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Team Leadership in Christian Ministry
Using Multiple Gifts to Build A Unified Vision
By Kenneth O. Gangel
Moody PressCopyright © 1997 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
The Context of Team Leadership
Teams–we see them all the time. We root for–or against–them. We function in them, both in the family and in the workplace. We watch them on TV–many of the currently popular TV shows depict teams, or groups of dissimilar people, bonding together. In that bonding, they face enemies without and conflicts within. Depending on the circumstances, differing members of the team may take starring or lead roles.
This elevation of teams, personal bonding, and leadership by gift hardly represents a new theme in literature or art. Nevertheless, the emphasis on individual giftedness or talent driving the leadership of a particular situation reflects a shift in general leadership philosophy. George Weber emphasizes that "the historic command-structure organization is dead" and reminds us:
The successful leader of the future must have one more attribute that weighs perhaps as much as all the others on the scale of effectiveness; he or she must be a tireless, inventive, observant, risk-taking, and ever-hopeful builder and enabler of management and leadership teams within and among the organization's constituent parts.
Is this shift biblical? Many churches and Christian organizations have practiced authoritative, visionary leadership, top-down administrative policies since their inception, and have prospered in the doing. Does team leadership have a place in the church? Do we risk importing the idea from current secular literature without critical and biblical reflection? Or have those thinkers discerned the truth of leadership principles in a way that is thoroughly biblical?
My bias, as a supporter of team leadership, shows itself immediately. Years of study and practice have demonstrated to me that this sound biblical concept is a biblical mandate as well.
Our understanding of Christian leadership must properly proceed from theology to philosophy to practical implementation. Therefore, a book about team leadership should begin with a theological examination of the church itself as the context and matrix of leadership.
Much of the confusion we face today stems from the lack of a clear-cut ministry philosophy, carrying with it the weight of specific objectives that have their truth and value laid firmly in the Word of God. Christian leadership should be competent; even more essential, however, is that it be thoroughly biblical.
Contemporary Confusion Regarding the Nature of the Church
In the 1950s, 1960s, and into the 1970s, abundant literature provided a sociological analysis of the church's problems from such noted educators as Gibson Winter, Martin Marty, and R. J. Havighurst. The religious book market was flooded with volumes analyzing the church as though it were the local supermarket or a branch of a major industry. From such examination the church can well learn some of the organizational defects into which it has fallen through the years. We have had ample opportunity to study its alleged irrelevance, tradition-bound immobility, and inability to meet the needs of modern society. Some of the criticism was deserved and much of it, helpful. Nevertheless, one basic erroneous note flowed through most of the literature dissecting the church during those decades. It viewed the church largely as organization and failed to realize that it is also organism.
The Distorted Image of Fiction
Another problem the church has faced today is the image it has inherited in contemporary fiction and cinema. The picture of Jonathan Edwards thundering the truth of God to a people who trembled before His sovereignty has now given way to Leap of Faith–the movie about a phony con man, grasping for personal profit in religious merchandise. After identifying modern man as confused, complacent, chaotic, rebellious, and desperately in need of help, the writers of twentieth-century fiction have been able to construct nothing better than a "picaresque saint." The voices of Kafka and Camus, of Coppola, Lear, and Allen, have been heard more clearly on college campuses than the voice of God. Even the educated American has nearly lost sight of what the New Testament church was all about.
The Gospel of a Cause
Still another voice clamoring to be heard in the darkness is what may be called "The Gospel of a Cause." Strangely enough, prophets of this position can be found in the ranks of variant theological extremes. Their paths differ and their traveling gear seems diverse, but they end up at the same crossroads–the banner of a cause. Some tell us the church must become more involved in human rights, using the influence of pastor and parish to push for affirmative action, school integration, equal job opportunities, and a dozen other aspects of pressing social problems.
Others would press the church into the battle for world peace. Only in such a noble and worldwide cause for the benefit of the human race, they threaten, can the church redeem itself from its years of apathy and injustice. Still others tell us that the church must be in the foreground, fighting abortion and homosexuality in the public arena.
But many of the above causes (and dozens more like them) have often failed to distinguish between the supernatural work of regeneration and its accompanying results in individual behavior and society. Human rights on earth are not to be equated with heavenly citizenship; world peace, though a noble cause, forms a shoddy substitute for the eternal peace of God in the human heart; and American democracy dare not be equated with biblical Christianity. The problem of the gospel of a cause, therefore, is that it offers itself as a substitute for the gospel of the Cross!
