones he/she serves to fullness of destiny. A leader
works hard, sacrifices, is regularly criticized and rarely rewarded; yet does not fall into functional atheism, which is the
belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with him/her. He or she is someone who can bring Christ’s
resurrection life out of a situation when others cannot. A Christian leader is someone who is unalterably Christ-
centered and who has ability to bring others into alignment with the person of Christ and purposes of Christ
in their life. A leader is someone psychologically, volitionally, and physically aligned and identified with Christ’s
kingdom interests in others, not the leader’s interests in other people. A leader is not necessarily
Leadership is a calling. If you are not called, you dare not lead, and if you are called, you dare not lead! Do not let
insecurity and desire for personal validation drive you to pursue leadership. If the only way you can feel good about
yourself is when you lead, you probably ought not to lead. Your value and identity in Christ is the basis of mental well-
being, not what you can accomplish for Him through your gifts and talents. You must know who you are apart from what
you can do, accomplish, or perform. If you have no sense of personhood apart from task, you do not belong in Christian
leadership. You belong under therapeutic care. There is no surer way into the spiritual ditch than to engage
in Christian leadership with unresolved psychological issues of personal identity.
There is nothing wrong with passion and drive. It is the inner power of propulsion God put in humanity for achievement.
However, in its uncrucified form, it is just so much human energy. God does not want to extinguish your passion. He
wants to arrest it, sentence it, kill it, and resurrect it on the lines of Calvary, and the Holy Spirit is the marshal of the
kingdom; armed with Calvary’s arrest warrant, He always gets His man and faithfully executes the death sentence on
Adam. Fortunately, the hand that pulls the lever on the electric chair is the hand that raises up again.
The foundation of Christian leadership is a Calvary paradigm, not visionary principles and management skills. Christian
leadership is the call to experience His death and His resurrection power, at depths and levels of which you have not
dreamed, on behalf of others. We should look to the Word and Spirit, not the business and management world, for
leadership metaphors. The direction of influence should be from faith to business, not business to faith. A Christian
leader has upon him or her the aroma of Christ. When others are around you, they are fed by the Christ in you. In a
sense, they taste you and see that the Lord is good. If your being hated, misunderstood, slandered, lied about,
let down, lonely, rejected, abused, betrayed, and abandoned doesn’t bother you, and you wake up every morning with a
burning desire to serve God and His people in any way, you might be called to lead. If the burning love of Christ
constrains you to voluntarily say, “Lord, I take it and take it gladly for your cause in your people,” you might be called. If
you would rather do something else, you should.
Christian leadership operates in a climate of mutuality: leaders empower, followers cooperate (submit). Leadership
authority properly exercised is the ability to serve and empower others, not the right to rule them. It is knowing,
developing, and releasing others into divine destiny. It is inherently relational. You cannot empower others if you do not
know their gifts, calling, talents, skills, and limitations. That is why you cannot effectively “father” from a distance. You
cannot invest yourself into someone you see once a year. That is a visit, not an investment. You can care for them, you
can help them, you can minister to them, but you cannot father them. You can oversee an organization from a distance,
but you cannot father. Oswald Chambers says the true love of God is very practical. All the rest is just sentimental talk.
Clear, Translucent, and Opaque
As we said very early in this text, when it comes to structure and form of church government, the Scriptures can be
annoyingly vague. It is difficult using the book of Acts as a “standard” for church government because it was a
transitional and emergent time. Folks from both traditions (episcopal and congregational governments) appeal to the
book of Acts as the authority for their convictions. I doubt very much if folks who try to find an eternal pattern in the book
of Acts believe that meeting in synagogues or shaving our heads and taking oaths are something we need to do today
because “that is what they did in Acts.” Many things in Acts were just the historical and cultural realities of the time they
were in and have no application beyond that. It can be difficult to definitively separate those practices and beliefs that
were limited and local from those eternal and universal. How much was adapted to circumstance and how much was
meant as an eternal pattern is a tough call at times.
In Paul’s epistles, there are some character qualifications for elders. There are also descriptions of their tasks and
function throughout the Word (e.g. Titus 1:5ff; I Timothy 5:17ff; I Peter 5:1ff; Acts 20:28ff; James 5:13-15). However, the
Scriptures are less specific on how they related among themselves and with the Ephesians 4 ministries. There are
glimpses and hints but not a lot of detail. There is barely any hard and fast governmental form to which we can point our
finger and say, “There, that is how you do it! That’s definitively how it is done!”
