Tag Archives: church organization

Later Leadership Language in the NT Church

With the close of the first Christian century the office of apostle seems to have died out and prophets have become increasingly rare. Well before then, charismatic leadership was increasingly replaced with appointed leadership. Timothy and Titus are excellent examples. As a successor of the apostles, Timothy was ordained both by a council of elders (1 Tim 4:13-15) and by Paul himself (2 Tim 1:6) to leadership over multiple churches (see 1 Tim 5:17-22). Titus not only exercised authority over multiple churches, he also appointed elders and overseers to guide them (Tit 1:5-7). But although Timothy and Titus functioned like apostles, they were not themselves called apostles. The second generation of leadership functioned under three titles in particular.

(episkopos– overseer)
The term episkopos was a common title in the ancient world for someone “who watches over,” therefore it is often translated “overseer.” It means something like “supervisor,” a position of responsibility within a wide range of contexts and applications, “one who has the responsibility of seeing that something is done the right way.” In the non-biblical context episkopos was associated with very specific responsibilities, in today’s terms, the title came with a job description. There can be an element of service and caring relationship in the broad usage of the term.

The word occurs only three times in the New Testament (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7) and the related noun episkopē (evpi,skoph) occurs twice (1 Tim. 3:1 and Acts 1:20). 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:5-7 offer a lengthy list of qualifications and disqualifications for those holding the office, things like gentleness and ability to teach while avoiding arrogance and greed. There is very little overlap in the two lists so the job description had not yet been standardized in Paul’s lifetime. Overseers had the same qualifications as deacons (compare 1 Tim. 3:2-7 with 1 Tim. 3:8-12), with the one exception that they must be “able to teach.”

(presbuteros– elder)
Presbuteros refers to someone of relatively advanced age in comparison with others. Elders, as a leadership group, existed as far back as patriarchal times in the Old Testament. Based on usage within Judaism and also in the Greco-Roman world, presbuteros became a major title for church leaders in Jerusalem (the apostles and the elders– Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4) and much more widely throughout the Empire later on (1 Tim. 5:17; Tit. 1:5; Heb. 11:2; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1). It usually occurs in the plural, suggesting that elders did not normally function alone, but as part of a ruling council. A heavenly version of such a council is found frequently in the Book of Revelation. According to 1 Timothy 5:17-18, elders were normally paid for their efforts, which implies that they were to have a full-time focus on their ministry. While not all elders engaged in teaching, many did. They may have been somewhat equivalent to congregational pastors today.

To some degree the titles of overseer and elder seem to be used interchangeably, as a comparison of 1 Timothy 3:2-7; 5:17-18 and Titus 1:5-7 indicate. According to Acts 20:17-35, the overseers and elders together are the guardians of the traditions of the apostles. Having said this, however, episkopos in Timothy and Titus is always in the singular and presbuteros is always in the plural, which would suggest that the overseer has a top leadership function. So it is likely that overseers were drawn from the council of elders as their leadership qualities were recognized.

(diakonos, deacon)
The term diakonos in the ancient world designated a person who served at tables or took care of other people. There are many terms for service in the Greek, but diakonos particularly emphasizes the personal touch, a one-on-one kind of service. It was widely used for an intermediary or a courier, so like apostolos there is a sense of delegation. But serving others was not highly regarded in the ancient world; ruling, not serving was what brought dignity to a man. So the use of this term for leadership in the church went strongly against the culture of the time.

Diakonos is used in the New Testament, first of all, for Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:8), the ultimate diakonos. All human ideas of greatness were reversed when the Son of God Himself not only served at table (John 13:13-17; 21:11-13) but laid down His life for His friends (John 15:13). The Christian diakonos learns the position by serving Jesus and following Him (Luke 22:24-27; John 12:26).

Over time the word naturally came into wide Christian usage for individuals singled out for special ministerial service in Christian communities (see Rom. 16:1; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 12), but these texts do not tell us much about the nature of the office. Evidently, both men and women were permitted to serve as deacons (Rom. 16:1).The original task of the deacon may have been to assist overseers in their work of caring for the church. It is possible that early Christians built on the synagogue model which had a “head of the congregation” (archisunagôgos) and an assistant, who was called a hupēretēs rather than a diakonos.