Polarization of a Philosophy of Ministry
A number of beliefs and behaviors have divided evangelicals throughout the twentieth century–levels and extent of separation of church and state; arguments over prophecy; disputes related to systems of biblical interpretation; and positions on the doctrine of inerrancy. Increasingly obvious as a divisive force is the attitude toward how the church should minister and what forms that ministry should take. Part of the issue, for example, is size. One wing of conservative Christianity focuses on what we have come to call the "megachurch." On the other hand, the "metachurch" stresses the importance of small groups, discipleship training, and a heavy emphasis on "sharing." Obviously, local churches represent almost every point on a continuum line between those views, and people feel comfortable in many and varied ministerial styles. In a future chapter I will address the issue of ministry philosophy.
The Meaning of the Word "Church"
The English Words
The English word church is one of the most abused and misused words in the twentieth-century vocabulary. Unfortunately, like Caesar, it suffers more at the hands of its friends than its enemies. Let's look at the four common uses that many Christians make of the word church, some within and some without its proper biblical context.
Building. Many people refer to the building in which the congregation assembles as the "church." A man may say to his wife, "I am going down to the church to pick up my hat, which I left there after the morning service," fully knowing that no other person will likely be in the building at the time he arrives.
Denomination. It is quite common to speak of a collection of churches which have assembled themselves together in some kind of organization or association as "the Baptist church," "the Methodist church," or "the Presbyterian church."
Universal church. The universal church refers to all members of the body of Christ in all places and all ages. Some theologians have referred to this as the "church invisible," but in actuality the church has never been invisible.
Local church. The local church is a given geographical representation of the universal church. This usage of the word is most in focus throughout the pages of this book.
Of the four common usages of the word church mentioned above, only two are biblical. The first two have grown up in the jargon of ecclesiastical years. It is not necessarily a great error to use the word church in these ways, unless by so doing one forgets the emphasis of the New Testament–that the church is always people. The last two uses, universal and local, are the only scriptural usages of the concept of church; we will examine these further below.
The Greek Word
The Greek word used in the New Testament to designate either universal church or local church is ecclesia. To the Greeks the word indicated an assembly of free citizens; however, to the Jews it had more theocratic connotations. In the New Testament the word takes three basic uses:
1. A political assembly of free citizens. The word ecclesia appears in this context in Acts 19:32, 39, 41. The English word used in the Authorized translation is assembly, which is quite proper in describing the situation. God had worked various miracles through Paul at Ephesus, and Demetrius, representative of the silversmiths in Ephesus, expressed their fear that their patron deity was in jeopardy because of the increasing number of people turning to the gospel. In the confusion that followed, mob violence was averted by the speech of the town clerk. When the mob is in complete chaos (and when it is formally dismissed by the town clerk), it is referred to as an ecclesia.
2. Jewish assembly of the Old Testament. In his sermon just before his martyrdom, Stephen speaks of Moses and "the church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38 KJV). The word ecclesia in this context obviously cannot be a reference to the New Testament church but speaks in a general way of the congregation or the gathering of Israelites in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses.
3. The Christian church. Almost all other New Testament passages deal with the Christian church in either its universal or local form. Because of the extreme importance of this concept, one cannot properly perceive of the doctrine of the church without a thorough understanding of these two uses of the word ecclesia. The universal church contains only true believers, whereas the local church may include those who profess Christianity but who have not yet had an experience of regeneration.
The Universal Church
The Old Testament presented the church in typological form. Sample types might include Ruth, the Gentile bride and Israel, God's remnant in the world.
In the Gospels God's revelation of the church proceeds to prophetic form as Jesus Himself pronounces, "Upon this rock I will build My church" (Matt. 16:18 NASB). The book of Acts describes the history of the church in its early days; the spread of the gospel through the church, beginning at Jerusalem and continuing today around the world, is a literal fulfillment of Acts 1:8.
It is not until we read the Epistles, however, that we confront any kind of formalized church doctrine, since God's sovereign plan largely confined such information to the writings of the apostle Paul. The crown of church doctrine comes in the epistle to the church at Ephesus and its most glittering jewel, chapter 4, a passage which comes into focus frequently in any study of Christian leadership.
