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52. Leadership and membership of the local church

Christian theology in a Sudanese context. God lives in the Church.

The supreme Head of the Christian Church throughout all ages is the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:18: Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 5:23). The word ‘head’ (Greek – kephale) means the one who has authority, responsibility and gives direction. It is sadly possible for ‘Christian’ people to lose their connection to the ‘Head’ by becoming obsessed with the external things of religion, or even with personal visions and revelations (Colossians 2:18-19). The first and most essential qualification for church leadership is that a person is constantly linked and securely fastened to Jesus Christ. Church leadership flows from the gifts Jesus gives to the Church (Ephesians 4:1-16). The words “grace” (Ephesians 4:7; Greek – charis) and “gifts” (Ephesians 4:8; Greek – doma) indicate that leadership is a definite spiritual gift that God freely gives to some people. God gives other gifts to people who are not given leadership. God is the donor, by His own sovereign will and choice. His will must be respected. It is important to observe here that it is not the church or even the theological college that makes Christian leaders. Recommendation by a family member or friend from the same tribe, sponsorship from a donor, an outgoing human personality, and even a good degree from a university somewhere in the world away from Sudan, are not in themselves evidences of a God-given call and gifting for the Christian ministry. It is the organised church that has put an emphasis on higher education being essential for the ordained ministry. I can find no evidence to support that in the Bible. It appears that Jesus had no higher education. He received His knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures simply from attendance at His local synagogue school (Luke 2:41-47). Timothy was a young pastor at Ephesus, and Paul, a senior man in ministry, urged him to be “a workman who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). He was to “present himself to God” as a hard working student of the Scriptures, while he was already carrying out his ministry. I believe the key to church leadership is here. Look for those God is putting His hand on as Christian leaders, and encourage experienced people God has used for a while, to get alongside them in their ministries. Let them pray together regularly. Let them seek advice and counsel about the situations they face, from the Scriptures, together. Let the Holy Spirit teach them. Let them write to encourage one another when they are apart.

I do see this pattern of leadership training in the New Testament (Acts 11:25-26; Acts

16:1-5; Acts 18:24-28; Acts 20:17-36; Colossians 1:3-10;Colossians 4:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-8; 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:10; 1 Timothy 1:3; 1 Timothy 1:18-19; 1 Timothy 4:11-16;Titus

1:4-5; Titus 3:12). From Ephesians 4:11-16, we learn that the gifts God gives to the church are people. Their purpose is to equip all believers for ministry and into Christian maturity.

Apostles are messengers, delegates, people sent out with orders to fulfil. Jesus is the unique Apostle (Hebrews 3:1). He named twelve apostles from among His followers (Mark3:14; Matthew 10:2-4). Paul spoke of his ‘seeing the Lord’ as one qualifying point for being an apostle, and his seeing ‘signs, wonders and miracles’ during his ministry as another (1 Corinthians 9:1; 2 Corinthians 12:11-12). Mention is also made of Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Andronicus and Junias as apostles (Acts 14:1-4; 1 Thessalonians1:1 and 2:6-7; Romans 16:7). It seems that apostles break new ground for the church on its mission to take the gospel around the world (Romans 1:5). Apostles train others for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). The message of the original apostles is in our New Testament

(2 Timothy 1:11-14; 2 Peter 3:15-18).

Prophets are people who speak out for God to themselves and everyone else. They may predict the future. They will express God’s will in a given situation. It differs from preaching because it is more spontaneous. Listeners sense that God is in these words. New Testament examples are

  • : Agabus (Acts 11:27-30);

  • some among Antioch’s church leadership (Acts 13:1-3);

  • Judas and Silas (Acts 15:22,32).

Prophecy is a highly valued gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:1). In a local congregation, it is the responsibility of everyone to test prophecy given. Not everything that claims to be from God is from God! (1 Corinthians 14:29-33; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). Prophecy given and received in this way should result in encouragement for the congregation. Prophets train other people in speaking out for God (Ephesians 4:12). Evangelists are people who focus on taking the central message of salvation through Jesus Christ to lost people. They are messengers of the good news of Jesus. They train other people to witness evangelistically (Ephesians 4:12). Only Philip is called an evangelist in the New Testament (Acts 21:8). PastorTimothy is told by Paul to “do the work of an evangelist”, (2 Timothy 4:5).

