Hebrews 13:7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith… 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Most church consultants will tell you that a major cause of congregational conflict revolves around the issue of “who’s in charge?” The game “king of the hill” is often played as different parties display a variety of power plays. The players or tactics vary but results are similar. It may be a passive resistance movement by a block of people that hunker down in sullen determination or it might be a church boss that asserts his dominance. In the book, Pastors Are People Too, one of the contributors described his experience.

Deacon Clay… was the “model deacon.” He was the kind of leader who was always out front pointing the way. He led the way when it came to mowing the lawn. He led the way in deciding the spiritual direction of Harmony Chapel. He lead the way in deciding who would be granted membership in the church. In fact, there was not a single thing about Harmony Chapel; in which Deacon Clay did not lead the way, including his efforts to control and dominate the life of the pastor. It was his greatest desire in life that I should be, in a sense, his personal assistant. If he couldn’t clone me, he wanted to pull all my strings.

Many churches have Deacon Clays. They probably aren’t deacons (who often get an unfair rap), they are just people who have come to believe that they know a better direction for the church to go. As a consequence, they begin to challenge the pastor’s leadership. After that we have power grabs and holy wars.

If we are not careful, complaining people can easily become an Absalom at the gate, stealing away the hearts of those in the congregation. Like King David’s son, it is easy for some to begin to think that things would be different if they were in charge, that they are the answer to the problem. Some are tempted to think they are more “in touch” than the pastor. When they discover there’s support for their way of thinking they can become the catalyst for a power struggle or church split.”A key question that every church needs to ask is this: When it comes to leadership, what is the role of the pastor? According to the Bible, pastors are neither hired hands nor are they mere chaplains. They are leaders.

The leadership position of the pastor is clear from the title “overseer.” Just as Christ is the Overseer of all believers, so pastors are overseers of their local church (I Pet. 5:1-4). Serving as supervisors, they are to “manage” (I Tim. 3:5) and “rule” (I Tim. 5:17) the church.

Pastors aren’t the only leaders in churches but, under the authority of Jesus Christ, pastors are the key leaders. And under the Lordship of Christ, the flock should follow their pastors. This is not only biblical, it is practical. Studies have demonstrated that churches that disregard that principle stymie their health and growth.

Leadership styles will differ. Each pastor has been crafted uniquely by God and no church is identical to another. A wise pastor will study his situation and use an approach that works for him and them.

That doesn’t legitimatize every style. With regard to leadership temptations, pastors must carefully maneuver through two contrasting hazards. First, they must not abdicate their role as overseers. This is as irresponsible as husbands who fail to be the head of their home. The opposite danger is using their position to exhibit dictatorial attitudes. Pastors are not to “lord it over” the church (I Pet. 5:3). They are to model the same servant leadership style exhibited by Christ (Luke 22:26).

For effectiveness and harmony, there needs to be both leadership and ownership. Churches need to submit to the leadership of pastors and pastors must recognize that the body as a whole retains ownership of the church’s direction.

How does all this work practically on the organizational level? Pastors (elders) serve as the overseers of the church. The deacons work with them as managers of various watchcare ministries. The members are to respond to this leadership team with obedience and respect. Simultaneously, leaders must recognize their need to be accountable to the body. The unaccountable Christian is particularly vulnerable to a number of hazards.

For leaders, mutual accountability should also be practiced on the board level. This is true whether the composition is deacons or elders. For churches that just have a deacon board, it is important to recognize that even though God has placed deacons under the leadership of pastors, those in both positions should still exhibit a submissive spirit towards each other.

To protect the leadership board from internal “power plays,” it is wise to nail down the proper role relationships. The senior pastor is to be the leader of leaders not only with his staff but also within the board (whether it consists of deacons or elders). No one board member, including the chairman, should attempt to usurp the senior pastor’s authority. But when they collectively make a decision that is consistent with Scripture, all the participants, even the lead pastor, should be submissive.

In conclusion, churches should give overseers freedom to “lead” them. And pastors should give churches respect by determining to heed their impressions of how God is directing. This model provides both protection and productivity. With regard to protection, this model guards a church from dictatorial leaders. Productivity is provided because this model releases the strong leadership that is needed for a church to maximize its growth and health.

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