The office of deacon is often thought to have been established in the early Jerusalem Church by the direction of Peter in Acts 6. But the title diakonos does not appear in the chapter, instead the verb form (Acts 6:2, 4) and a related noun form (diakoni,a–  diakonia: Acts 6:1) are used. The seven “deacons” selected in Acts 6 all have Greek names and function more like apostles than deacons. But since they were appointed so that the apostles would not neglect “prayer” and “the ministry (diakonia) of the word,” it may be inferred that the office of deacon came to focus more on the social and practical side of ministry than the teaching-oriented roles of overseer and elder.

It is clear from these titles that the New Testament church valued service above dominance or “power over” when it came to leadership. But the question remains of how the early church eventually moved away from the servant characteristics of leadership to more structured and hierarchical models.

Early Leadership Language in the NT Church

In the earliest church, shortly after the death and resurrection of Christ, leadership was charismatic rather than appointed. In other words, people emerged as leaders because they were particularly close to Jesus while He was on earth and/or the church sensed a special working of God in their lives (see Acts 1:15-26 for example). Over time these charismatic leaders became known by the titles apostle and prophet.

According to Luke 11:47-50, the ancestors of the scribes and Pharisees killed the (Old Testament) prophets (verses 47-48), just as the scribes and Pharisees would kill the “prophets and apostles” that God sent to them (verses 49-50). So both apostles and prophets in the New Testament are the successors of the Old Testament prophets (see also Eph 2:19-22). The apostles and prophets together were agents of God’s revelation to the fledgling church. As such, they naturally became the leaders of the first generation of believers in Christ.

(apostolos– apostle)
The root meaning of “apostle” concerns one who is “dispatched for a specific purpose,” a messenger or ambassador of some kind. The status of such an “apostle” depends on the status of the one who sends him or her (John 13:16). The “apostle” can be simply a messenger between ordinary individuals. But when the “apostle” is sent by a king or by God, his or her status becomes extraordinary. It is as if the sender is present in the person of the one sent. The title “apostle” is rare in Greek outside the uniquely Christian context.

In the New Testament, therefore, the apostle is highly honored by other believers as a special envoy direct from God. In the fullest sense, Jesus is the ultimate apostle (Heb. 3:1-2), in Him the definitive revelation of God has taken place (Heb. 1:1-3). All other apostles derive their authority from Him. These became the pre-eminent leaders of the church after the ascension of Christ. Although the term originally applied to the twelve disciples alone (Matt. 10:2; Mark 3:14; Luke 22:14, cf. Acts 1:26), the body of apostles eventually extended beyond the twelve to include Paul (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:1, etc.),  Barnabas (Acts 14:14; 15:2), James (brother of Jesus– Gal. 1:19)  and others (Rom. 16:7).

The office of apostle required some sort of direct calling from the New Testament Jesus, in Paul’s case a call to reach out to the Gentiles (Acts. 9:15; Eph. 3:1, 8). Powerful leaders of the second generation, such as Apollos and Timothy, who did not have a direct call from Jesus, are not called apostles (1 Cor. 3:3-9; 2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; 1 Thess. 3:2). So the office seems to have been limited to the first generation of Jesus’ followers (1 Cor. 15:8). The duties of the office centered on traveling from place to place proclaiming what the apostle had experienced with Jesus (1 Cor. 9:1, 5; Eph. 3:5). In the process apostles would found and administer new churches (1 Cor. 15:10-11; Eph. 2:20). They would appoint elders to head up those churches but would retain an authoritative role over them.

(prophêtês– prophet)
The Greek root of “prophet” is a compound word, combining a Greek word for “speaking” with the prefix “pro” which is ambiguous in meaning. It can mean “speaking openly” or publically, much like preaching. But it can also mean “speaking ahead of time” or “in advance.”