Pastors are people who shepherd God’s people as a shepherd cares for his sheep. A pastor tends his flock, feeding, leading, protecting, encouraging, healing, strengthening and discerning. He treats different aged people in different ways, giving special attention to the young and the weak. The apostle Peter calls himself an elder in appealing to other elders: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care” (1 Peter 5:1-4). There must not be any financial motives for this service, nor any thoughts of having a high status and being able to order others about. Pastors train other Christians in caring for each other.

Teachers are people who can explain the Christian faith and apply it to practical everyday life. Christian teachers help others to learn and to live. Their aim is not just to take a class, but to change people’s lives outside of the classroom. The word ‘teach’ implies a systematic and prepared form of instruction. The New Testament says a lot about teaching and teachers – both good and bad. There are false teachers with false teaching that Christians must discern and discipline. There are good teachers with good teaching that Christians must respect and reward (1 Timothy 1:3-4;1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy4:1-6;

1 Timothy4:11; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:2; 2 Timothy 3:10; 2 Timothy

4:3-5). Teachers train other believers to serve the congregation by explaining and applying God’s truth to modern life.

The Lord Jesus Christ gave clear principles for leadership (Mark 10:41-45). A christian leader gives his or her own life away in the service of the congregation. Jesus saw potential in people like Peter the fisherman and Matthew the tax collector. He accepted imperfection and inexperience as His starting points. He called the people individually to spend time with Him, to live their whole lives with Him. He promised to change them. He committed Himself to them (Matthew 4:18-20). It was a gradual process. He began where His followers were and He slowly dealt with them as individuals. He led them to realise Who He actually was (Matthew 16:13-20). He gently kept His patience when they let Him down (Matthew 16:21-28). He prayed for them as they went through tough tests on their own (Matthew 26:31-35; Luke 22:31-34). He made good their mistakes (Luke 22:49-51). He trusted them to complete the work He had begun and He equipped them for the task (Luke 24:45-49). In a local church elders and deacons are the functional leadership. Paul and Barnabas soon appointed them in churches they had started (Acts 14:23). The church in Jerusalem had apostles and elders to resolve contentious issues. The church at Ephesus had elders to oversee the work and shepherd the people (Acts 15:2; Acts 20:17, 28). Elders (Greek – presbuteros and episkopos) are Christians of mature spiritual experience who, together, watch over, direct and supervise the church. They take responsibility for the witness and wellbeing of the congregation. The New Testament emphasis is placed upon what kind of people are elders, not so much on what they actually do. Christian character and calling by God are more important than any job title or position (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-11; 1 Peter 5:1-7; James 5:14). God places elders with one another to be a corporate example of what the whole congregation ought to be; “being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). A good test for any eldership is for them to ask themselves: ‘Are we a representative sample of what we would like the whole church to become?’

Deacons (Greek – diakonos) are those with servant hearts in the practical areas of church life. The first ones were willing to release the apostles for preaching and teaching by taking administrative responsibility away from them (Acts 6:1-7). God uses them just as much as He uses the apostles to enable the church to quickly grow in numbers and spread in influence. This is ‘every part of the body’ being used by Jesus Christ, the Head (1 Corinthians12:12-27). If the elders are the servant leaders, the deacons are the servant managers. All need to be spiritually suitable people, who have the respect of the

congregation and the outsiders (“full of the HolySpirit and wisdom”Acts 6:3; “above reproach” 1 Timothy 3:2; “having “a good reputation with outsiders” 1 Timothy 3:7; and “worthy of respect” 1 Timothy 3:8). The Christian church is the reverse of the world. The world measures our importance by the number of people we have working under us, or working for us. “In God’s eyes, greatness consists not in the number of people who serve us, but in the number of people we serve”. (Mark 10:43-44). God planned the church. God places people in their local congregations. God uses teams of people to serve the congregation by accepting certain responsibilities. God joins everyone together into a Christian community where His life is in and among them.