It is interesting that in the Gospels our Lord is silent on the matter of church structure and government. He speaks
of the values that constitute His government in many passages. The ethics of His kingdom saturate the Gospels, but
there is next to nothing on structural specifics. Rigidity is always a mistake when arguing from silence. But knowing who
He was, one has to wonder if there was not purpose in His silence. I wonder if His concern is with how we do things
rather than what we do? That is, form and method do not come near spirit and attitude in importance. Knowing that His
gospel applies to all peoples in all places and cultures for all time, could these things have been left intentionally
vague? I think this is at least a possibility and perhaps should soften our dogmatism and opinions on those
governmental structures that are supposedly “blessed” (or contingent for blessing) and those that are allegedly not so.
What do we explicitly know from Scripture? Paul ordained elders/presbyters/bishops to oversee the affairs of the local
churches he founded. They were also uniquely Paul’s representatives, Paul’s “ambassadors,” to the local assembly
during Paul’s absence. Concerning local church government, the Scriptures are clear on ethics, translucent on
function, and nearly opaque on form. What made the Pauline churches work was not their governmental structure but
their relationship to Paul. Where there was no relationship, there was no government, even though a person might
maintain his/her grace endowment and calling. There seems to be a lack of “order and command structure.” Some
people seem to stay “aligned” with Paul and others did not.
At the end of his life, the only worker physically left with Paul is Luke. I find it difficult to believe that every other worker
who came “out from Paul’s apostolic mantle and covering: was ineffective (not blessed) for the rest of their lives because
they violated the principle of spiritual covering! It may have been, and likely was, personally painful for Paul, but he
makes not comment about his authority as their “covering” apostle and their “responsibility” to “stay aligned
governmentally” with him. He simply releases the whole matter to God.
Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I
sent to Ephesus …At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid
to their charge. (II Timothy 4:10-16)
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. (I Timothy 3:1)
Some think the terms bishop, presbyter, and elder are identical and some do not. It seems that in the early days there
may have been a distinction between elders and bishops. It is also difficult to make a clear-cut delineation between the
Ephesian 4 ministries and the bishops or presbyters. In at least one case, Peter’s, we know he served in both capacities.
I think that sometimes the problem we have navigating these things relates to the elevation of the role of an elder
that the Scriptures do not sustain. Let’s look at what the Scriptures are explicit about: character qualifications. Because
this is fairly familiar territory, I will combine the character qualification lists in Timothy and Titus and a thought or two from
I Peter with some expanded definitions. I have a reason for outlining them like this here.
I want to add just a few expanding comments.
Calling and Desire
Godly character alone does not solely qualify someone as an elder. The calling and placement of the Holy Spirit
precedes character qualifications. Character is developable; calling is not. Calling is discoverable, but
not developable. Because I have been loyal and faithful does not make me elder material. Too many people are
ordained to eldership because of loyalty, faithfulness, and service, only to experience grief and pain because of lack of
calling. God’s grace follows God’s calling. If we overlook this point, we are in for big trouble and personal pain. In the
heat of battle, the elder who is present because of faithfulness rather than calling will not stand, because there is no
supernatural grace available.
It is also not sinful to desire eldership. Calling manifests itself in desire. God births, crucifies, resurrects, delays, and
fulfills desire all at the same! Many insecure leaders mistakenly view any shred of initiative or ambition in a subordinate
as a manifestation of the Adamic nature. They genuinely view it their divine mandate to crush initiative in individuals to
teach them “humility” and the “disciplines of the cross.”
This is a gross corruption of the message of the crucified-life that actually energizes a performance-based spirit and a
criminal mentality that thinks if I faithfully and humbly comply with today’s present limitations and restrictions, the day will
eventually come when the limitations will be removed and I will be “released into ministry” by the presiding warden, er, I
mean overseeing minister. Solely denying desire in an individual will never produce the inner transformation to Christ-
likeness and holiness the Scriptures speak of.
Docility is not a virtue. Passivity is not Christlike. I have heard it said that anyone who expresses interest in leadership
(office of an elder/bishop) automatically proves he is not qualified because he has asked for the office! His initiation
supposedly disqualifies him! His ambition is esteemed carnal. Disinterest is viewed as if it were the tenth fruit of the
Spirit. The Scripture says that someone who desires (stretches out, reaches for, grasps, extends, gives everything,
wrestles, agonizes) the office of leadership (elder, bishop) desires a good thing! Church culture says be polite, don’t
put yourself forward, let the Holy Spirit decide those things, etc.
Apt to teach
Being apt to teach does not mean an elder must be a theologian or an exegete. You can teach in more ways than
lecture and classroom. That is a Western, Gentile understanding, not an Eastern, biblical understanding of teaching.
Eastern teaching is impartational through relationship, not intellectually through the classroom. Just because someone
has superior Bible knowledge does not automatically make that person qualified to lead or teach. We reach out from our
lives, not our knowledge.
