1-3 All Christians Are Responsible
After the leadership of Moses, there came that of Joshua. When he died, Israel expected that another such leader would be raised up: “After the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first?” (Jud. 1:1). They expected a man to be named. But instead, they were told that the whole tribe of Judah must go up. The reality would have sunk home- no more charismatic leaders, now the ordinary people must take responsibility. Each of us should build up his neighbour (Rom. 15:2)- and ‘neighbour’ is usually to be understood in the NT as our neighbour within the ecclesia (Eph. 4:25; James 2:8; 4:12). Leadership is essentially a process of influence, rather than a brother standing up and lecturing others. But the Lord used images such as salt, yeast and light to describe all who are in Him. They speak of indirect, constant, transforming influence rather than a frontal assault on the unspirituality of others. By baptism into the body, we are called to participation in a wider community, rather than to just hold in our brains certain propositions about doctrine. For our many isolated members, this is hard to realise. But try to read the magazines, especially the news from others, and pray for them; write your news for Gospel News and other magazines, and try to write an article; get to Bible Schools if you can; even consider moving nearer to your brothers and sisters. In some way contribute to the rest of the body; for we make increase of ourselves, edifying ourselves in love. We are all priests, a community of them. This is why Paul writes to whole ecclesias rather than just the elders. 1 Cor. 5:4,5,11 make it clear that discipline was the responsibility of all, “the many” as Paul put it in 2 Cor., not just the elders. Even in Philippians, where bishops and deacons are specifically mentioned, Paul writes to “all the saints”.
The churches around us can easily affect our perception of what we expect from an ‘elder’ or leader in our community- especially if we belonged to them before our conversion to the Truth. We can come to expect an elder to be an inspirational, visionary individual with an ability to ‘perform’ on a platform. If we think this is what an ecclesial leader should be, then we may think we don’t have any work to do because we aren’t like that; and it may be that we therefore adopt an all too human view of who we look to for leadership in the ecclesia. And if this is our expectation, it can lead those who are elders to concentrate on fulfilling what is expected of them; and thus ecclesias turn inwards on themselves, rather than being outward looking towards how we can win the world. Indeed, such expectations can seriously damage those who are leaders. The Pharisees saw themselves as only teachers, not pupils. The Lord had diagnosed this problem, for He told them as a teacher would tell a pupil: “Go ye and learn what that meaneth...” (Mt. 9:13). He sent them away to do some homework. And there is a warning for speaking brethren here; the repeated experience of teaching can take away from the eternal sense of student-ship which the true believer will ever feel. Again seeking to challenge the prevailing views of leadership, the Lord invited His humble fishermen-followers to see themselves as the great prophets of old being persecuted by a wicked Israel (Mt. 5:11). The style of leadership / control known in this world isn’t to be exercised by the elders of God’s flock (Mt. 20:25,26; 1 Pet. 5:3); ecclesial organization shouldn’t reflect the structures and practices of big commercial organisations, e.g. Leadership is to be based upon spiritual attributes and the ability to change and convert the lives of others, rather than secular skills such as fund raising, computer literacy, management etc. Yet sadly many ecclesias and Christian organisations seem to confuse the difference between management skills and spiritual leadership. The two things aren’t the same. An executive director of a company may very well not be the right brother to lead an ecclesia.
Thus the Lord’s image of leadership was very different from that of the world. He saw all of us as exerting influence on each other. Platform speaking in any case is, it seems to me, very very limited in what it achieves. It is personal influence, talking privately to the heart of each other (all of us ‘exhorting’ one another daily) which is what has power. In the words of another brother, leadership is about holding things up from beneath rather than ruling from the top down. ‘Top down’ leadership was never very effective in Israel; repeatedly there is evidence that the reforms of Judah’s good kings had little effect upon the people. They practised idolatry at the very same time as the reforms took place, and publicly returned to it as soon as the King was dead. Zephaniah’s prophecy is full of exposure of Judah’s sins- which were going on at the very time of Josiah’s apparently sweeping reforms. The way that “all” in Asia turned away, after all Paul’s work there, is proof enough that one good leader, no matter how charismatic and sincere (as Paul was) will not necessarily develop a faithful community. Salvation is, in the frequent term of bro. Roberts, “an individual matter”. Again I stress: leadership is from the bottom up, not the top down. It’s all to do with influence and example, rather than pressurising or barking words from a platform; with holding the whole thing up from the bottom rather than ruling from the top down. Those who are of a low social position can feel that they have nothing to contribute. But remember that the men Jesus chose were working class. Don’t have too low an opinion of yourself, nor of other ‘lowly’ members of the ecclesia. Don’t assume only the university educated can ‘lead’; it’s just not so. The wisdom of this world is if anything a disqualification. And for all of us: let’s not have too low or too familiar a view of each other. All our brethren are royal priests, full citizens, victorious athletes, fruitful branches, valued fellow-workers, precious friends...