We see New Testament prophets at work in the Book of Acts (Acts 11:27-30; 15:30-32; 21:10-14). Their messages were accepted as authoritative by the church and an obedient response was expected, so prophets had a significant leadership role in the earliest church. At the same time the church struggled in one case with just how to apply the prophetic message to a specific situation (Acts 21:12-14).

It is interesting that although Paul speaks prophetically to the churches (1 Cor. 14:6), he never calls himself a “prophet.” This suggests that the designation “apostle” includes the gifts and activities of the prophet and more (2 Cor. 12:1-7: Eph. 3:3-7). Apostles and prophets are equal when it comes to being the objects of direct revelation. But the apostle’s authority is even greater than the prophet because of the special commission of leadership and the unique relationship in time to the first-century Christ-event. The apostles were more directive while the prophets led by influence.

With the close of the first Christian century the office of apostle seems to have died out and prophets have become increasingly rare. Well before then, charismatic leadership was increasingly replaced with appointed leadership. We’ll look more at that in my next blog.

How the Organized Church Changes, Part 5 (Conclusion)

In the previous blogs Dave Thomas showed how religious entities shift from movements to institutions. One of the key elements of that shift is the move from persuasive power to coercive power. That shift is not planned, but tends to happen because coercive power is more efficient and gets things done. But when managerial power is applied to matters of faith and belief, it tends to produce compliance and duplicity rather than genuine faith. In this concluding blog, Thomas offers some implications of his study for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. (Jon Paulien)

Any essentially voluntary organization that makes the shift from invitation to mandate in matters of faith brings about a subtle but substantial change in its own nature. It moves, without careful consideration, away from the idea of church as a community of believers toward a hierarchical concept of church as a sanctified organization where centralized power is seen to be essential. In a community of believers, a “problem” is an occasion for fellowship and exhortation and discussion and invitation, for messy interactions. In an organization, it is time to find a policy by way of which compliance or non-compliance can be measured and action taken. And once that kind of shift takes place in a religious movement, it is not very long before “orthodoxy” and “heresy” get defined and life becomes very difficult for those who dissent. In so many cases, this is the very dynamic that, in the course of Christian history, brought death to those who dissented at the hands of those who persuaded themselves that by destroying the dissenters, they were only doing the work of God.

While researching this topic some time ago, I happened upon mention of a fascinating study, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, written by Walter Bauer back in 1934. According to Alistair McGrath, who cites this study, the conclusion Bauer came to is that, at least in the early Christian Church Abasic unity did not seem to be located at the level of doctrines, but at the level of relationship with the same Lord. Christian unity lay in the worship of the same Lord, rather than in the formal statement of doctrine (which is how ‘orthodox’ tends to be divined).” (Alistair McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed. (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 113) Bauer goes on to claim that, Aa variety of views which were tolerated in the early church gradually began to be regarded with suspicion by the later church. An orthodox consensus began to emerge, in which opinions that had once been tolerated were discarded as inadequate.@

The operative question immediately becomes one of how this orthodox consensus developed. Bauer=s answer is quite striking, that A>orthodoxy= was the result of the growing power of Rome, which increasingly came to impose its own views upon others, using the term >heresy= to refer to views it rejected.@ In other words, as the Bishop of Rome=s infrastructure-driven power increased, he was able to transition from invitation to mandate. He was able to take more and more initiative to himself and his office and he was able to apply greater and more substantial penalties to those who dissented. This is what brought Bauer to his conclusion, that Athe difference between orthodoxy and heresy often seems arbitrary.@ It appears to be more a derivation of the opinions of those in power than anything else. It is by this process that the Church of Rome grew to such prominence.

Clearly, the rise and role of infrastructure, how it functions and what power it grants to a few, is something that needs very careful thought in believing communities. While necessary, infrastructure in church cannot be left to function like infrastructure in for-profit companies. Is infrastructure using up too many resources? Is it limiting growth by being too fixed? Is it in harmony with an appropriate ecclesiology? Is it giving too much power to too few people? And is the power produced by infrastructure being used for management issues or is it broadly being called upon to also settle matters of belief and commitment? More pertinent to our setting, where is the Seventh-day Adventist Church in all of this? How far along in the Organizational Life-cycle are we? And what kind of language are we using to describe ourselves? How is managerial power being used? And how do we perceive organizational structure, as some kind of missional necessity, or as something quasi-sacred in and of itself? All of these things warrant careful thought and reflection. They warrant our best and collective attentions lest we thoughtlessly transition away from being a mission-driven “community of believers” to something else that probably ought not even to be named among the faithful.

