Roles of Leadership in the Church

Updated: Jan 7

"And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." Ephesians 1:22-23

Welcome, New Believer! Sometimes it amazes me how many simple things we as humans are able to make controversial. The topic of leadership in the church is no different. Over the last several decades it has been the leadership of the Church that has brought a lot of criticism to Christians in general from sexual misconduct to stealing from their congregations and many more egregious errors. It breaks my heart to contemplate how many have walked away from God altogether because of these leaders. I think at least some of this problem has come because we don't define or encourage the model for leadership that God gives us in His Word. And because we don't define leadership by God's Word we are incapable of holding our leaders accountable to it. Now today I'm going to address Protestant leadership roles in the Church because I'm not Catholic and I'm not equipped to explain anything to you in that regard. However, I do believe that you can decide for yourself as you look at the leaders in your local church how they "fit" or don't fit the roles laid out in Scripture below.


The Head of the Church

According to God's Word, Christ is the Head of the Church and we are His body. Just as the different parts of your body have different jobs in your life, so the members of the Church fill different roles. The only role you cannot fill is that of the Head and church that doesn't follow Christ as its Head is not a church you should remain a part of. Your Pastor, your elders, your deacons, nor any other member of your church can fill this role.

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. Colossians 2:18-19

Elder/ Overseer/ Bishop/ Pastor/ Shepherd/ Reverend

The name may change depending upon your denomination but the role of this person according to Scripture is the same. In the hierarchy of modern churches, there is generally a Senior Pastor who oversees a group of Associate Pastors, Elders, and Deacons. However, the Elders are called to the same tasks and requirements as the Senior Pastor, because there simply wasn't a "Senior-Pastor" in the Bible.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. 1 Timothy 3:1-7

What strikes me most in the description of what God requires of those who fill this role is that it starts with self-government, "Therefore an overseer must be above reproach,..." Think of it this way, if someone comes into your church and tries for whatever reason to "cancel" your Pastor, they should be unable to do so because the members of your church know the character of your Pastor and any such accusations would ring false. Your Pastor and Elders don't have to be perfect, but they do need to be striving to be exemplary Christians.


Next, this role requires admiration-worthy government of his own house. You read that correctly... I said 'his' on purpose. The Word does not say that your Elders, should be the wife of one husband or that She should govern her household well, with all dignity keeping her children submissive.


While there is certainly more than enough room for certain types of leadership and service by women in the church, taking the earthly headship of her church and home is not among them. As a woman, I can tell you that I myself have found this to be frustrating at different points in my life, especially because one of my gifts is understanding Scripture and teaching it. Why would God give me that gift, if He didn't intend for me to use it? So ladies, let's take a calming breath and consider the women in our lives that we've found in "headship" over us. Do they lead differently than the men we've worked or served under? Are their priorities in that role different from those of men? I would argue that there are distinct differences that point to God's design for men and women as they work together in His Creation. Women have an exceedingly important role in the Body of Christ from Jesus' ministry through the early church and, yes, most definitely today. Part of that role is to be exemplary members of our churches, daughters, wives of our husbands, and mothers to our children. We offer our wisdom, our compassion, our hospitality, and so much more to the Church. That role should be honored and not despised! I hate to rant, but I don't want you to walk away from this post as a young believer discouraged. I think for far too long in the pursuit of "earthly equality" we've bypassed something far more beautiful and helpful... God's perfect design for His Church and for our families. Just as the Church cannot fill the role of Christ, so too a wife cannot fill the role of husband and vice versa. As Christians when our neighbors look to our families and churches they should be able to see echoes of the relationship we have with Christ, which puts a great burden of responsibility to love and sacrifice as Christ does on each Christian man. Test my argument by God's Word, test it in your life!


Only after he has managed himself and his household well, can he be expected to serve well in the management of the church. There he is to be able to teach God's Word, be mature in his faith, be relentless in prayer, and continue to live a morally upright life. His primary job is to equip the church for ministry.


Remember those morally corrupted leaders we were talking about earlier? We need to hold them accountable to God's standard for their role. There are certainly cases where men should be removed from their position of leadership not just because they're abusing their power over the church, but also when they're abusing their power in their homes and when they are caught in personal sin and refuse to repent. Even if a leader does repent, there needs to be prayerful consideration in the church for whether they should still be removed from a leadership role because it can no longer be said of them that they are above reproach, it may even be said that outsiders no longer think well of this person because of what they had done. Mercy, grace, and forgiveness should be theirs the moment they repent, but in this life, there are still consequences for our sin.


Deacons

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted too much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 3:8-13

The moral requirements for a Deacon are relatively the same as the moral requirements for Elders. They are the hands and feet of the church carrying out the countless tasks that arise in any community. Something that should jump out at us females in this role is the emphasis on what wives of Deacons are required to be as well, because of their integral role in their husbands' ministries in service of the church.


Members

Male or female we are Members of the "Big 'C' Church" as such we all have a role to play in the Body of Christ to carry out our mission here on Earth. I love the way my Pastor described this in a sermon a couple of months ago, Churches are Little Embassies of Heaven here on Earth. We are here to represent our King and His Kingdom, just as in any credible government or military there will be hierarchy those who lead, those who delegate, those who teach, those who serve, those who nourish and uplift, and those who march out to battle. We must rightly represent Christ to the World so that those who do not know Him yet, will see His Spirit in us! As His ambassadors, we are to know His Word and seek to walk in His will. As citizens of His Kingdom, we are to live as such, as family and neighbors, and to contribute to our community through tithing. We're going to dive a lot deeper into that dreaded 'tithing' concept here in a few posts so stay tuned! In short, we are family and just as many of our families at home have their faults, so will our churches, but we must never stop trying to represent Christ well. People should know we're Christians without having to ask because of the way we live and love one another.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:31-35

If you have any other questions about roles of leadership in the Church, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. I highly encourage you to find a mentor in the faith who can help personally walk you through many of these issues as you grow into a mature believer. This is one journey you were never meant to take alone!


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