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Principles of Church Leadership by John P. Lathrop

How Shall We Lead the Church?

In this Pneuma Review conversation, Pastor John Lathrop says that New Testament leadership should be scripturally based, marked by servanthood, Spirit-empowered, and equipping everyone for ministry.


Jesus Christ has a very real relationship with the church. He described the church as His and said that He would build it (Matt. 16:18). Paul, in his address to the elders of the church of Ephesus said that God purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). The reference to purchasing with blood indicates that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is the one being referred to in this verse. The church belongs to Jesus. In a couple of other texts the apostle Paul affirms that we (believers/the church) have been purchased by Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 7:23). In addition to His ownership of the church Paul also says a number of times that Jesus is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23; Col. 1:18). Jesus’ leadership of the church is not just a position of power and authority, but also one of service. Ephesians 5:29 tells us that the Lord feeds and cares for the church. Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25 indicate that He is now constantly praying for His followers. The one who has the highest authority in the church is its greatest servant. The Lord can, and certainly does, feed and care for us as His people; He does this for us both as individuals and as a body. The Lord can minister to us directly, or He can work through the earthly spiritual leadership of the church. These men and women have been placed in the church by Him (Eph. 4:11) to accomplish His plans and purposes.

In the New Testament we find a number of different words used to describe leadership ministries in the church words like: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, elder, overseer, teacher, deacon and deaconess. All of these words describe various leadership ministries.

Without question all of these ministries existed in the New Testament church, and I believe that all of them exist in the church today. However, some of these leadership ministries do not seem to have been found in every local church. For example, there is no concrete evidence in the New Testament that every church had apostles and prophets who remained in the congregation on an ongoing basis, they seem to have been more mobile ministries1 Local church leadership seems to be entrusted more into the hands of pastors/elders, teachers, deacons and deaconesses.

It is not my intent to make this a highly academic paper. Neither do I intend to go into a detailed description of any of the ministries listed above. Instead I would like to focus on four characteristics that I believe should mark all leadership ministries of the church. These four essentials of ministry are that it should be: scripturally based, marked by servanthood, empowered and directed by the Spirit, and should equip people for service.

Let us turn our attention now to a brief consideration of these four essential qualities.

Scripturally Based

The church belongs to God, because this is so we need to build it in accordance with His instructions. These instructions are found in Scripture; the Bible should be the blueprint for the church. Now I know that not everyone holds the same view about how a church should be governed. Some people feel that a church should be pastor/elder led, based on texts such as 1 Timothy 5:17, Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5: 1-3. In these verses elders/pastors are given the responsibility of providing direction and oversight to the congregation. Other Christians lean toward a more congregational form of government. They may cite Acts 6 where the larger church body chose the seven men to take care of the widow’s distribution. It should be noted in this case that the larger church body made the decision only after the apostles gave them the criteria for who could be considered for this ministry. The apostles authorized the congregation to make the choices. I personally believe the Bible teaches that the church should be led by pastors/elders. Regardless of the view that you or your church holds we should all agree that the Bible is to be the source of authority for the beliefs and practices of the church.

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Winter 2012

About the Author: John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written for a number of publications and is the author of four books Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers Then and Now (Xulon Press, 2008), The Power and Practice of the Church: God, Discipleship, and Ministry (J. Timothy King, 2010), Answer the Prayer of Jesus: A Call for Biblical Unity (Wipf & Stock, 2011) and Dreams & Visions: Divine Interventions in Human Experience (J. Timothy King, 2012). He also served as co-editor of the book Creative Ways to Build Christian Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Amazon Author page. Facebook

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