Considering the question of how the ‘elders and deacons’ can lead their congregation and – at the same time – be submitted to their congregation, I suggest something similar to the pattern we have used in Khartoum International Church. I was chosen and invited by the congregation members to be their pastor. I had an agreement with them to serve for a five year term, with an option of a second five year term if both parties wanted it. I served by leading the church, with the other elders, during the years I was pastor. I was accountable to the elders at monthly meetings and I was accountable to an annual meeting of members of the congregation. Just before the end of five years, I would have submitted myself to the congregation membership for reappointment if they wanted me to continue. As it happened, I was ill and had to leave Sudan before this procedure happened. The elders were elected individually from the congregation members. Each one agreed to serve for a three year period, after which they submitted themselves to the church membership for reappointment. Some came due for review in this way every year, so there was some annual opportunity for one or two changes in leadership. The members submitted to our leadership during the everyday life of the church. The pastor and elders submitted to the congregation members every three or five years.God gave unity and harmony to KIC as we tried to serve the needs, largely, of the expatriate community in Khartoum. The unity of the church is the gift and continuing work of God the Holy Spirit. God has given us a variety of churches that we can celebrate and enjoy. Love and respect between denominations or congregations helps to show this unity is real. It is not necessary to come together as one single structured church! Imagine if there was a group of people who decided that all the different football teams in Sudan gave the impression that football was divided. Imagine they started a movement to make all the first division league football teams become one team. You would correctly think: ‘These people have misunderstood football. You need at least two teams to have a proper football match ,and the more teams there are the better the competition and the attraction of the game will be’.

People should not seek to impose one single church denomination. Man can never produce that kind of unity. It would only ever be a counterfeit of the New Testament church unity anyway. We are all called to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). This implies that there will be issues arising to threaten the unity that we have already been given by God.

For many years I have worked alongside Christians with whom I disagree on some issues. Elders with me at KhartoumInternational Church came from home churches and backgrounds as different as Canadian Baptist, Swedish-Canadian Mennonite, German Lutheran, Indian Evangelical, Australian Independent, American Presbyterian, and English Charismatic. Yet we worked together in unity. Love, respect and communication are the keys to this (1 Peter 1:22-23; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Matthew 5:23-24; Acts 15:1-35; Galatians 2:6-10).

  • Christian unity is maintained through a common dedication to the glory of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13).

  • Christian unity is maintained through the regular expression of sincere love (Ephesians 4:29-5:1).

  • Christian unity is maintained by a mutual submission to one another (Ephesians 5:21).

  • Christian unity is maintained by carefully nurturing a Christlike heart (Philippians 2:1-5).

  • Christian unity is maintained by respecting the truth of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 John verses 1-12).

“The unity of the church is its degree of freedom from divisions among true Christians”. I have found that it is not the differences that divide Christians from one another. It is the attitudes in which those differences are held. I retain respect and love for a Muslim with whom I disagree, because I hope to be able to win him to Christ as we meet from time to time, and as our relationship grows. I should definitely be able to do something similar with any other Christian brother or sister.

Local church membership is an administrative issue which denominations express in various ways. It appears that there was some way of ‘numbering’ the early church (Acts 2:41; Acts 2:47; Acts 4:4; Acts 6:7). The New Testament letters were sent to recognised groups of professing believers, though they are each described a little bit differently to the others (Romans 1:6-7; Galatians 1:1-2; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1-2). Church discipline implies that there is some type of membership that can be brought to an end for a persistent offender (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:2; 1 John 2:18-19) and perhaps be reinstated after repentance and restitution (2 Corinthians 2:5-8; Galatians

6:1-5). Church discipline teaches that church membership is both a privilege and a responsibility. There are degrees of discipline God has given which are suitable for different offences against the church community. There is a visitation procedure to help the person who “sins against”another (Matthew 18:15-17).

Lazy people can be privately warned. A small group should challenge them face to face with Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:11-15). Divisive teaching and divisive teachers should be spotted, warned on two occasions, and then avoided (Romans 16:17-18; Titus 3:9-10). Expulsion is the solemn discipline for a persistent and unrepentant offender (1 Corinthians 5:11-13).

We must always remember that the object of discipline is the restoration of the fallen brother or sister, into full fellowship with God and with His people. Discipline must be administered by several people, not just one. Charges should only be considered if they are brought by two or three witnesses who are prepared to publicly testify (1 Timothy 5:19-20).

Thinking it through.

(a). How are leaders – and other peoples gifts– to be recognised and encouraged by the local church?

(b). What kind of example did Jesus Himself set, as a leader of His disciples?

(c). How can a local church maintain unity between a variety of people?

What principles should guide it?

(d). How can many different local churches, from a variety of denominations, show unity in Christ? Is meeting together necessary? Why?


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