How the Organized Church Changes, Part 4

In the previous blog Dave Thomas explores how an entity like a church changes from a movement to an institution with a large infrastructure. The infrastructure is created for the sake of efficiency in pursuit of the mission. But over time the infrastructure itself can become a mechanism that changes the mission. How the mission changes is explored in the following by Dave Thomas. (Jon Paulien).

The establishment of organizational infrastructure has three effects. First, it sets itself up in competition for resources that would otherwise have gone to frontline mission. Secondly, it places employees in among the volunteers who then tend to dilute their volunteerism because there are now paid people to do the work. And, thirdly, and most importantly to this paper, the appearance and growth of infrastructure produces and makes available managerial or administrative power to those who have charge of the infrastructure. These three things– competition for resources, the appearance of paid personnel, and the rise of managerial/administrative power– become the elements that affect or determine the future of an organization. While the first two items are important and quite interesting, this paper is going to look only at the third one, the rise of administrative power, for it bears most directly on the subject of unconsidered ecclesiological change.

Probably the best way to delve into this is to observe that, in the early stages of an organization, the leaders who originally articulate the vision have no administrative power. The have only the power of persuasion, exhortation, encouragement, prayer, personal appeal and personal example all of which depend on the voluntary compliance of adherents to achieve their desired ends. Early leaders have to win the goodwill of the people. They have to bring followers to the point of willing consent. But the appearance of infrastructure brings with it a very different dynamic for it introduces and very quickly brings to bear, a new kind of power that is of a different sort. Administrative power is very efficient, it is immediately available to leaders and leaders only, and it operates by something other than persuasion. Administrative power does not necessarily have to concern itself with the voluntary commitments of those who come under its jurisdiction. It has the power of policy and is able to use the prospect of penalty as motivation.

This difference between persuasion power and coercive power is very important to explore. When a charismatic leader encounters a problem, it is time for visitation, persuasion, exhortation, appeal, invitation, prayer, even tears. Early leaders have to rely on this kind of power even though it is not very efficient and may require time and muddling along to achieve its purposes. Its primary strength is that it elicits the willing compliance of adherents. But the emergence of managerial power makes for a very different scenario. Rather than having to expend time and effort trying to persuade, a manager may go directly to policy by way of which compliance or non-compliance can then be determined. After that, decision-making can be rather straightforward, willing compliance or not.

The temptation to use administrative power can be considerable because it offers the prospect of very quick resolution, it is “fair” in that it applies “across the board,” and it usually requires relatively little deliberation so can be applied quickly which means the “problem” is resolved and the organization can get on to other things. When a religious organization is careful to limit the use of managerial power to issues of infrastructure, life can be very good. But when it allows for a generous expansion of the use of managerial power to include also matters that pertain to belief and faith, it likely enters a whole new arena. History shows that the temptation to broaden managerial power expansively is a temptation that is very difficult to resist. In far too many cases, leaders have succumbed quite readily to the temptation to use managerial power to deal with ideological and belief issues. Discrepancies over doctrine and belief and commitment can be very challenging and messy and prolonged in resolution, so administratively powerful leaders face the great temptation of looking at belief issues as management issues that could be settled not by argumentation, discussion, or persuasion but by appealing to policy after which compliance and non-compliance can be measured. After that, the path to resolution can be very short.

When a religious movement accepts or allows this shift to take place broadly, when it allows for matters of faith and belief to be treated as matters of policy and management, at its heart it transitions away from invitation to coercion replacing the power of persuasion with that of requirement. Instead of calling for assent, it calls for compliance and in so doing, overlays voluntary commitment, which is the essence of religion, with an involuntary mandate, something that is inimical to faith. Administrative power does not work by persuasion and invitation but by coercion. It does not work on the inside but from the outside. It works by mandate, able to administer a penalty of some kind for non-compliance. It is the power of state-craft and so is inappropriate at the level of belief. While administrative power is important and useful, it should not, indeed cannot, effectively be used to manage religious commitments and ideas. Being elected to a position of power does not make a person right. It only makes them powerful. Efforts to enforce compliance easily lead to duplicity rather than genuine faith.

