by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches
THE TYPE OF CHURCH LEADERS NEEDED FOR A HEALTHY CHURCH
The first part of the research question is, “What is a distinctive type of church leadership that is needed to develop healthy churches?” By “type” we mean the leadership attribute that characterises church leaders.
The fourth column in Table 2 below presents the views of six (out of nine) church health models about the type of leaders that are needed to develop healthy churches. They appear to differ with one another, if not in substance, then, in the way they describe the leadership attribute of church leaders.
Before we analyse their descriptions, it is essential that we first ascertain NT teaching on the attributes of church leaders.
New Testament Teaching on the Attributes of Church Leaders
Christian leadership characteristics were both demonstrated and taught by NT church leaders like Paul and Peter. One such NT leadership characteristic is “leadership by example”, which Paul demonstrated during his missionary endeavour in Thessalonica (1 Thess 1:5-6). He also exhorted Timothy to do the same (1 Tim 4:12, 15-16). Likewise, Peter prodded the elders to be “examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:3b).
Another NT leadership characteristic is “firm leadership” as seen in the strong words that Paul used to correct the church in Corinth (1 Cor 5:9-11) and Galatia (Gal 1:6-9). He also told Timothy to be firm in his teaching (1 Tim 4:11), and to correct those who had erred (1 Tim 6:17).
Yet another NT leadership characteristic is “caring leadership”. Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians was “like a mother caring for her children” (1 Thess 2:7), and like a father who provided support, comfort, and encouragement to his children (v11-12).
The last-mentioned reference suggests another means of understanding NT church leadership characteristic—through the use of imageries. Paul’s application of the imageries of a mother’s and a father’s relationship with their children, in reference to his relationship with the Thessalonians, illuminates the kind of relationship church leaders ought to have with the members.
The imageries also inform us of the motivation and the role of church leaders. That is, they are to be motivated by love (1 Thess 2:7-8), and their role is to nurture and encourage believers in the things of God (v11-12). Thomas Chin calls this “Father Leadership.”1
Closely related to the nuance of the parent imagery to characterise church leaders is the often-used biblical imagery of the shepherd. Peter applied the imagery to the elders when he addressed them about their responsibility to believers whom he called “God’s flock” (1 Pet 5:2). Paul used it when he gave his farewell discourse to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (Acts 20: 28).
As shepherds, church leaders are to exemplify the leadership characteristic of caring for their flock by feeding, guiding, and protecting those under their charge; thus, ensuring that the latter are spiritually healthy.
A third imagery is that of a servant. Peter told the elders that they were to be “eager to serve; not lording over those entrusted to you” (1 Pet 5:2b-3a). Some have termed this as “servant-leadership”. In contemporary leadership and management teaching, the concept of servant-leadership or servant-leader is attributed to Robert K. Greenleaf.2 Church health proponents such as Macchia,3 and Koster and Wagenveld4 agree that such an attribute ought to mark church leaders.
It is unsurprising that the abovementioned imageries of leadership; parent, shepherd, and servant; were used of Jesus. They were both self-applied and applied on Him by others.
When the Lord lamented the duplicity of Jerusalem, He said He had come to them like a mother hen gathering her chickens under her wings (Lk 13:33)—which is reminiscent of the parent imagery.
Jesus used the shepherd imagery as He painted a picture of His relationship with His followers (Jn 10:11). Peter also identified Jesus as the Chief Shepherd in 1 Peter 5:4 to whom the shepherds of the church, the elders, were accountable to for the discharge of their leadership responsibilities.
Jesus applied the servant imagery when He told the disciples that He “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45). At the event of the Last Supper He took on the role of a lowly servant and washed the feet of the disciples (Jn 13:1-17).
If Jesus as the Leader of the church exhibited these leadership attributes, it is incumbent then that His appointed leaders in the church also exhibit the same attributes.