The Mark of a Leader
Num 11:29 – But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit upon them all!”
One of the greatest challenges for the church today is to have the willingness and heart to rediscover the truth about many of the beliefs, practices and institutions we have come to accept as sacrosanct today but which have little or no grounding in the Bible. This has become possible as believers tend to rely ever increasingly on “anointed” persons of the cloth to feed them the Word of God rather than to search it out for themselves. This is not to suggest that church leaders are necessarily less than integrous persons who would intentionally mislead their flocks. Rather it is a reminder that we are all ultimately responsible for what we believe and practice within the faith. If we suffer spiritual loss (1 Cor 3:15) in the final judgment because we held faulty or misguided beliefs we will not be allowed to point a finger at some pastor or teacher or someone else hoping to defer responsibility and be excused.
Scripture refers to both the milk and the meat of the Word. The message conveys that babes use milk and are unskilled in the word while mature students of the Word are into the meat and are thereby exercising discernment. No one of course disparages babes desiring the milk of the Word that they might grow thereby. The problem arises from persons remaining babes in the Word far beyond their years. Persons who rely on others to explain and interpret the Word of God for them are basically still on the milk. They haven’t proven anything for themselves. The meat of the Word is for those who have disciplined themselves in the Word and have allowed the Holy Spirit to teach them. One of the fundamental ministries of the Holy Spirit is reminding us of all the things that Jesus taught and said and leading us into all truth. Failing to pursue disciplined study in the Word of God is to functionally deny the Holy Spirit. The Bereans are our paradigm in this as they responded to Paul’s teaching by searching the Scriptures daily to ascertain whether the things Paul taught were true.
Another problem that arises from our insouciant attitude in proving the Word is in adopting the belief that the way we interpret Scripture (beliefs and practices) today is the same as the early believers in the faith. This is what I call retro-hermeneutics—backward interpretation or reading our understanding into the Word rather than allowing the Word to speak its truth to us. I believe this has happened with regard to church leadership today—the subject of our current article. Words such as bishop, pastor, elder, deacon, etc. have rather specific meanings for most Christians today as these terms are used within their respective fellowships. The problem we can run into is in assuming our definitions are the same that were understood by our pristine brothers and sisters in the faith. I want to demonstrate through this article that there has most definitely been a major misconstruing of the understanding of biblical leadership down through the centuries resulting in significant spiritual loss to the church today.
The roots of this misapprehending go back at least as far as to Moses’ leadership of Israel in the days of the wilderness wanderings. It appears that Moses reached a point of being overburdened with leading and attempting to satisfy the desires of the children of Israel at which time the Lord decided to spread his responsibilities among another seventy persons by putting on them the same spirit with which Moses was endowed. When the seventy elders were summoned, two of them failed to present themselves with the rest at the tabernacle. However, when God placed his spirit upon those present, he also endowed the two still remaining in the camp resulting in all seventy of the elders prophesying. At this point we witness Joshua’s response reflecting a fundamental misunderstanding of true biblical leadership.
Since we don’t have a detailed biblical account of exactly how Joshua felt and what his attitudes were, we have to apply our best inference based on what we do have. It appears Joshua was offended on behalf of Moses over the failure of the two elders to present themselves at the tabernacle with the others. He pleaded with Moses to forbid them to participate in the same anointing shared by the others—“My lord Moses, forbid them.” Moses response to this was to basically remind Joshua of an eternal truth—that God’s desire was to pour out his Spirit on all, to manifest his presence, power and purpose through all his people.
The trap that Joshua had fallen into was in defining ministry more in terms of position and title than in its functionality. Joshua had served as a direct aide to Moses for some time and no doubt had developed strong feelings of respect, honor and admiration for him. He no doubt felt highly protective of Moses as well. In Moses’ response to Joshua’s taking offense, he says the following–“Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!” The Hebrew word used here for “jealous” is a rather strong term and can often include the additional meaning of anger.