Apt to teach means the simple ability to disciple others in the basics of the faith through example, word, and deed. It
does not mean the capacity to thrill and amaze with Bible revelation! It does not mean an elder must have a pulpit gift
expression. Too often someone who develops abilities in the Word, who serves faithfully and loyally, becomes an elder
without even discussing the matter of calling, gift mix, or temperament. Apt to teach is a quality of spirit and character,
not the acquisition of biblical knowledge sanctified by tenure in the church and offerings in the plate. Someone could be
a wonderful Bible teacher and have neither grace, nor gift, nor temperament to be an elder.
The correction element of apt to teach (Titus: exhort and convince) is one of the biggest absences in elders that I know.
Our politically-correct, non-judgmental, secular culture is a non-confrontational culture. Unfortunately, so is
the dominant American church culture. The ability to bring reproof and correction is as fundamental to being an elder as
loving and caring. Too many elders do not have the heart for the psychological heavy lifting of confronting sinful
behavior. Their overly pastoral and passive attitude is: “Let’s just love and pray for them, and perhaps the Lord will take
care of the problem.” This is deception. Anyone who cannot confront, when necessary, is not elder material, regardless
of how much he may know about the ten toes of the beast and regardless of how big a “loving heart” he may have. We
do not have to enjoy confrontation, and we do not have to make it our specialty, but we do have to be able to do it in a
spirit of grace and truth if we want to be an elder.
Having the Home in Order
This does not mean having “perfect” children, or a “perfect” marriage. If either were the case, no one would be
an elder. I know of a situation where a man had eleven children. He and his wife raised, without major problems, ten
who served the Lord in their adolescence and adulthood. But one went “sideways” and did not. The leadership at the
time told the man he had to step down as an elder because his “family was not in order, under his rule with all gravity.” It
was, as you might expect, devastating to the man. Too often people whose adolescent children are in rebellion find this
verse used against them. The text has nothing to do with that.
Adolescence didn’t exist in the first century. It is a modern twentieth-century phenomenon. For a Jewish male you went
from childhood to adulthood at your bar mitzvah. You were not an adolescent at thirteen; you were an adult. This is due
in part to the fact that life span was short! Seventy-five percent of the population was dead by the age of twenty-six, and
ninety percent were dead by the age of forty-six! You did not have time for adolescent angst over whether or not Bobby,
the captain of the football team, is going to ask you to the prom! You were too busy trying to get food to eat or survive
disease! The fact that in our culture individuals of the ages thirteen to eighteen are minors should not be carried over
into interpretations of this verse. If you want to be strictly “biblical,” having an adolescent in the home is having another
adult in the home, not a child. The verse does not apply.
How are we to interpret and apply these eldership qualities? Paul made three complete missionary journeys in eleven
years. He planted multiple churches throughout Asia Minor, modern-day Greece and Italy. He was in cities eighteen to
thirty-six months and from heathen, pagan, stone-worshiping idolaters he had his subordinates ordain elders. Eighteen
to thirty-six months! What is the implication of this fact?
We need to be careful not to elevate the role of elders, in either expectation or requirement, above what the Scriptures
actually teach. We need to seriously reevaluate what an elder is and does. In many of our churches, apostolic and
otherwise, considering someone who is not first a “son” as elder material is unheard of. It would take years, if not
decades for the individual to prove unwavering loyalty to the set man. How does this practice square with the fact that
Paul appointed elders after a few months of ministry, not a few years? There is something categorically “unbiblical” in
our methodologies concerning appointment of elders. What are some of the “extra-biblical” requirements we put on
people in order to be elders?
The list could go on and on. We add endless extra-biblical requirements for elders because we define the term
governmentally rather than by function. We think of it in terms of a position and office rather than as a ministerial
function. We are uncomfortable giving people “governmental authority” that is executive, decision-making authority. So
we add to the clear biblical requirements a list of standards that cannot be met unless the individual sells his soul and
sacrifices his identity on the altar of the set man’s dreams.
What do the Scriptures really say? Well, if we categorized and summed up the qualities listed in Scripture, it seems
pretty basic, not insignificant, but basic:
Folks, this is not rocket science. This is not setting the bar so high that only the glow-in-the-dark saints qualify. Think
about this: How “mature” or “spiritual” could the elders in Ephesus and Corinth be after only eighteen to thirty-six months
of “leadership training?” Our concept and Paul’s concept of what a novice is are apparently not too close! Let’s phrase
it this way. How spiritual were you a year and a half after your salvation? Ready to be an elder? Well, either our
standards are too high (likely) or the first century church had something on the ball more than we do (also likely). The
point is that you do not have to be a water-walking wonder to be an elder. We have inflated eldership to a level the
Scriptures never intended it to be.
AUTHORITY, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND THE APOSTOLIC MOVEMENT, by Dr. Stephen Crosby, Copyright 2006,
Pleasant Word (WinePress Publishing).