6 Principles of “Those Who Turned the World Upside Down” part 3

7 06 2010

This is part three in a series on the topic, “New Testament Principles on Leadership Structure.”  Enjoy.  If you want to catch up on the previous parts, scroll down.

Principle #3: First among Equals

Paul explains the principle of “first among equals” when he writes, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17).  Paul is expressing a “first among equals” status for certain leaders who were especially called and gifted in teaching God’s Word.  John MacArthur, in his commentary on this passage writes, “Elders who serve with greater commitment, excellence, and effort should have greater acknowledgement from their congregations.  Implicit is the idea that some elders will work harder and be more prominent in ministry” (Study Bible, p. 1869).  It seems that God has designed spiritual gifts such that certain members of the church are given the gift of teaching and leadership in preparing and equipping the Body of Christ for ministry.  There ministry will have greater prominence in the local church.  Alexander Strauch also expresses this sentiment:

Although elders act jointly as a council and share equal authority and responsibility for the leadership of the church, all are not equal in their giftedness, biblical knowledge, leadership ability, experience, or dedication.  Therefore, those among the elders who are particularly gifted leaders and/or teachers will naturally stand out among the other elders as leaders and teachers within the leadership body.  This is what the Romans called primus inter pares, meaning “first among equals” (ibid, p. 45).

Even Jesus singled out Peter, James, and John as “first among equals” in relation to the other twelve disciples (see Luke 8:51; 9:28; Mark 14:23).  In all four gospel accounts, Peter is the prominent leader among the twelve disciples.  Peter also stands shoulders above the other leaders in the Jerusalem church (see Acts 2:14, 42; 4:33, 35; 5:12, 18, 29, 42; 6:2-6; 8:14; 9:27; 15:2-29).   Peter is the chief leader among the elders in Jerusalem in the first twelve chapters of Acts.  In the second half of Acts, beginning in chapter thirteen, Paul becomes the dominant leader among the apostles outside of Jerusalem.  In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he speaks of James, Peter, and John as the “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:7-9).

We further advance this principle of “first among equals” as we see who the pastoral epistles (1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus) are written to.  Paul directs his two letters to Timothy, and not the elders in Ephesus.  Paul sends his letter to Titus and not to the elders at Crete. Indeed, with Timothy and Titus are both taxed with the responsibility to “set in order the things that are lacking” and develop strong leadership in each church.

The pastoral epistles describe men who are the “first among equals” in building solid structure in teaching, church discipline, leadership qualifications, and church government.  The level of authority and the kind of teaching that Paul brings to these men make it obvious that they are to follow just what Paul admonishes Timothy,  “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).  Thus, Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete are acting in the capacity of being lead pastors over the governing leaders in each congregation. 

Accordingly, scripture shows that the main vision, values, and direction of the Jerusalem church came from Peter (see Acts 1-13), and that the main visionary of the churches outside of Jerusalem rested largely with Paul (see Acts 14-28).  The lead pastor in Ephesus at the time of Paul’s letter was Timothy.  The lead pastor in Crete was Titus.  Thus, the principle of “first among equals” is another strong principle of New Testament government.

Wayne Grudem in Systematic Theology explains practically how “first among equals” can function in a local church:  

The senior pastor would be one among the elders in this system.  He does not have authority over them, nor does he work for them as an employee.  He has a somewhat distinct role in that he is engaged in the full time work of ‘preaching and teaching,’ (1 Tim. 5:17), and derives part or all of his income from that work (1 Tim 5:18).  He also may frequently assume a leadership role (such as chairman) among the elders, which would fit with his leadership role among the congregation…Such a system would allow a pastor to exercise strong leadership in the church while still having equal authority with the other elders” (p. 933).

Hence, the New Testament is very clear that God raises up men with a certain gifting of leadership and teaching that is used by God to build up and guide the local church toward the vision God has given that body of believers.  They are not more special or more gifted but do occupy a position of greater responsibility to the Lord and the elders in leading the church.

Benefits of a “First among Equals” Government Structure:

  • A highly gifted leader or teacher can use his God-given gift mix to its full potential
  • As the church provides financial support for this leader or leaders, the whole body will be blessed by their full time commitment to the church
  • Such leadership can provide necessary protection from abuse, heresy, and bad teaching as the leader or leaders can give necessary time to the plans and preparations of leading the church
  • A lead pastor can have the time to seek the Lord for clear direction and vision for the local church
  • A lead pastor with strong accountability will be able to lead the elders in a plan and strategy that can in turn bless every member of the local congregation

In Practicum:

As the senior pastor and founding pastor at MSC, I am often considered the “first among equals” at Elder Board meetings.  I am equal and not above the other elders in all matters related to the board.  But because my role involves visionary leading and teaching God’s Word, God has given me a certain responsibility and equity with my spiritual and board elders that requires that I lead out on visionary matters.  In some church structures, I would be designated as the “teaching elder.”  MSC also has an executive pastor who is a “first among equals” with the other pastors as he leads them in the day to day ministry of the church.

How and by Whom are Decisions Made at MSC?

In the process of decision making, the question is often asked “How and by whom are decisions made at MSC?”  On both the pastoral elder team and board elder team, we have utilized several approaches to decision making.  All of these approaches have value in certain circumstances.  I will explain this process from the continuum of autocratic to democratic:

Autocratic à  Consultative àConsensus à Democratic

The Autocratic mode of decision making means that one man leads and makes all major decisions.  At MSC, we rarely use this approach.  Yet there are times when myself, or one of our other lead pastors or board elders, must make a decision quickly and singularly.  Even in those situations, we encourage that consultation be sought first.

The Consultative mode of decision making means that a leader consults, gets the opinion of others and from that consultation makes a decision with the group largely in agreement.  I prefer this model more than the Autocratic and find that this is often an excellent approach. We have, from time to time, had to make major decisions that will impact the whole church, and I have always followed the consultive and also the following, consensus model.

The Consensus mode of decision making means that the group agrees in unison on a given approach or decision.  This is my preferred approach to leading and managing MSC.  Almost all decisions made by the pastors and board fall into this category.

The Democratic mode of decision making means that votes are cast and the majority wins.  Although this is the approach used in many churches, I have rarely used this, as it has the potential to short circuit the deep prayer and consensus building needed to develop a solid team that hears God together.  However, at the point of a deadlock, this approach can be preferable.

On the Pastoral and Board Elder Teams we approach each issue and decision with what I refer to as the “75/100 Rule.”  This means that we will always seek 75% agreement on a decision, but 100% support once the decision is made.  After much dialogue, once a decision is made, even if there is not complete unanimity on the decision, when we walk out of the meeting, we will support the decision 100% in talking about or discussing it with the congregation.  This enables us to keep unity in the body, even when we disagree on certain matters.


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One response

8 06 2010
David Brownlee

Hello Pastor Steve,

Thank you for sharing this leadership information regarding yourself, your style and the leadership style of MSC – very helpful. Not that my opinion matters any, but this methodology, i.e. leadership structure is very practical, reasonable and I believe how Jesus intends church leadership to function. This is what I see in Acts, especially with the Jerusalem Council, and many decisions they made as you noted. I for one find this style refreshing, rewarding and encouraging.

Please be encouraged with this style of leadership Pastor Steve, and MSC leadership as a whole. Not that I am an expert by any means, but based on my education (B.S. in Org. Man. with Christian Leadership), vocations, experience, this leadership structure is leaps and bounds above others. One of my favorite books on leadership – Leadership is an Art, by Max Depree discusses much of what you describe (though in a slightly different format).

Thanks again for taking the time to share with the congregation on leadership Pastor Steve!

David Brownlee

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