I believe Joshua’s response of possible angry jealousy reflects his misguided concept of biblical leadership as well as a rather normal pattern of basing one’s sense of significance on what one does and what others think. By elevating Moses’ stature Joshua was by association also boosting his own. All persons have a basic need for significance. At the risk of over simplification, one either discovers worthiness and value legitimately in relationship with Christ or by necessity finds it through performance and the evaluation of others. Knowing one’s significance in Christ comes about through life processes that always involve the principle of the cross. It requires the dying to self and the absolute knowing oneself beloved of the Father. Unfortunately many believers are circumventing the cross and attempting to find their worthiness illegitimately through what they do and what others think.
When this is true in the church, the whole concept of leadership becomes corrupted and we move from a flat hegemonic structure to one that is hierarchical in nature. Jesus made it quite plain when he instructed his disciples to avoid the world’s paradigm of leadership which basically practiced a lording it over others. In Matthew’s account of James and John desiring special position with Christ in his kingdom, the remaining disciples were incensed. What we see here is an obvious misguided attempt to gain a greater sense of worth and value through positional elevation. Jesus’ response was to focus the disciples on the functional reality of ministry by using two significant terms—minister and slave! The Greek word for “minister” is the same word we translate as “deacon.” However, Jesus’ use of the term has nothing to do with position or title but rather functionally as one who faithfully attends to the needs of others. Jesus actually demonstrated this teaching later in the upper room when he clothed himself with a towel and washed the disciples’ feet. All of this would have been extremely meaningful to the disciples since they were part of a culture that placed heavy emphasis on differentiating classes of people with a focus on graduated ranking.
The church today has fundamentally corrupted the meaning of many biblical leadership terms. When the Bible uses terms such as deacon, elder, bishop, pastors, etc. it is speaking principally of orientation and motivation, not titles and positions. These terms simply help us understand the unctions of the Holy Spirit as placed upon different individuals. They demonstrate how persons function ministerially within the body of Christ. In the beginning of the church, pastors were simply persons anointed and gifted by the Lord with shepherding motivations for the flock of God. They didn’t rule over the church or manifest express “preaching” talents or duties. Persons in the early church were considered elders or deacons or pastors because the body recognized God’s gifting and anointing in their lives as these persons flowed naturally in their callings. There were no official designations which set persons apart from or over others in the body.
When the church chooses to mark out certain individuals with titles setting them apart positionally from others in the body, it does great harm to the reality and functioning of the priesthood of believers as taught in Scripture. The church has fundamentally created a bifurcation of believers within the body, effectively separating them into a clergy/laity grouping of those who minister and those who don’t. Scripture is abundantly clear that God’s intent is that all believers are endowed with the Holy Spirit and carry within them his potential ministry to the body of Christ. Additionally, believers are charged with the responsibility—when they gather as the body of Christ—to come prepared to bring inspired ministry to the body (1 Cor 14:26). All believers share this responsibility for edifying or building up the body of Christ.
Our present unbiblical system of creating a clergy class of ministry destroys all incentive for God’s original intent and effectively dissolves the priesthood of believers. All those years ago Moses had caught the heart of God in seeing how the Lord desired to anoint many for service within the body. As “special” as Moses was in how God used him to lead the children of Israel, he harbored no possessiveness in ministry. He delighted in the idea that God would use many others in the same manner in which God used him. As greatly as God used Moses in his purpose, Moses almost never saw himself as someone who was unique and set apart from the others. I say “almost never” because Moses did falter at one juncture in his ministry when he chose to strike the rock for water rather than follow the Lord’s direction to “speak” to the rock. In doing so Moses shifted the focus of Israel from God to himself, in essence usurping the glory of God. For this indiscretion, Moses lost the privilege of leading the children of Israel into the Promised Land.
Later as Joshua was chosen to take the place of Moses before Israel, he would fully absorb the quintessence of biblical leadership. Verse six of Joshua 1 as rendered in the ESV of the Bible says this–Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. “Inheriting the land” may be the strongest biblical metaphor we have for describing the full stature life in Christ—that for which Christ came and died to make available to all who would follow him fully into the Kingdom of God. Without title, or position, or any other special recognition, this is the biblical and eternal mandate of every believer—to minister under the auspicious of the Holy Spirit to help bring other believers fully into conformity to the life of Christ. A calling which requires strength and courage as illustrated so poignantly in Joshua 1 as the phrase is repeated not less than three times in that chapter.