A Short Primer On Church Leadership: Pastor Mike
This was a common practice by those in positions of power and authority to promote their subordinates and assist their rise to power. Paul uses this same method to commend both those who were his assistants and those, like Epaphroditus, who rose to leadership in their local churches. Commendations are consistent in many of Paul’s letters . Paul wrote commendations to endorse certain people to be received as leaders within the churches. Here Paul is lending his own credibility toward the qualifications of those in or aspiring to leadership, and his motive is derived from his burden the churches (2 Cor. 11:28).
Not everyone who Paul commended actually served the church in the capacity of an overseer which today is translated as the pastor. The qualifications for such calling/position are given to us in 1Timothy 3 (which also includes qualifications for deacons) and Titus 1. Paul’s identification of leaders is rather broad in comparison to most of the church’s understanding of church leadership. Paul commended those who were local church leaders, engaged in missionary work, as well as those who traveled as a part of envoys for the collection for the Jerusalem church and letter carriers who transported Paul’s correspondence.
Paul’s letters of commendation provides the church both then and today with a broader view of what a leader looks like and how they are to function within the church.
Common structure of commendation letters in the Greco-Roman divided into three categories: the identification of those being commended, the criteria or qualifications of merit, and a request for hearers/readers to accept those being commended . They worked like our letters of recommendation do today. Paul used the same format in his letters. While space will not allow for a full exposition of all the commendation passages in Paul’s letters, it is enough to identify the location of these commendations, and place the emphasis on the criteria or qualifications for leadership. Not wanting to be without biblical reference, 1 Thessalonians 5 will serve as our primary source.
Many of Paul’s commendations are found in: Romans 16:1-2 (Phobe); 1 Corinthians 16:15-18 (Stephanas and his household); 2 Corinthians 8:16-24 (the envoy to collection funds for the Jerusalem church); Philippians 2:19-24 (Timothy), 2:25-30 Epaphroditus. 4:4:2-3 (Euodia and Syntyche.); Colossians 4:7 (Tychicus). Also, one might make the case that the entire book of Philemon is a commendation for Onesimus.
Paul’s criteria for his commendations for those in leadership were based on the leader’s hard work, sacrificial service and genuine concern for the community . These were the qualifications that Paul consistently used in his different letters when he would write commendations for those engaged in the work of the ministry. He was looking for certain characteristics in people that he might encourage their leadership and influence over their respective churches. Such criteria were contrary to Greco-Roman commendations that placed great emphasis on a person’s social status.
The calling of leadership is that of service (diakonia, Rom 16:1, Col. 4:7, 1 Th. 3:2, 1 Tim 3:2), that is, a ministry that focuses on serving the church and will require of the leader both commitment and sacrifice . Service can be broken down into three areas which are consistent in all of Paul’s commendations; specific to the passage of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 and parallel the actions receiving commendation in 1 Corinthians 16:15-18 . The leader is called to service, through hard work, helping others and providing sound biblical instruction/counsel. Leadership is also in the context of fellowship, which implies imitation and mutual accountability.
Hard work or labor on behalf of the gospel (which is manifested in many different ways) is a marking of service both to the church and the Lord. Paul labored (performed manual labor) so as not to burden the Thessalonian church (1 Thess. 2:9). The manual labor of Paul serves as an analogy for the work of the ministry in the additional references to labor in commendation found in 1 Thessalonians 5.
Secondly, there is the function of helping (proistamenous). 1 Thessalonians 5:12 translates proistamenous as those who “are over you” (NKJV), and this word can be translated “to care for, to help”. The margin in the NASB translation of Romans 12:8 offers a secondary rendering of the translation, those who “gives aid” instead of lead.
Thirdly, the leader was marked as one who would instruct the church community in the things of God. The Greek word nouthetountas brings the concept of counsel to avoid or discontinue course conduct, and can refer to a teaching that addresses the will with a focus on changing behavior .
Not only is the church called to imitate the biblical examples as modeled by Paul (1 Cor. 11:1), but their lives also served a models for others to imitate (Phil. 3:17). This idea of imitation implies koinonia which is translated as communion, fellowship or partnership. Leaders in the church are to exercise their ministry in and for community and in recognition that they are a part of a team . Ministry was to be conducted in partnership, that is the basic understanding of koinonia .
Another requirement for church leadership is that those aspiring to lead must be tested. This parallels one of Paul’s requirements for an overseer; that they are not a novice coupled with the command not to lay hands on someone too soon (1 Tim 3:6, 10). It is necessary to take time to assess a person’s spiritual makeup. Do they have a willingness to serve others, are they engaged in some type of work (either within or outside the church) that demonstrates their concern for the work of the gospel and the church. Can they speak into another’s life in a gracious manner (Col. 4:6)? Approval of leaders is by God, (1 Thess. 2:4), the churches (Phil. 2:2) and in his time, by Paul (2 Cor. 8:22), through the means of experience that teach and demonstrate a person’s worthiness and maturity for church leadership . Leaders go through a seasoning process where they endure hardships which the Holy Spirit uses to qualify His servants.
Lastly is their doctrinal beliefs consistent with orthodox Christianity and how do they handle their views if they different from either the consensus of the church body and/or the teaching ministry of the pastor. How one conducts themselves in doctrinal conflicts indicates the extent of their concern for the people within the church.
Material cited from “Servant Leadership” by Efrain Agosto…