Church Ltd

The church becomes ugly when it is led as Church Ltd with a CEO leader and executive board.  Its worse when that ‘CEO’ has autocratic authority (assumed or organisationally given) and when s/he leads from that place.  It is mechanical, worldly, institutional, legalistic and open to a million abuses.  More than that, the whole concept underestimates the value of the body of Christ.

In the New Testament, leadership roles were ones which emerged from the body and were more passive than directive.  If you take the role of ‘elder’ it literally meant one who had spiritual maturity and these were affirmed publically in local expressions of the church as it became obvious that they were actually elders!  These people didn’t lead the church, although some would teach, but they kept a ‘fatherly’ eye over, gave a mature role model to the rest of the family (like all good parents should do).  They’d pray with their eyes open, watch for the wolves, deal with spiritual issues.  But their role was to encourage faith, growth, discipleship and act as spiritual fathers in the church.   They didn’t control the church, decide on behalf of the church, coerce the church, or claim to provide ‘covering’ where nothing could happen without their approval.  For the advent of that kind of role, we have to look at the deviation that happened during Christendom.

Viola points out that ‘the term elder refers to their character.  The term overseer refers to their function.  And the term shepherd refers to their gifting.’  Yet, we in today’s church, almost without exception, have elders as a public role and office, a rank, a post, a poisition.  The modern day invention of ‘presbyter’ or ‘pastor’ barely little resemblence to the biblical pattern. 

Occupational hazard.  Awkward.

The body of Christ is a family where each contributes to the whole and the mission and work of church was in the hands of the whole body under the sole headship of Jesus who directed its members through the Holy Spirit.  The body existed to ‘one another’ one another.

So what?

1.  If you have an executive leadership in any way, you create a business.  If you have spiritual fathers and mothers, you have a family. 

2.  If you have an executive leader, regardless of how good an elder s/he is, you will always relegate the other ministry roles in their God-given mandate to build up the body.   If the elder is charged with the pastoral role in the main, and you then create leadership out of that, you have an organisating limping along on one leg. 

3.  Finally, if you have an executive leadership, you disenfranchise the body from the charge to engage in the ministry of ‘one another’ – mission and ministry as a corporate responsibility.

I worry that the problem is to much engrained in our Christendom psyche to really change.  I wonder if we can shirk this ‘gentile style’ off and fulfil the desire of Jesus that would enable him to say ‘not so with you.’ 

If you have Church Ltd, you have church limited.


Week by week, on a Sunday morning, I’m ususally on my chair in our worship area around 10 minutes or so before we kick off.  From my vantage point, I look out on a couple of hundred people each week.  I watch the chatter, the children playing, the last-minute arrivals settling in, musicians preparing.  I cast my eye, and every week there are faces I don’t know…rarely a week without a new person being with us.  And every generation is represented, some more than others, but a whole spectrum of life, experience, colours, cultures and variety.

More than that, they’re all at very different places spiritually.  We’re a community which is less fussed about drawing the lines of theological correctness, what has to be believed and what doesn’t, and more about enabling people to encounter God and enable him to reveal himself more an more.  Thats not to say we don’t preach Jesus as Lord and as Head of the church.  Thats not to say we don’t invite people to pledge their allegience to him in every way… but people come as they are and we leave the task of building the church to Jesus.  My aim is to enable and inspire response to the call of discipleship.

Why do I say all that?  I say it because my own reflections as I look out show me more and more the changes that have happened in me.  I reflect on the spiritual seasons I’ve moved through in my walk with Jesus thus far and I simply recognised that I’ve come into a new spring.  And I’m happy.  Happy not because there is no trial, no testing, no challenge, no sign of difficulty, but happy because as I’ve moved through the previous three seasons, I can see the truth and transformation of the gospel in my own heart that the process of the seasons have produced.

When I left the Salvation Army, it was on the determination that I was going to seek to remove factors from my life which claimed my allegience because I wanted to be all for Jesus.  As I’ve gone through the process of laying down ‘Salvationism’ (with a capital S), laying down officership, laying down a style of leadership, laying down a system, laying down a rigid theology, laying down my own concepts of what I must do I’ve found that I’ve been surprised by God in tremendous ways.

I feel like a seed which has fallen into the ground, died, and come alive again.  Sure, their are hints of the old but even when they come they are the exception rather than the rule and they show themselves for what they are.  And so I look out at this group of people that, 10 years ago, I’d have brushed aside as half-hearted, uncommitted, ‘unsaved’, ‘liberal’ and ineffective, I now only see the utter foolishness in my previous set of judgements and values.  The biggest thing that has been revealed to me is that as I determine to see Jesus more, to fix on him, the more able I am to see him and his work in the ‘other’.

The penny finally dropped for me in recent months when we engaged again with the Army for a season.  I saw, rushing back towards me, all the things that I had moved away from and that had come to represent what seems like a different life altogether.  I discover that Jesus has ruined for me any narrow expression of ecclesiology and missiology…but more than that, any narrow understanding of him and what it means to follow him. 

And so with that comment, I break a quiet blog season.  I’ve been in the grave again and now here I am in another new day, thankful for the grace of God which refuses to give up on me.  Stunned that even although I’ve only been faithful in a few small things, he has opened other things to me.  Such is life in the Kingdom.

He is risen…and so am I!