Changing our culture – the relationship between church leaders and church members

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In my previous post, I talked about how to reform church culture towards a grace culture by focusing on our relationship towards one another as characterised by humility.   Today, I want to talk about how leaders and congregations should relate to each other.

Here are two important scriptures on the subject.  First of all, we have 1 Peter 5: 1-5

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,[a] not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;[b] not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Then we have Hebrews 13:17.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

I want you to notice two things about leaders. The first is that they are meant to find joy in their work. The starting point to this is their own attitude and approach to it. They should see it as a joy. They shouldn’t be under compulsion, this means that they shouldn’t be working in the church because they have been pressurised into it. However, other ways we might work under compulsion is if we take on the role of elder because we consider it now our turn, that we have been members and serving for such and such a length of time. Pastors may increasingly serve under compulsion if their prior concern is the need for income, housing or the fear of letting go of something and stepping out into the unknown. Furthermore, there can be a fear of loss of status and of embarrassment if someone thiks they have to step down. Finally, compulsion may come of the sense of duty which says “there is no-one else to do it.”

So, an elder finds joy by seeing that they are serving with Christ and following his example by recognising that this is a high calling from God and by looking forward with hope to the future grace of shared glory knowing that God rewards.   

Secondly, elders/leaders are to lead by example and not by domineering. There should be a posture of humble service. It means that your authority as an elder is specific and constrained, it is not that the church must do whatever you require. Rather, your authority is a teaching one as you open up God’s Word and as you model obedience to it in your own personal and family life.

Elders then should love the church, indeed if husbands are to follow the example of Christ in sacrificially loving their wives, I would suggest that elders too are to follow his example of sacrificial love in care for the church.  This means that if the church are meant to make it a joy for their elders to lead by loving them, then elders are to earn and draw out that love. Indeed, we might suggest that the outcome here will be that it should be a joy to be part of the church and engaged in its mission too.

Conversely, church members are to willingly obey and submit to leaders. Not only that but this shouldn’t be grudgingly. They are to play their part in making the elders, pastors and leaders’ service one of joy.  This is not about being dog’s bodies for leaders. I think that it is worth noting that the language of submission and obedience is in fact familial language (See Ephesians 5-6).  Elders in effect take a fatherly role in the congregation. 

Congregation members make it a joy for godly elders to lead and serve when they can be seen to be growing in their faith, loving one another, being hungry for God’s Word, using and developing their gifts, asking how they can serve and telling others about the gospel.  They make it a joy when they are joyful themselves: enjoying God, their gospel service and fellowship with one another.

I think that this flows out of what we saw in the last post about preferring one anothers needs.  Church life works best when the pastor is concerned most of all for the needs of the flock and not about his own and where the flock are concerned about his. So, for example, in the case of financial support, the pastor should be saying to the church “I don’t want you to worry about how much you will pay me or your ability to pay, we trust God to provide for us and I will keep serving even if the funds run dry.”  At the same time, the church members should be saying “We never want you to have to worry about anything. We will do everything legitimately in our power to ensure that you and your family are provided for.”

To emphasise again, what we are talking about in these two posts is a church that sees itself not as a club or institution but as a family. That’s key to getting the culture right.