Thinking out loud about leadership (4) The officer as ‘apostolic overseer’


I sigh a sigh of relief as I move on from discussion of what I consider to be a devilish doctrine of clericalism to promote and, maybe even to some people, introduce the concept of officership as ‘apostolic’ in function. Let me introduce here, again, my model from the second post in this series which can be found here.

If you follow my picture here to its full conclusion, you will come to the realisation that I am advocating that no corps/Christian community should have full-time paid leadership. New corps and corps that are small enough to adapt quickly to this may be able to adopt early, others may take longer. But why? I hear you ask?

Having already said that the presence of clergy is both unbiblical and detrimental, I’d also repeat that its unnecessary if the whole body is functioning under the Lordship of Jesus, facilitated by a full Ephesians 4 ministry within the body, with designated ‘overseers’ or ‘elders’ just keeping guard as watchmen on the walls, not over and above, but alongside…potential body guards, if you like.

If the body are meeting as that, and engaging missionally in their contexts, we have a healthy and growing body…maybe even a multiplying body as more of the body are released to establish new nucleus of people to gather under Jesus’ name.

Friends, this is where officers should come in. Officers should be able to function over a given geographical area either as apostolic workers (like Precilla and Aquilla) who prepare the ground for the apostle to plant, or as the apostle who plants, stays for a period to equip those who gather in those first stages all the while equipping them to carry on when he has gone.

Think of a catalyst in a chemical reaction. From my limited scientific knoweldge from Standard Grade chemistry, a catalyst is something which promotes a reaction between two or more substances without it, itself, being used up. So for all you non-scientific bods out there….it gets the thing going, creates the response but then gets out of the way.

We see this in the new testament, especially in the apostle Paul but equally in the others. Paul’s stays in a place would be as short as maybe a few months and as long as a couple of years. He moved from city to city, establishing ‘as an expert builder’ and laying the only foundation for the church, which is Jesus Christ. He draws people to gether, shares the gospel message of the Kingdom, teaches the people how to function and once they’re started they are left to it. He then keeps contact with them, somtimes through an appointed local person, writes to them, visits them as needed. That was their role. Paul himself said that he wanted to continue moving on into areas where the gospel had not been preached and established.

Consider too how Paul saw this work to be a success. At one point in his ministry, he was able to say he had completed the work of the gospel in the entire Asia Minor region (modern day Turkey) because he had established a small group (like in the picture above) in every key city. Considered the work done? How on earth? because he had left behind all the DNA needed for the body to spread out, establishing and carrying the work to the rest.

You will find that the apostles were the only people who received payment for their ministry. Actually…the only others other than the apostles who seemed to be ‘paid’ were the widows. In order to receive this, they promised to give themselves to prayer, remain unmarried, and be over 60. Getting back to Paul, he would still often forgo this privelege of payment even although he could claim it and instead himself still chose to ‘work hard amongst them with his own hands.’ In other circumstances, we find that he would refuse money from the church he was currently with, but gladly accepted it from other churches who could afford it so as not to be a burden. We find no record until well into the Christendom mode of elders, pastors etc etc being paid for their work.

At this juncture, I wish to raise the issue of money…that sacred cow. You will be hard pressed to find much reference to tithing in the new testament and in the early church. And even if you did, and where you do find reference to giving, it is for a particular purpose. It was to support the itinterant apostle and to feed the poor, orphans and widows. It also made sure that non amongst the early church were in need. Good news to the poor means ‘you ain’t poor anymore’. It was a relational giving….anything and everything was given not to pay local pastor/preacher/teachers but to support those in need.

Incidentally, with the rise of the Christendom model, and the emergence of large temples and structures and systems, we see the rise of teaching from the Old Testament on tithing in order to support the priesthood (the kind of priesthood I’m suggesting we don’t have). I have to confess here too that I’ve taught and held the opinion that all salvationists should tithe as a biblical mandate. I here confess that I believe that to have been a wrong understanding of this doctrine and practice. The New Testament doesn’t set amounts, it sets the reasons we give…out of love, out of joy and out of gratitude. It sets a destination….the apostles, the poor, widows and orphans. The early church had no cumbersome structure to support. I ask, have we re-instated the OT tithe because we have replicated the OT priesthood?

What are the implications of this? I guess you could say that I am advocating that paid officership in every corps be abolished, both because it has little foundation in scripture and because it is not sustainable in the longer term. I am advocating that we should take officers out of the permanant positions of corps work and give those who are gifted in that way apostolic oversight in cities. What about the rest of the officers? If they are pastors, evangelists, teachers then let them function in the body as that. If we insist on still paying them, let us release them into ministries of chaplaincy, community development etc etc utilising the giving of the body which has been given for those sort of purposes in a meaningful way. They don’t need to be full time in a corps at all, other than to function withing their gifting along with the rest.

Friends, I realise how alien all this sounds. I’ve not even got a clue if any of it makes sense in the way I’m describing it. I believe that what I’m advocating would take much change, transition and movement. I’m not naive enough at all to believe that very many people would agree with me. I’m not naive enough to believe that it will ever really become a reality off the pages of this blog certainly where the Army is concerned. But surely one can live in hope.

Friends, I love The Salvation Army and I believe in us. But I also believe that The Army may continue to function as a big old institutional machine when all the resources really needed to function as an advancing mission force have become so diminished. A quick look at the stats (it needs to be a quick look before you need to start taking prozac) shows that the Army in Europe in particular is in massive decline….remember, where Christendom is fading fastest? Its time now to become lighter an leaner for those in the position to do so and to begin the turn-around now for the places where change needs to take place.

But friends, please hear my lack of hope and sense of heartbreak as consider how I fear the Army will not adapt sufficiently at this time. And hey, I’m not just talking what I’ve outlined here. We don’t seem to be adapting sufficiently to the current challenges and we’re digging our heads in the sand. It keeps me up at night, breaks my heart and causes me simply to make a plea to you good folks to even just think about what I’ve written.

I too, need to make my response to this challenge in relation to the Army. My first response is to say ‘please, Lord Jesus.’ That is also my second, third and fourth response. Join me?

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