How the Organized Church Changes, Part 3

We here continue Dave Thomas’s guest blog on the impact of business language on the nature of the church. Very significant stuff (Jon Paulien).

The second primary factor in organizational change has to do with what we call infrastructure. The kinds of infrastructure a church organization develops as it ages become major factors in determining what the future for an organization will be. It is not hard to figure out why and how infrastructure develops. As a movement catches on in the mind of the public, it grows. Early growth is often quite rapid with volunteers and informal conversation being the primary purveyors of mission. We downplay the power of informal communication far too much. It is one of the most effective means of communication available to humans. What we hear informally almost always trumps official word. This is one reason conspiracies and urban legends become so prevalent and powerful and resilient.

At some point, the movement becomes too large for the early, charismatic leaders to manage by themselves and the need to create some kind of structure becomes obvious and urgent. Those who are acquainted with Adventist history no doubt know of the great struggles the Adventist pioneers went through on this issue. Many strident speeches were made to the effect that any kind of organization would constitute “Babylon.” But something as simple as the ownership of property made resistance futile. The path to organization is easy to trace – the prosecution of mission requires vision which is broken down into strategy which is reduced to plans that get embedded in policy which then creates organizational structure and practice. And organizational practice pursued over time creates organizational culture and identity. By this process, organizations stabilize themselves, become predictable and efficient, and gain the real prospect of a successful future.

In the midst of all the exciting growth that makes the creation of structure necessary, something happens that goes largely unnoticed. Just as surely as the creation of infrastructure brings stability, it also initiates what theorists call “organizational entropy,” the technical name for the process that brings on the aging, disordering and sometimes death of a movement or organization. Speaking of infrastructure, theorist Jeffrey Saltzman says, “The purpose of these rules is to allow the organization to make decisions using standard operating procedures as a guideline and hence remove from the organization the need to think about the decisions being made.” (http://jeffreysaltzman.wordpress. com/2009/11/19/organization-entropy-2/) But, “removing the need to think about some decisions (this is what infrastructure does) carries with it an inherent risk, the risk of mediocrity or worse, the risk of extinction.” What is being alluded to here is that the early stages of organization are usually very beneficial to mission, producing benefits out of proportion to the resources invested. But in later stages of organizational life, infrastructure itself becomes problematic.

To be continued. . .

How the Organized Church Changes, Part 2

We here continue Dave Thomas’s guest blog on the impact of business language on the nature of the church. Very significant stuff (Jon Paulien).

Since the church is an organization, it is helpful to know that unconsidered organizational change is embedded within the nature of organizational structure itself. One of the best ways to understand this is to look through the eyes of organizational theorists, people “out there” who are fascinated with and study organizations, how they are born, grow, function, and finally die. One of the better-known conclusions of organizational theorists is the existence of a prevailing and all but inevitable “Organizational Life-cycle” – which all organizations pass through. Depending on which school of organizational theory you read, this life-cycle is said to have four or five stages. These begin with a Start-up or Entrepreneurial Stage, moving on through a Growth Stage that is often broken into two sub-stages – Early Growth which is often quite rapid, and Middle Growth where growth slows. The early stages are followed by a Mature Stagem where growth becomes very slow or stops altogether. The Mature Stage is followed by a Decline Stage which leads to the most critical stage, the Crisis Stage. The Crisis Stage may be followed by either renewal, or demise (see http://www.legacee.com/FastGrowth/OrgLifeCycle.html for more detail).

