Blog - Supporting Believers

Church-from-Scratch: Leadership (Part 5)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"If you could create it from scratch,” a reader wrote, "what would a church look like that fully embodied a proper theology of work and really empowered its members to be ministers in the workplace?” This is the fifth blog in a series responding to this question.

In another email, the same reader asked about "the governance structure of the from-scratch church.” No pat answer will do here. The Old Testament lays down precise arrangements and rules for the priesthood. But New Testament directions for church leadership are far less structured and more open to interpretation. Even so, I believe its instructions and practices offer some wisdom for those who wish to build the theology of work into the DNA of a church-from-scratch.

First, the instructions. When Paul counseled Timothy on selecting a church overseer, he stressed—in addition to the ability to teach—character qualifications (I Tim. 3:1-7). But along with integrity in personal and family matters, the candidate was to "have a good reputation with outsiders” (v. 7). A bad reputation opens a door for the devil’s activity.

Two observations here. First, Paul seems to take it for granted that the overseer will mingle with people outside the church—and enough to earn a "reputation.” I took part in a meeting of church leaders in which the speaker challenged us to pray in pairs for non-Christian acquaintances. The pastor-friend seated next to me said, "I don’t know any unbelievers.” What better way to build a solid reputation with unbelievers than to have regular and frequent contact with them? The workplace generously supplies opportunities to nurture relationships with "outsiders.” Jesus and Paul had carpenter and tentmaker reputations respectively.

Second, the practices. The writings of Luke (in Acts), Paul, and Peter all reflect a pattern of plural church leadership. Having multiple overseers/elders/shepherds opens the door not only to a diversity of giftedness but also to a wealth of occupational experiences. A shepherding team that includes some from the work world can offer teaching with fresh-from-the-front-lines illustrations of the dilemmas and opportunities other believers face in that arena.

Church history tells of leaders who also worked with outsiders in non-church work. In Liberating the Laity, R. Paul Stevens quotes from Roland Allen’s The Case for the Voluntary Clergy. For example, at the close of the fourth century, it is recorded that Zeno, Bishop of Gaza, "by pursuing his trade of weaving linen, continued to earn the means of supplying his own wants and of providing for others.” One decree from the Fourth Council of Carthage says, "Let a cleric however learned in the word of God get his livelihood by a craft.”

Stevens, also in Liberating the Laity, tells how after 25 years as a pastor, he took a job as a carpenter. Why? He says, "what gripped my conscience were the areas that I had not yet applied to myself. One such area was that I had never supported myself in ministry by the work of my own hands or mind.” Looking back on his five years as a carpenter, he writes, "Unless we equip the laity to live all of life for God, Christianity will degenerate into mere religion. I had to learn that true spirituality is hammering nails for God and praying before a precise saw cut.”

My own experience confirms the value of workplace experience for church leadership. I worked as a state employee for 11 years, then as a self-employed business owner for 17 years—serving as a church elder for much of that time. For eight of those years, I continued the business while planting a church and serving as its pastor. Over time, the church picked up an increasing share of our support. I eventually went on the church payroll full time, remaining in that role for another 13 years. The best years, were those in which my work put me in regular contact and relationships with both those inside and those outside the church.

To sum up: I believe the New Testament leaves room for a church-from-scratch to adopt a governance structure that best fits its unique context. I also think that to integrate the theology of work into its DNA, the church would be wise to have a plural leadership team that includes those with experience in the workplace. They should not only be able to teach but should also be given the opportunity to do so—often.

Comments (3)

Christian Overman (12/11/2012 10:48:21 AM)
Great stuff, Larry! Start a church!
Gordon Preece (12/11/2012 12:21:57 PM)
A terrific piece Larry that matches my own convictions from Scripture. i haven't heard it put so well before in terms of the link between working in the world and the requirement of a good reputation with outsiders. Enjoying this whole series.
Laxshmi Jaskaran (12/14/2012 3:49:18 AM)
Hello Sir,
The leadership of the the church plays a vital part. I believe the servant-leadership plus TOW [theology-of-work] courses can transform the lives of God's people. When we serve and work with the right attitude as the church gathered and the church scattered, God's will is accomplished on the earth. Indeed our reputation with outsiders should always be above reproach.

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