To justify the existence of leadership in the Body of Christ, some say that it is found throughout the biblical narrative. While it is true that leadership is seen throughout the Bible, we need to recognize that hierarchical leadership is brought to an end in the Body of Christ, except, of course, for Jesus, the Head. While oversight is given to elders, it is carried out through relational and not hierarchical leadership. Each member in the Body is personally and directly accountable to, and directed by, the Head.
Jesus’ leadership does not need intermediate hierarchical leaders. Yes, elders are called upon to teach and admonish among other things, but this is because of their experience and gifting and not any supposed rank. Surely, one might ask, “Doesn’t admonishing require that the one admonishing is above the other?” No, because the word teaches that we are all to admonish one another.
Once we entertain hierarchical leadership, we frustrate the flow of the Spirit in the Body of Christ, which is designed for mutual submission.
But, someone might ask, “Doesn’t Romans 12:8 (and elsewhere) use the word ‘leads’ or ‘rules’ to do with leadership in the Body of Christ?” Yes, however this has some possibilities of meaning and also application. Often a hierarchical interpretation of “leads” or “rules” is how many would read it, because that’s the paradigm they’re used to. However, “leads” or “rules” (Gk. proistēmi) as used here can mean any of these: to set or place before; to set over; to be over, to superintend, preside over; to be a protector or guardian; to give aid; to care for, give attention to; profess honest occupations.
In Hebrews 13:7, 17 and 24 the author speaks of “those who have the rule over you.” “Have the rule over” comes from the Greek word hegeomai which could also have be translated, account for or guides. These latter options are more in keeping with the Spirit and the word of God elsewhere and Jesus’ express prohibition on hierarchical leadership.
In the light of Jesus’ words in Matthew 20:25-27 and 23:2-12, I believe we have no choice in how we interpret these passages. Jesus is not only saying that we mustn’t lord it over one another, but also that we are not to have authority over one another. Simply put, Jesus is saying that we are to serve one another and that He doesn’t want us to have authority over one another.
We do ourselves a disservice by creating positional leadership for God’s gifted men and women in the Body of Christ by turning roles into titles with rank. Experience, calling and gifting has given them knowledge and wisdom to impart and the means to do it, but they have no authority to rule over anyone.
We cannot easily imagine church without rank-style leadership. This is because we are so conditioned to experiencing church being governed in structures like those of this world. You might say, “Surely, having no rank is only for the mature.” Yet, isn’t such a statement a lack of faith in Jesus’ ability to lead His people? Also, just as learning to swim by running won’t help at all, so too, learning to respond to one another in mutual submission cannot be taught properly where rank exists.
(go here for part 5)