On Whose Authority

Addressing the leadership crisis in the Church

The Bible is filled with men and women who were leaders among God’s people. Consider Abraham who led his household into battle against three nations and won. Moses we know led the people of Israel out of Egypt while Joshua led them into the promised land.

In the New Testament John the Baptist had disciples and Jesus we know was the leader of the 12 apostles. Later, after the birth of the church, we see these apostles who were appointed by Jesus as leaders, themselves appointing leaders within local groups. They appointed elders and overseers and in one particular case they appointed men who would be responsible for serving tables.

The question therefore, is not ‘should there be leaders in the church?’ As it is obvious that there should be. The question that needs answering is ‘how do we define leadership?’ The leadership crisis in the church today stems from a wrong understanding of leadership and the way to solve it is not to get rid of leaders but to rightly define what the role is. A big part of the problem stems from our worldly view of leadership. We have egotists who like to tell others what to do and we have others who like to be told what to do.

Here are the questions that need answering:

  1. What is leadership?
  2. Who is a leader?
  3. What qualifies one to be a leader?
  4. Who appoints a leader?
  5. How should a leader lead?
  6. Is there a hierarchy of leadership in the church?
  7. How should we follow?

To begin answering these very important questions let us consider the following scenario.

For whatever reason a person is blinded and unable to see clearly and needs help. Someone seeing their plight steps forward and holds them by the hand with the comforting words, ‘Just follow my instructions and I will take you to safety and away from danger.’ The blinded person submits to the leadership of this person and follows their instructions as well as the inferences of the hand that guides them. This is the picture of Biblical leadership.

1. So, what is leadership?

Leadership is helping others to move from point A to point B. It is service!

“…Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’” Matthew 20:25-28

2. Who is a leader?

The leader is a servant and not an authoritarian dictator. Consider the scenario above and realise that the leader instructs and guides, not command and demand. What is the difference? The instructor waits for willing compliance while the commander demands compliance. Obey or be punished he says. The first is a relationship of trust that is considerate of the individual the second cares more about compliance than it does the person. The first comes alongside while the second considers themself to be above the other.

3. What qualifies one to be a leader?

Some leaders are chosen by God while others are chosen by men. Leaders are/should be chosen based on unique qualities. Some should not be leaders because they are not yet qualified. The qualifications required to become an elder were clearly outlined in Titus 1:5-9.

Qualifications for bishops/overseers and deacons can be found in 1 Timothy 3:1-13.

These guides were put there because elders, bishops/overseers or deacons are chosen by men.

Members of the ‘five fold’ ministry are chosen by God and gifted by Him with special gifts (see Ephesians 3:9-16) For example, the one with the amazing ability to open up the Scriptures and bring understanding received the gift of the teacher and should be allowed to lead accordingly.

The gifted teacher can lead God’s people from point A, a place of ignorance, to point B, the place of understanding. Are you able to identify the people among you with such gifts? Do you desire a position of leadership among God’s people? If yes, do you qualify? Note that in discussing the qualifications of a leader I mentioned nothing about being a graduate of a Bible school or some organized leadership training.

4. Who appoints a leader?

As mentioned earlier, a leader can be chosen by either man or God, who appoints and anoints them is a totally different thing (anointing in the Old Testament usually signifies appointment). If man without God appoints a leader in the church that person’s leadership is void. God can anoint and appoint a leader without the vote of men (see Galatians 1:1) but in such a case those who disapprove can make it very difficult for the individual. Notice that the apostles would not appoint or commission people chosen by men without praying (see Acts 6:6). Why? Because it is in praying that they will discover the will of God, if He is for or against the appointment. The commissioning of Paul and Barnabas took place during worship, praying and fasting (see Acts 13:1-3). First the Holy Spirit chose Paul and Barnabas then told the leaders what to do. They commissioned both these men by instruction and in conjunction with the Holy Spirit. Their prayers and laying on of hands indicated that they acknowledged, agreed with and submitted to the Holy Spirit’s decision.

5. How should a leader lead?

We have many examples of Godly leadership in Scriptures. A very good one is the leadership of the Holy Spirit. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” The Holy Spirit is a helper (John 14:26) and not a dictator. He points us in the right direction and warns us of the dangers of the wrong then allows us to make up our mind. He never forces us. Take a look at His attributes and you will discover that He is kind and gentle (Galatians 5:22) not forceful and abusive. Godly leaders must follow suit.

6. Is there a hierarchy of leadership in the church?

Yes, from God to us, that’s it. God gives the commands we spread the message. God is the only commander in this army. Jesus said, “But none of you should be called a teacher. You have only one teacher, and all of you are like brothers and sisters. Don’t call anyone on earth your father. All of you have the same Father in heaven. None of you should be called the leader. The Messiah is your only leader. Whoever is the greatest should be the servant of the others. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honoured.” Matthew 23:8-12

Note here that Jesus is speaking out against ‘being called’ something which is quite different from actually doing or being something. In other words, do not take on titles. We will have teachers and leaders and we all have fathers but do not go off on caressing men’s egos with lofty titles. We are all equal and on the same level. No superior giving commands or ruling the inferior.

7. How should we follow?

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” Hebrews 13:7-9 (NIV)

“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. Pray for us.” Hebrews 13:17-18 (NIV)

The scenario we started with showed how the leader/follower relationship is important. Choose carefully who you will follow. Trust the one you choose and submit to their leadership for if they are God approved and appointed they will lead you, as they are led by Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), to green pastures and still waters. It will be very rough if there is mistrust. Do not submit to man appointed, unqualified, abusive leaders who are self serving (John 10:13).


Bad leadersGod’s leaders
Lord it overHelp
ControllingAllows for freedom of choice and expression
Cannot be trustedAre trustworthy
Abandons the sheepRemain faithful even through tough times
Are self servingCares about our wellbeing

You MUST read Ezekiel 34:1-10 and John 10:1-30

Bad followers God’s followers
RebelliousSubmissive (Hebrews 13:17)
InconsiderateConsiders their leaders (Galatians 6:6)
Leave it all up to the leaderGives a helping hand in serving others

Read Ezekiel 34:11-31

Article written by: H. Slack