The universal church is comprised of all believers who trust in Jesus and follow him as one of his disciples. All believers, irrespective of race, gender, age, socio-economic class, etc., are set apart by the Spirit to serve in the Father’s mission through the
ministry of Jesus. This setting apart involves a personal call to ministry and the impartation of spiritual gifts. These gifts are given to equip believers for particular ministry functions (responsibilities) in and through the Church. The responsibility of the corporate church (congregations and denominations) is to acknowledge, organize, equip, support, release and otherwise order what the Spirit has provided within the church.
Two of the gifts granted by the Spirit to the church are leadership (Romans 12:8) and administration (1Corinthians 12:28). There are many valid ways for the church to order these important leadership enablements and functions. Rather than mandating specific forms for such ordering, the New Testament offers key principles that form a biblical leadership ethos that is given to inform and guide church leaders in their responsibilities.
GCI encapsulates this biblical leadership ethos in the following list of leadership principles that are to characterize all governance and other leadership activities within GCI’s denominational offices and local congregations. While no leader is perfect in living by this ethos, it is the goal that all GCI leaders embrace and be growing in conformity with these principles.
Church leaders should have their personal identities centered in Christ. Leaders are first, and foremost, followers of Jesus. One of the ways they follow Jesus is by modeling the substance and style of their leadership after the example of Jesus, the perfect leader. Christ-centered leaders view themselves as under-shepherds of Jesus, the great “Shepherd,” who is also the “Overseer” of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). Church leaders must follow Jesus in their own lives while co-ministering with Jesus in his leadership of the church.
Church leaders should order all they do in love. The church is like a building whose foundation is Christ (1 Corinthians 3:9, 11). Church leaders should be careful how they build on that foundation (verses 10-13); remembering that the historical patterns of the church will ultimately pass away, leaving only “faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). This love (God’s love in us) does no harm to others, “is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong….It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves. Love never fails” (verses 5, 7-8). Church leaders should be motivated by this sort of love—the type that finds expression in self-denial and restraint in order that all in the church “may be instructed and encouraged” (1 Corinthians 14:31) leading to a body that “builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).
Love is expressed in and through the church in the form of friendship. Jesus relates to his followers as friends, and leaders are to relate to all others in the church in the same way (John 15:12-17). Whereas a master relates to a servant based on obedience to rules, friends relate to one another through mutuality, trust, respect and interdependence. Love-motivated leadership promotes the fellowship and caring that is essential to Christian community. The church is to be a community of individuals who have equal standing before God—united in a mutual love for one another that expresses the outgoing, mutual life and love of the triune God who is eternally Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Spirit provides structure within the church in order to avoid anarchy, but in embracing order, the church must avoid legalism. Grace-filled leaders oppose legalism by modeling and facilitating relationships in the church with God and between people that are rooted in God’s unconditional acceptance of people in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-10).
Grace-filled leaders view themselves as shepherds of people’s souls (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 2:25), not police of people’s lives. Rather than being autocratic and controlling, grace-filled leaders are gentle, encouraging and accepting (1 Thes. 2:7). They model the grace of God in Christ, which is rooted not in the worthiness of the recipient but in the goodness of the giver. Grace seeks the good of all those led regardless of personality or merit.
The Lord, who is the head of the church, sends the Holy Spirit who brings the real presence of Christ to the church and equips the church for Christ’s ministry on earth. Church leadership seeks to operate in accordance with the mind of the Spirit by appointing leaders in accordance with Christ’s will as revealed through the Spirit’s gifting. Appointed leaders should therefore be circumspect in using their gifts in step with the Spirit’s purposes and continuing direction (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
The way of leadership in step with the Spirit stands in marked contrast with leadership that relies on the flesh, including reliance on the law as a benchmark of church governance. Great care must be taken not to quench the Spirit (1 Thes. 5:19).
The purpose of the church’s governance structures should always be to serve Christ, to be obedient to the Spirit and to engage in mutual edification in love. Church structures should not be ends in themselves. They exist to facilitate the work of the Body of Christ in accord with the Spirit.
Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, conveys his perfect will to the church through the indwelling Holy Spirit, including Spirit-inspired Holy Scripture. Word-directed leaders allow Scripture to be the norm of the church’s existence, giving form and shape to the church’s corporate life (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:14-16).
The principal message of Scripture is the gospel of Jesus Christ contained and conveyed in the apostolic testimony that is a part of the church’s one foundation (Ephesians 2:20). Leaders are Word directed as they keep a clear focus on the gospel, de-emphasizing those things that are peripheral to, or that detract from its essential message (2 Timothy 2:16-19).
Mission-driven leaders are focused on leading the church in obedience to the great commission—Jesus’ command to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Mission-driven leaders mobilize the church for this work by building God’s people up in their faith and equipping them for works of service, leading to maturity and effectiveness.
Vision-driven leaders discern and communicate a compelling vision of the church faithfully and effectively pursuing the great commission. Visionary leaders are catalysts for change—able to lead members to embrace and pursue clear and attainable mission-enhancing strategies and goals. Such change involves birthing within people both new expectations and the desire to sacrifice to reach forward.
Jesus said, “whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27-28). This means that leaders in the church do not lead for personal gain, prestige or power (1 Peter 5:1-4). Rather, they lead as slaves of Christ, appointed as stewards of the gospel and of the many other gifts of God’s grace to the church (see 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 and 1 Peter 4:10-11).
In this stewardship responsibility, servant leaders seek not their own benefit, but the benefit of those they lead. That concern is extended to all—the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak and to all races, ethnicities, genders and generations (including the very young and old). Servant leaders view themselves as fellow workers called to be facilitators and equippers who help the members work together as the body of Christ to accomplish the work of the Lord (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Servant leaders are gentle, “like a mother caring for her little children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7). But gentleness does not mean passivity, rather it is engaged actively, “as a father [who] deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging [them] to live lives worthy of God who calls [us] into his kingdom and glory” (2:11-12).
The New Testament exhorts church leaders to be active and involved. They are to “direct the affairs of the church” (1 Timothy 5:17), and “keep watch” over the church like a shepherd watching over the sheep (Acts 20:28). They are to do this, not by abusively lording it over others, but by serving them (1 Peter 5:2-3). In particular, church leaders have a God ordained responsibility to “prepare God’s people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12).
The New Testament emphasizes the importance of church leadership by calling on believers to be properly responsive to their leaders. They are to “respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Believers are admonished to “obey your leaders and submit to their authority…so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Though believers are not expected to obey leaders who teach or behave in ways contrary to God’s revealed will, they should otherwise follow those who lead. Scripture teaches that the church is to provide, value and respect its leadership. Though the abuse of leadership must be rigorously avoided, leadership should not be abdicated. Though there is no place for pride and arrogance, leaders should not shrink back from the responsibility to lead.
Effective church leadership is team-based in structure and collegial in tone where all the leadership gifts in the church are honored and used in ways that foster interdependence (Romans 12:4-8). Such shared leadership is consistent with the scriptural teachings concerning the ministry of all believers who are equipped for service through the multiple spiritual gifts imparted by the Holy Spirit.
Shared leadership is lived out in decision-making processes that emphasize collaboration and consensus building. Consensus is not achieved through an autocratic leader imposing his or her will on the group. Nor is it achieved through voting to determine the majority will. Rather, consensus is achieved when the group is led to discover the direction that best fits its shared mission and values in response to the Lord’s direction. Leaders then educate, encourage and inspire the group to embrace that direction together by laying aside personal preferences and proceeding forward in unity.
Accountability is for the purpose of balancing empowerment and protection. Church leaders invite and encourage their followers to be accountable by modeling accountability in three directions: First, they are accountable to the lead and discipline of the Holy Spirit, including the testimony of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. Second, they are accountable to the whole body of Christ for “each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). Third, they are accountable to their supervisors who have responsibility to “watch over” and “give an account” to God for their oversight (Hebrews 13:17).
- from Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual -