Church as Consensus Activity
By: Rubel Shelly

Respect for Jesus’ teaching on leadership is meant to create consensus activity in a local church. That is, Jesus Christ is the single and only head of his body. He is the singular King over all his subjects. He is the one Lord over all his servants. Anyone who oversees, shepherds, directs, or otherwise leads within his church must learn to lead by consensus (i.e., general agreement, common consent) rather than by coercion (i.e., control, pressure).

That is, no single person or small group within the Body of Christ – whether considered globally, denominationally, or congregationally – should presume to think for, interpret for, and give orders about what to be or do in the life of a church. There are no junior heads, princes, or secondary lords. There is Jesus. There is the rest of us. And there are some among us who have leadership gifts to exercise for the sake of building consensus but never as “lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3).

The church is not called to be a religious corporation with the customary managerial structure of a business; it is called to be a priesthood of all believers that respects the relational nature of the church as family. Yes, families have structure. And there is biblical instruction about how leadership works in a family setting. But neither in the church nor in a family is leadership to be understood as autocratic, authoritarian, or oppressive. Both are to be thought of and applied in terms of humility and nurturing, guidance and empowering. Godly leadership in a church will always be committed to the development and deployment of the natural and Spirit-provided gifts of its members, not the protection of its own turf or authority. Their love for Christ is just so genuine and obvious that other believers who see their godliness naturally follow them.

An elder or presbyter (Gk, presbyteros) is simply a mature, godly man whose character over time makes him a worthy example to other believers. A shepherd or pastor (Gk, poimen) is someone who feeds, nurtures, and otherwise tends to the needs of God’s flock. An overseer or bishop (Gk, episkopos) is one who pays attention to, supervises, and otherwise provides guidance for the activity of the larger group. Not one of these biblical terms is hierarchical or smacks of a pecking-order within a power structure. They are functional roles in the life of a church that hardly resemble what our culture makes us think of as an “office” or “position of authority.”

So let's spend some time studying a key text on how leadership is supposed to function in a congregation of God's people. That text is Ephesians 4:1-16