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Principles of Church Leadership by John P. Lathrop

In order for a leader to be, or remain, scripturally based there are a number of things that he or she must do. First, they must regularly read the Bible, this should go without saying. Second, they need to go beyond merely reading. Reading is good and essential but leaders need to study the Bible. That is, they need to put in time actually digging in to finding out what the Bible says. This involves looking into things such as the context, history, cultural background, and the original languages of the text. Third, the leader must remain teachable. No matter how long one has been in ministry or how much education one has the leader should not think that they know everything. Leaders should be prepared to learn when they come to the Bible. As my friend would say we need to “surrender to the text.”

Marked by Servanthood

A second principle that is very important for those who lead the church is the idea of servanthood. Jesus was a servant (Matt. 12:15-18; Mark 10:45) and He made it very clear that His followers were to be servants as well. Perhaps His most direct statement of this is found in Matthew 20:24-28. In this text Jesus plainly told His disciples that they were not to follow other leadership styles that they were familiar with. Specifically, He told them that they were not to follow the example of pagan Gentile leadership which was domineering. Jesus told His followers not to take their cues from this leadership style but rather from His.

The importance of leaders being servants is taught in other New Testament texts as well. For example, leaders in the early church regularly referred to themselves as servants. Paul used the word in reference to himself (Rom. 1:1; Gal.1:10; Titus 1:1) and other Christian workers (Rom. 16:1; 2 Cor. 4:5). Other New Testament church leaders also applied the word “servant” to themselves. James does (Jas. 1:1), Peter (2 Peter 1:1) and Jude (Jude 1:1) do as well. The apostle John also is referred to as a servant (Rev. 1:1). In fact servanthood is not reserved for Christian leaders, all believers are to serve, they are to serve God (1 Pet. 2:16) and they are to serve one another (Gal. 5:13).

The word servant is not just a label; it is a mindset and heart attitude that expresses itself in practical acts of service. Servanthood must start in the inner being; if it does not exist first in the heart and mind it will not be evident in a person’s public ministry. There must be a root before there can be fruit. The Lord calls Christian leaders to give. Authority in the church is not a position or office of power, but a ministry of service.

Paul exemplified this characteristic in a number of ways. One way in which he demonstrated servanthood was by working a “secular” job when necessary, in order to preach the gospel and not be a burden to the people he ministered to (1 Thess. 2:9). Another way in which he modeled servanthood was his involvement in things that were not specifically part of his primary calling of preaching and teaching.  Paul organized the offering for the poor in the Jerusalem church. He put considerable effort into this in that he got help from churches in Macedonia, Achaia and Galatia (1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. chapters 8 & 9). He did not receive any funds for himself for doing this. Another thing that he did was to try to “smooth things over” for a run away slave. Paul devoted a whole New Testament book to trying to mend the relationship between Onesimus and his owner Philemon.

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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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