by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches
The New Testament (NT) states that Jesus is the Head of the church (Eph 4:15), and that He is the One who builds His church (Mt 16:18). These statements make it plain that Jesus is the Leader of His church.
The leaders of local churches are those whom the Lord appoints, and through whom He leads the church (1 Pet 5:1-4). The focus of the paper is on the leaders of the local church, however, the understanding that Jesus is the ultimate Leader of every church should not be missed. In the words of Leighton Ford, “Jesus in us continues to lead through us.” 1
The paper assumes that a church must have leadership. The focus of the research is on the kind of leaders that are needed to develop a healthy church. The twin problems that the research seeks to answer are: (1) what is a distinctive type of church leadership, and (2) what is a primary role of church leaders, that are essential for the development of a healthy church?
For the purpose of the paper, “type” is defined as the leadership attribute that characterises church leaders. “Role” is defined as the function of church leaders. And a “healthy church” may be viewed as a modern metaphor for the mature church that Paul spoke about in Ephesians 4:11-13.2
A delimitation of the paper is that it does not include the factor of church polity. The subject of church polity is huge and is beyond the scope of the present research. Finally, the category of leadership viewed in the paper concerns the topmost leadership echelon of the church, regardless of the term that a church may use. In essence, these leaders are equivalent to the elders in the NT churches.3
The paper begins with a brief review of literature on church health models. The purpose is to gain an understanding about the relationship between church leadership and church health. The review is followed by a discussion of the main issues of the paper concerning the type and the role of church leaders that are essential for the development of a healthy church. The research includes a study of the theology, philosophy, and practice of church leadership from the Bible, Christian literature, and practice among churches in Malaysia.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHURCH LEADERSHIP AND CHURCH HEALTH
A review of church health models shows that each model has its own set of church health characteristics. Some characteristics are common to many of the models, while some are only found in a few models, or even unique to a particular model.
The leadership characteristic is found in many church health models. Out of the 14 models the researcher has studied nine have included leadership. However, the way the leadership characteristic is described varies between models, as Table 1: The Leadership Characteristic of Church Health Models below shows.
Getz and Dever stress on the biblical or NT teaching on church leadership. Getz’s focus concerns the spiritual qualifications of church leaders.4 Based on scriptural references such as 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 Getz describes the character and maturity expected of church leaders.5
Dever also gives import to the biblical qualifications of church leaders.6 But he goes beyond the qualifications to note the purpose of church leaders; which is to use their spiritual gifts to edify or build up the church.7 Furthermore, he states that there are four different aspects of leadership; namely, (1) the boss commanding, (2) the out-front example, (3) the supplying of what’s needed, and (4) the serving; and that they are all needed for biblical church leadership.8
Macchia’s stress is on the kind of attribute that should be reflected in church leaders—which for him is, servant leadership.[efn-note]Stephen A. Macchia, Becoming a Healthy Church: 10 Characteristics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 115.[/efn_note] He explains that a servant-leader is one who is led by Jesus, loves those whom he leads and serves, a life-long learner, listens to God and to others, lightens the load of others, empowers a team to pursue a vision, and leaves a legacy by raising others up.9
Callahan’s focus is on the development of a strong leadership team. The kind of leaders (or leadership team) that Callahan envisages; (1) love those they lead, (2) listen to those they love, (3) learn as they listen, and then (4) lead as they love, listen, and learn.10
The remaining five models stress on the role of church leaders to empower believers in the church for ministry and leadership. They may use different terms such as empowering leadership (Schwarz, and Beeson), mobilising leadership (Koster and Wagenveld), and leadership multiplication (EFCA), but essentially, they are concerned about the role of church leaders to empower the believers in the church. Although Searcy does not use any qualifying term for his leadership characteristic, nonetheless, his survey questions disclose that his emphasis is also on the role of the leaders to empower others in the church.11
The foregoing discussion shows that a wholistic understanding of the leadership characteristic encompasses four areas: (1) biblical qualifications, (2) spiritual maturity and character, (3) leadership type, and (4) the role of the leaders in the church.
Only three out of nine models; namely, Getz, Dever, and Koster and Wagenveld, address the first two areas about the biblical qualifications and character of church leaders (see Table 2: The Type of Church Leaders of Church Health Models below).
These two areas do not appear to be the concerns of the other six models. It is likely, although the researcher is unable to cite direct quotes, that proponents of these six models have assumed that church leaders must necessarily be biblically qualified and possess a Christlike character. Their focus is on the type and the role of church leaders.
The researcher observes that they have different views about leadership types, but they have less differences about the role of church leaders. All these become clearer when we scrutinise the details of their models in the following sections of the paper.
In sum, the study of church health models shows that:
(1) The leadership factor is one of the most critical elements that determines the health of a church.
(2) The church leadership characteristic in church health philosophy covers four areas: (i) qualification, (ii) character, (iii) type, and (iv) role.
(3) It may be assumed that church health proponents agree about the biblical qualifications, maturity, and character of church leaders. However, they appear to vary in their understanding about what the distinctive type of church leader should be, and to a lesser extent about the primary role of church leaders.