Bill Heroman, in a break from his interesting series on Jesus in Nazareth, has published challenging posts Lording it Over and Leading, not Lording. Bill is responding to a post by Alan Knox, to which he also replies in the comments. Here is a quote from Bill’s former post:
If anyone provides leadership in the body of Christ, they do a great thing, providing a wonderful service for both God and the saints. But if someone leads constantly, or exclusively, or holds permanent veto power over all decisions, then by definition I think we need to realize that such a person IS (de facto) “lording it over” the people of God. It doesn’t matter one bit whether their style is gracious or domineering. If you give all the orders, or permit all the orders, then you have, in practice, assumed the position of an earthly lord.
I have a lot of sympathy with what Bill is saying here. Lord Acton’s dictum (originally addressed to a bishop)
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely
applies in the church just as much as in the political realm, if the Holy Spirit is not allowed to correct the situation. Sadly very many church leaders start out with strong individual ministries led by the Holy Spirit, but as the Spirit’s power fades they start to operate in their own power, which if not controlled quickly corrupts them and their churches.
The problem with Bill’s position is that the New Testament does teach that the church should have elders, pastors, overseers and deacons, without clarifying how these offices relate to one another. Bill’s suggestion that the role of a pastor in Ephesians 4:11 is “an exception for a very young church” is not tenable. He defends this in his second post with
But there is an “until” in Ephesians 4.
Indeed, but that “until” in verse 13 refers to the time when we “attain to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ” (TNIV). That is not something I have seen in typical middle-aged churches – it is something we can look forward to only in the kingdom of God. Until then Christians still need to be equipped and the body of Christ still needs to be built up (verse 12), and so the fivefold ministry of verse 11, including apostolic ministry, is still required.
Perhaps a more balanced position is that of Alan Knox:
Don’t misunderstand me, as an elder, it is not easy to lead without “lording it over” other people, but Jesus said, “It shall not be so among you.” So, it does me no good to state that I should NOT have authority over others, then go ahead and exercise authority. I must try to work this into my life.
Yes, the church does need spiritually gifted leaders. Ephesians 4:14 describes the alternative, what is likely to happen to a group of believers where the fivefold ministry is not exercised: they don’t grow out of infancy. Sadly this looks very like many churches today. What the church needs is not an absence of leadership, but leading which is not lording it but follows the proper biblical pattern.