WHEN WORLDS ARE SUPERIMPOSED
Two of the common concerns in every decade, every century, every age are
function and method. Consider some simple examples that obviously always have been
and always will be primary concerns in every decade, every century, and every age.
What is the function of government?
What method(s) should government use to govern?
What is the function of business?
What method(s) should business use to achieve its purposes?
What is the function of the family?
What method(s) should the family use to serve its purposes?
What is the function of religion?
What method(s) should religion use to touch people?
Those questions of function and method can never be answered once and for all.
In fact, they must be reasked and reanswered in every decade, every century, every
age. As societies change, as interaction between countries and people increase, as the
rate of development increases, new needs are born and new situations arise. Each time
we are forced to address new needs and cope with new situations, we must again ask,
"What is the function of . . . ? What method(s) will be used to . . . ?"
The powerful temptation is to superimpose old functions on new needs and to
superimpose old methods on new situations. That is not only the powerful temptation;
that is the common reaction.
Nowhere is that done more zealously and more predictably than in religion. In
Christianity, when a new need arises, we typically react by declaring old functions will
adequately address the new need. When new situations arise, we typically react by
declaring that old methods will adequately address the new situations.
Let me use a specific example. The leadership needs of a rural congregation in
the 1950's and the leadership needs of an urban congregation in the 1990's bear little
similarity. The lives and daily world of families living on farms and the lives and daily
world of families living in a city and working in industry or business are different in more
ways than they are alike. What is necessary to nurture and minister to the families in
those two situations is quite different.
A man could be a superb leader in the rural congregation but be quite ineffective
in the urban congregation. Or, a man could be a superb leader in the urban
congregation and even more ineffective in the rural congregation.
The general qualities of successful leadership are basically the same for each
congregation, but the function of successful leadership and the necessary methods for
successful leadership in each congregation are quite different.
- Congregational leadership is not a simple question; it is a very complex issue.
- Without question, the basic biblical qualifications for leadership are fairly simple.
- But the critical issue facing congregations today is not the qualifications of a
- However, the question of qualifications is about the only leadership question
that we seriously address.
- We can have intense discussions about what are necessary qualifications.
- We can have intense discussions about who is and is not qualified.
- But we have almost no discussion about the purpose of leadership or what we
expect of leadership.
- When it comes to the function of leadership and the methods leadership is to use,
we want to superimpose the functions and methods of the past on the needs and
the situations of the present.
- As congregations, we rarely ask the necessary questions.
- As congregations, even when we ask the necessary questions, we often do
not make a serious attempt to understand the questions or to answer them.
- In considering the function and methods of congregational leadership, what
are the necessary questions?
- # 1: What are the actual needs in the congregation? We must clearly
define and accurately understand the needs.
- # 2: Is each specific need being effectively addressed? Is the congregation
as a whole and are the members individually going to grow and develop
the way we are currently addressing the needs?
- # 3: Can we better define function and better identify available methods to
more effectively and successfully address our specific needs?
- # 4: Will the way we presently address our specific needs allow us:
- To touch and influence more lives of people in the community who are
- To nurture, build up, and bring to maturity the lives of Christians within
- The questions involving leadership function and methods in congregational
leadership have been and are complex and complicated.
- When Christianity began, it was totally different from any widely known or widely
- Nothing like it had existed before.
- Everything about it was different, including leadership.
- It was distinctly different from Judaism.
- It was distinctly different from widely known forms of idol worship.
- Christianity was distinctly different in the way it dealt with needs.
- Questions involving function were new questions.
- Questions involving method were new questions.
- When Jews became Christians or when idol worshipers became Christians,
they faced a confusing transition.
- Their transition from the functions and methods of Judaism or idolatry was
a difficult transition.
- That transition was still in progress when the New Testament closed.
- If you look and listen as you read the epistles, the difficulty of the transition
- Judaism's system of leadership had been in place for well over 1000 years.
- Power and control were vested in the high priest who, in the Old Testament,
served in that role from appointment until death.
- He had to be a direct descendant of Aaron, Moses' brother.
- By divine law, only he was permitted to preside over certain rites of
worship and atonement.
- Only he could enter the Most Holy Place.
- He was in charge of the other priests.
- The other priests performed the common rites of worship.
- They prepared and offered most of the sacrifices.
- They were in charge of most of the temple rituals.
- As far as religious leadership, the priesthood was in charge.
