Leadership is not about the committee you attend

Imagine if the way that your family functioned was that the husband/dad went down to the garden shed and made some decisions. Maybe he called round a few other men to join him for this meeting. Then afterwards, they came out and pronounced their wisdom. You can be by conviction a complementarian and still feel uncomfortable with that. It simply isn’t how families function. It is possible to envisage a family where Ephesians 5 is accepted and the husband’s headship is recognised but decisions happen in he context of free flowing conversation so that the wife’s wisdom and even the insights and feelings of the children as they grow older are considered.

In that context, I want to say something about how leadership appears to happen for many. It is even seen when we talk about the eldership and the diaconate. This can lead to a mindset where when we choose elders and deacons, then we see this as appointing new people to the eldership or diaconate. I want to suggest that in the Bible we don’t find the early church instructed to create a diaconate or an eldership. Rather, they are told to appoint elders and deacons and each elder and each deacon is expected to have the pre-requisite qualities for the role.

When we see being an elder as being about the “eldership” committee you attend then I think there are a number of risks to that.

  • First it means that you may well exclude potential leaders purely on the basis that they struggle with the format, style and timing of your meetings.
  • Secondly, those on the eldership can risk treating the qualifications of being an elder as applying to the whole so that we relax about whether we as individuals meet the criteria.
  • Thirdly I think that in some cases people begin to see specific leaders as their representative on the committee and those leaders see themselves in that way too. Their job becomes ensuring that their constituency’s voice is heard, rather than discerning God’s will.
  • Fourthly, the authoritarian feel of a committee is in fact even worse than when you have an authoritarian leader. It becomes unapproachable and impersonal.
  • Fifthly, the garden shed decision making approach kicks in and this means that you can end up in a situation in complementarian contexts where wise women in the church are not engaged in decision making
  • Sixthly, elders separate out the times when they need to act in role (at official meetings) and those times where they think they can act in a private and personal capacity.

How you actually meet together as a plural leadership isn’t something that is prescribed in Scripture. So if that has become the focal point of church life, perhaps it is time to scrap your existing meeting schedule. Instead focus on discerning and recognising the character, qualities and calling of the specific leaders.

If you are an elder, then you have not been appointed to a committee but called by God through the church to provide spiritual food for the flock and to protect them from wolves. You are not on your own in this but called with others. This is not a responsibility you can lay down when you come out of the meeting.

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