The universal church includes all Christians (1 Cor. 1:1—2), only Christians (Eph. 5:23—27), and is represented by those brought together through the Holy Spirit. The teaching on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 offers clear evidence of the nature of the church as organism. The universal church is, in the language of the apostle Paul, "the body of Christ."
The Local Church
God's pattern has always designed the local church to manifest the universal church (Rom. 16:16), and Acts 2:41—47 represents the local church at Jerusalem carrying out the purposes and program of the universal church. No evidence in the Word of God suggests that Christ ever abandoned the program and format of the local church as the basic foundation for all forms of Christian mission in the world.
Membership. Membership in the local church seems to have been taken for granted by New Testament believers. Various passages seem to indicate that specific rolls were kept, but there is very little clear-cut teaching on the nature of those rolls (Acts 1:15; 2:41; 6:2—5; 1 Cor. 5:13; 1 Tim. 5:9).
Organization. Like the matter of membership, church organization is not specifically outlined in the New Testament. The Lord somewhat assumes it in Matthew 18 when He talks about establishing the facts of a dispute through collective hearing by the church. As apostolic authority passed off the scene, team leadership seems to have taken its place. In Acts 8, for example, Peter remonstrates with Simon the sorcerer on the basis of unilateral authority. Just a few years later Paul writes to the church at Corinth that they have the collective responsibility to judge wicked persons in their midst (1 Cor. 5:13).
Another characteristic of organization in the early church is that it arose largely in response to the needs and problems that the church encountered. The selection of the deacons in Acts 6 provides the most obvious example of this. In a sense, the indigenous principle of missions is a more refined development of this earliest principle of organization.
Government. An important part of organization in the local church is its government. Although evangelicals differ regarding the significance of such words as episkopos (bishop or overseer) and presbuteros (elder), several biblical principles of church government are enunciated in the New Testament. We will explore these issues more fully in chapters 3 and 4.
Aspects of Church Government
Church Government Should Be Biblical in Constitution
Young Timothy represents early church leadership, and to him the apostle Paul writes that leaders should constantly conform to "sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness" (1 Tim. 6:3 NASB). Of course some would immediately point out that "words" here refers to the words of the living Son of God and not to the words written in the Bible. Nevertheless, our understanding of the words of Christ exclusively depends upon God's inspired record of those words. One of the great errors of liberal theology through the years has been a fabricated separation of the written Word from the incarnate Word.
Church Government Should Be Participatory in Form
The existence of numerous evangelical denominations with varying attitudes regarding church government demonstrates that the Scriptures do not detail the issue. Some interpret the New Testament to teach congregational government, others favor a presbyterian form, and still others the more hierarchical Episcopalian structure. Quite obviously, each group will defend its preference from Scripture and history. The only point I wish to make here, therefore, is the renewed emphasis on the church as people. Evidence throughout the book of Acts strongly suggests that whatever emphasis we may place on the role of elders, the New Testament will never let us forget the participatory role of people in team leadership of the church. That omission came about by later corruption of medieval forms.
Church Government Should Be Representative in Function
How easy it could have been in Acts 6 for the apostles themselves to select those seven men whom they desired to serve in the "daily ministration" (KJV). Nevertheless, they carefully restrained themselves and asked the entire group to make the selection. The statement of verse 5 is quite clear: "The whole multitude ... chose" (KJV).
Church Government Should Be Spiritual in Function
The biblical, participatory, and spiritual aspects of church administration find their clearest practical application in the selection of the first missionaries. It seems clear in Acts 13 that the process of selecting and sending those missionaries depended solely upon the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit through prayer. The Holy Spirit selected the missionaries, and the Holy Spirit sent them to a particular place. The local church served as an intermediary agency, a physical representation of the hand of God in His world.
The Purpose of the Church
Without a clear-cut set of objectives, any organization suffers. The church has been less than outstanding in its clarification of mission in the late twentieth century. Not all church leaders have been silent, however, and at least one leading educator has specified in print an attempt to answer the question, "What is the church for?"
The answer is no mystery. Scripture makes it plain that the church is to be a worshipping body, committed to "show forth the praises of him who has called (it) out of darkness into his marvelous light"; that it is to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world; and that it is to obey all the teachings of Jesus Christ, its great head and Lord.
Excerpted from Team Leadership in Christian Ministry by Kenneth O. Gangel. Copyright © 1997 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
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