- In the Old Testament they even read the law to the people.
- In the New Testament they controlled the temple area and functions, and
that was the actual heart of the nation of Israel.
- Basically the people had a passive role in both worship and leadership.
- Basically they thought what they were told to think, they did what they
were told to do, and they complied to the laws in the manner those laws
were explained to them.
- The high priest represented them before God.
- The priests were in charge of their acts of worship.
- They brought their sacrifices, they complied with their instructions, but they
were not active participants in many things.
- Consider leadership in idolatry with its temples.
- Again, leadership was vested in the priests.
- The priests at the temples often also served as the city administrators.
- Often there was little distinction between a religious function and a civic
- The gods were often brought out of the temple to greet important
government officials that came to the city.
- Important government officials visiting the city often went to the temple
to pay a courtesy call on the god.
- Civic buildings were often used for religious purposes, and temples
were often used for civic business.
- The priests were in charge and control of the temple, the religious activities,
and the affairs of the god.
- They answered the questions of pilgrims who visited the temple.
- They kept order.
- It was not unusual for lawyers to come to the temple, stand before the god,
present their briefs, and explain their cases.
- In a number of places the temple served as the city's banking institution.
- The priests occupied a very prominent role of leadership, and, again, the
worshipers basically had a passive role in what occurred.
- They ate sacrificial meals.
- They performed certain rites under the guidance and direction of the
- I know this presentation of leadership in Judaism and idolatry is generalization,
that there were exceptions, but the generalization is typical.
- Now think about the incredible contrast with leadership in Christianity.
- The focus of leadership function and methods in Judaism was on God; the focus
of leadership function and methods in idolatry was on the god or goddess; but the
focus of leadership in function and methods in Christianity is on ministering to and
- Jesus made it very clear:
- The way you take care of people is the way you treat me.
- To worship God and call me Lord when you are unconcerned with people
- Leaders in the congregations are shepherds, not priests.
- They exist to take care of the flock, not represent people to God.
- Their concern is to serve the sick, the weak, the troubled, and the
- They are to protect the flock from evil people who would destroy them.
- That is a radically different concept of the function of leadership!
- Leaders are not figures with control and unquestionable power.
- Christians are not coerced to follow.
- Leaders lead by example.
- Christians follow leaders because they respect them.
- Power and control are not the primary issues; the leader who uses power
to control leads from weakness, not strength.
- Another radical difference: Christians participated in the leadership process from
the very beginning.
- In Acts 1:15-26, one hundred twenty men and women who were believers
chose the two men to be considered to become an apostle.
- What a difference in function and method!
- In Acts 6, the apostles told the entire congregation to choose seven men to
administer the program for taking care of the physical needs of the widows.
- The apostles and elders were hands off that decision (other than giving the
congregation the basic qualifications).
- They simply confirmed the seven whom the congregation chose.
- In Acts 15:22 the whole church confirmed the method to be used to inform
Gentile congregations of a critical doctrinal decision.
- The context suggests that they witnessed the discussion and the
- They obviously had an active part in implementing the decision.
- There were many struggles in the first century church that arose out of this
leadership function and methodology because it was so different.
- Some final observations.
- You and I do not know much about shepherds.
- Most of us never saw one.
- Few of us ever watched a shepherd actually lead sheep.
- The words "open range" mean nothing to most of us.
- At best, the concept of shepherding is vague to us; it is reduced to a few
intellectual facts uninfluenced by any form of experience.
- You and I know a lot about the function and methods of a board of directors
(which did not exist in the first century).
- We know and understand how a board of directors functions.
- It is typically vested with a high degree of control and authority.
- They hold a "high ground" position when a matter is discussed.
- While it is wise for them to be sensitive to those they represent, the power
of decision is in their hands.
- Because the function and methods of a board of directors is familiar, in the past
we superimposed the board of director concept on the leadership of the church.
- That was not all bad--it in the past has produced many good things.
- But neither is it all good, and it is an enormous mistake to decide that it is the
divinely approved way to lead.
- With today's wide spread skepticism and with today's different needs,
congregational leadership that functions like a board of directors is less
effective than it has ever been.
Think about two things. First, we always tend to superimpose that which is
familiar to us. Second, when we consider function and method, we must always ask the
key questions: What is the purpose? What are the needs? What is in the true best
interest of all parts of the congregation?
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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Evening Sermon, 21 September 1997
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