“So, I have to ask how you fit Paul’s teaching into the view of “no humans should lead”? What do you do with verses that speak of elders and overseers and the verse in Hebrews 13:17 that tells us to obey our leaders and submit to their authority? I’m curious how you blend the two together, or was Paul a false teacher?”
So… What about Paul and leadership?
Do I think Paul was a false prophet? To quote Paul himself, “Not at all”! I love Paul! I used to think Paul was a grumpy old curmudgeon (and to be frank, he does get a bit that way toward the end), but mostly he’s just pouring out his heart for those he loves.
So, Paul and leadership. I actually think that Paul agrees with Jesus on this one (would he actually disagree with Jesus?). He was always talking about loving one another, in peace and unity and in mutual submission not out of ambition or conceit (Phil 2:3). If to love one another is to always want the best for the other, Paul epitomises it.
Paul’s take on the life of the Church totally encapsulates what Jesus was saying. Jesus talks about (and showed us by the Way he did life) how to love one another, about not letting other agendas like ‘stuff’ and ‘ambition’ steal the joy that’s found in loving relationship with Him and each other, about putting other’s ahead of ourselves, about looking out for one another, about not shaming one another but rather lifting shame off of each other. He never once used guilt to manipulate or control others, in fact, He always invited others into His life, never tricked, guilted or manipulated them into it. This is truly a beautiful lovely life and one that Paul echoed time and again.
Paul sees us all as gifts to one another. He recognised and advocated that we’ve all got something to contribute to this ‘one-anotherness’ life that Jesus invited us into. The Ephesians 4 passage is a classic example of this. In the midst of talking about us being “one body, one Spirit…” he gives us an example of how this works. He talks about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, saying that there are people that Dad has gifted to the wider body (the Church) in order to equip the saints, edify the body in the unity of faith, to know the Son of God, speaking the truth in love and grow up in to Christ who is our head!
I don’t think Paul is talking about titles and roles here. I think he’s saying that there are certain people in our midst us who just are apostles (sent ones), prophets, evangelists, pastors (shepherds), and teachers etc.
For example, there’s a guy I know who is a pastor, not because he has the title (he did, but doesn’t), but because of who God has gifted him to be to the wider body of believers. He just exudes “shepherdedness”. He’s one of the most tender-hearted people I know, and in the midst of that he speaks love and grace and mercy and truth. It’s just who he is, who Dad has made him to be. It’s beautiful. So does the fact that he no longer has the title “Pastor” make him any less compassionate and sensitive and loving? Can a lack of title actually make someone less ‘them-self’? Of course not. He is a gift to the wider body of Christ in this way. Does this guy have all it takes to help build up the body? Of course not, that’s why there are others around who are gifted in other ways, and don’t need a title to be who they are any more than this guy does. All they need is to be free to be who Dad has created them to be.
I have another friend who is full of great wisdom. I love to sit with her and talk about life and listen to her speak words of love and grace. Half the time I don’t think she even fully understands how wise she is, but time and again, I hear Dad speaking through her. It’s beautiful.
I also know people who are “sent ones”, they live their lives as if this is not their home and they’re here for a purpose, and are fully committed to it. It’s not about possessions or status or agenda or ambition, or anything else, but about His Kingdom and loving those Dad puts before them wherever they are, and they do it without talking about having a ‘ministry’, because they don’t see it that way, it’s just the love that Dad’s put into them being poured out on others. It’s who they are.
I have another friend who’s middle name could be “evangelists” (and quite frankly, I’m surprised it’s not his first name!). I’ve never known anyone like him. Wherever he goes, he goes with the purpose of sharing the good news of God’s love and grace and freedom, and it’s not just in words, he lives it and people are drawn to it.
And as for teachers, they’re all around us. I learn from practically everyone I meet. There are those of course who are especially gifted to teach us the Ways of God, and once again, it’s not something that they necessarily have trained to do, they just have a way with words that makes some of the most complex issues, simple. The Trinitarian life at work in them, it’s Dad doing what Jesus asked him to, “…just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us…”
Now in all this I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there that lead. There are. There are people who have known Dad for longer and deeper than we have and these people are invaluable gifts to us. They are amazing resources for helping us get to know Yahweh and how to share the love that he pours into us, with others.
In fact, I think that’s what Paul was talking about in Hebrews 13:7, he’s asking the Hebrew people to remember those who have gone before them, the ones who have been doing this following Jesus thing for a while now, to look at their lives and to imitate them because they are allowing Dad to work in and through them, and they are becoming more like Him. They are leaders because they lead, not because they have titles.
Were their “elders”, of course there were. They were the ones, once again, who others could look up to. Were they recognised as such? Of course! In fact, I don’t think it would’ve been ingruous to have an Elder who wasn’t recognised as someone to look up to, by someone. Were they voted in (or out for that matter)? Of course not. You can’t vote a person in or out of being who they are. They just are. They were Elders because they Elded.
I guess in all this, I just find it very difficult to believe that once Jesus has said “don’t lord it over one another” Paul would come and say the opposite. Could it be that we’ve projected our own circumstances on to Paul’s situation? Would Paul contradict Jesus? Would Paul need to contradict Jesus? Is it possible that we’ve misinterpreted what Paul is about? I know I have in the past.