Organizations in the Mature Stage have a number of typical features. 1) Infrastructure is of enormous size to the point there is “a policy for everything.” 2) There are many employees whose entire focus is on tending infrastructure rather than front-line mission. 3) The treatment of employees is highly standardized with more interest in “fairness” than in “merit.” 4) Operations become regulated by policies more than by opportunities. 5) New hires are evaluated more on loyalty than on entrepreneurial spirit. 6) Employees gain more control over mission than volunteers. 7) A large proportion of resources are allocated to infrastructure in the place of mission. 8) There is little, if any, money devoted to new initiatives. Growth slows, then stops. By this time in the life cycle, all the infrastructure will have created such a great amount of inertia, it will be almost impossible for it to change, which sets things up for a likely crisis if change does indeed come to the marketplace.

In this life-cycle there are two critical elements that play a very big role in determining the direction of the organization. The first and most obvious one is the Crisis Stage where the way leaders approach and handle crises can lead to either organizational renewal or organizational decline and death. Organizations that have leaders who foresee crises and manage them well may renew themselves while those that have leaders who do not foresee or handle crises well go much more quickly toward demise.

Points of crisis are significant in the Organizational Life Cycle because, since they threaten organizational well-being or existence, they become the only times when any real prospect of significant change exists. It is simply the case that the more complex the infrastructure becomes, and the more success that can be looked back upon, the more difficult it is for an organization to adjust and change. This is because the stabilization brought about by the creation of infrastructure creates organizational inertia. And complex organizations develop so much inertia that the kind of change necessary to deal with an unanticipated future is simply too great.

In the business world, there are two elements that affect how crisis is dealt with, 1) shareholders who may take precipitous action if they become unhappy, and 2) the existence of outside predators looking for the chance to take over. Pressure from these two entities makes the prospect of change quite high. By contrast, in church organizations, these two elements are missing. There are no predatory outsiders looking to take over and the average member is too remote from organizational power to force change. In consequence, change in churches can only be brought about by those who are in leadership positions. The prospect of such people making significant change is very small indeed because organizations tend to promote those who are most loyal to the organization, and churches easily sanctify their structures if they have been successful. Those in power tend to be the ones who benefit most from the status quo. For these reasons, churches are more likely to fade away than agree to change.

To be continued. . .

How the Organized Church Changes

I apologize for the two-week gap in blog postings. It has been a really distracting time for me.

In November of 2014 at a meeting of the Adventist Society for Religious Study, I heard a paper from Dave Thomas, Dean of the Religion Department at Walla Walla University. The title of the paper was “From ‘Ekklesia’ to Something Else.” Ekklesia is the NT Greek word for “church” meaning those who are “called out” from the world by the gospel to form communities of believers. In this paper he explores some of the trends in Adventist organization that affect its options for the future. I thought the paper was so significant that I asked Dave’s permission to publish it as a guest blog on my site, which permission he graciously granted. What follows is a series of blogs sharing Thomas’ paper with some edits on my part to conform to the style of a blog (including the title I chose). From here on until completion the words are primarily those of Dave Thomas. I have made some alterations to explain or replace technical terms for clarity to a non-specialist audience.

In this paper I (Dave Thomas) wish to reflect on the church as organization. In particular, I wish to reflect on how church as organization may, for reasons that will be explained here, experience an unconsidered or non-deliberate change in its own ecclesiology (doctrine of “the church”) effectively moving it away from the concept of church-as-a-community-of-believers to something else. For those whose view of church is formed by the scriptural idea of a community of called-out believers, this would be an unhappy eventuality indeed.

I was first alerted to this prospect of an unconsidered change in church organizations through a comment made by Katie Funk Wiebe (”The Christian Leader,” Christianity Today, volume 33, number 17, August 1989). She wrote, “I sense that we are allowing business terms to creep into our language. . . I am convinced that because language shapes our thinking and actions, we change the nature of the church and its leadership if we substitute business language for ‘body’ language. An organism quickly becomes an organization if it is thought about that way.” This statement struck me with force. Could it really be that a change in language use could result in a change in theological perception that, because language shapes our thinking and actions, the use of “business language” rather than “body language” could actually result in a shift in the church’s self-perception, effectively changing a living organism into a mere “organization?” This disturbance of my thought equilibrium sent me on a search, the reflective results of which I want to share with you in a series of blogs here.

To be continued. . .