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Stephen Hill: Would the Real Apostles Please Stand Up?

A vital conclusion that one has to draw from this is that there is no such thing as a perfect leader, regardless of their title. Yet while this highlights the need for each believer to be responsible for their own issues of personal discipline and holiness (p.70-71), it does not automatically follow that the role of leadership within the church is unnecessary, as is the strong implication of Hill’s argument.

Despite the fragility of Hill’s logic, any worthwhile interaction with the content of his article should acknowledge his main concerns about the ethical use of authority in leadership and encourage the need to understand the theological, social and practical roots of problems within this area. Hill calls for a re-evaluation of the Christian ideals that govern how a leadership position is supposed to benefit the wider community. His proposed solution is for the hierarchical order within churches to be replaced with a more congregational style of functional ministry, whereby everyone has the same level of authority with the same level of responsibility toward one another (p.70-71). This, supposedly, would guard against any temptation to misuse one’s position by asserting it over another.

Yet it is possible that the heart of this problem is not found within the mechanics of a ‘leadership position’ but rather concerns the concept of ‘power’ and how it is used.1 Hill’s proposition for purging the church of leadership structures that are predisposed, or at least vulnerable, to the misuse of authority is self-deceiving because it assumes that abusive power structures will cease to exist in a leadership vacuum. However, problems involving a misuse of power are just as prominent within churches that operate with a model of ‘functional ministry’. They may not result from an authoritarian leadership structure, but would nonetheless exhibit other factors distinct to their specific context. Therefore, it is not viable to claim that the problem of a manipulation of power within churches would be solved if leadership structures were disposed of altogether. Rather, what is needed is an open and explicit recognition among church leaders of the dangers regarding the use of power, irrespective of the authority structure in place within the local church, be it congregational or hierarchical.

Having said that, the motivation behind Hill’s article is to create awareness for the reader that there must be an emphasis placed upon ethical responsibility within church leadership. To what extent does the role of a leader need to be redefined? How can the church come to appreciate the essence of leadership as service? How can the church guard against abusive authority? These questions should be on the minds of all church leaders who take seriously the privilege and responsibility of shepherding God’s people. These questions would be a worthwhile starting point for further discussion on this topic as it generates many implications for leadership practice—implications that Hill introduces but does not address in any detail. These might include, for example, the position and honor given to apostles in terms of the purpose and use of tithing for the financial support of apostolic leaders in contrast to other needs within every church congregation (Acts 4:32-37; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4).

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Category: Ministry, Summer 2009

About the Author: Trevor W. Martindale has been involved in supporting church-planting ministries in South Africa, where he grew up, and in England and in Scotland, where he now lives. Currently, he is a graduate student at the University of Aberdeen.

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