Twitterade – On Leadership in Churches of Christ, pt. 1

Friday morning, I was engaged in a Twitter Direct Message conversation with a Brother about Mark Driscoll. He noted that I have been reading one of his books, and wanted to know what I thought of a blog post he wrote that was pretty critical of Driscoll. We DMed back and forth a while, until I eventually noticed that some of my tweets were going out publicly.

If you’ve ever had that happen, you’ll know the feeling, “Oh Crud.” That moment isn’t because of what you said, but because without the other half of the conversation…you seem like you have been smoking something or are in some state of delirium. One of the comments sparked quite a conversation, however, and so in an effort to make Twitterade–I’ll give it to you…then give you the context.

“Many CofCers (not referring to you) are leaderphobic and elderphiliac.”

Now, the context.

The Brother (also a member of Churches of Christ) had an issue with Mark Driscoll’s strong leadership role at Mars Hill. He had a problem with him being the “sole” leader at Mars Hill (which is not the case–though he is clearly the most influential).  He raised some very, very good points. We then engaged in a discussion of leadership in Churches of Christ. My comment was a way of saying that many within Churches of Christ are afraid of strong individual leaders. They highly prefer leadership through committee consensus. My observation is that abuse of power can happen just as easily through elderships as through a single-leader. In fact, I would have a hard time citing a case of an "out of control" preacher in Churches of Christ–while cases of "elder abuse" are easy to find. I believe in elders. I also believe that Churches of Christ struggle to know what to do with people who have gifts of leadership.

Is there a need to shift our leadership paradigm in Churches of Christ? If so, how? Is there a way for the Kingdom to benefit from those who have been gifted for leadership while guarding the church against abuses of power? Is there a way for the Kingdom to benefit even more from elders than we currently do? I think this discussion is the most important one for Churches of Christ looking ahead 25 years–and maybe more. 

I’d simply like to provide one forum for the discussion. I’ll simply pose the question, and then listen to the comments. Let's keep them Christian 🙂


Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “Twitterade – On Leadership in Churches of Christ, pt. 1

  1. Not sure where Kim McKean’s journey would fall. I’ve been lucky enough to go to 5 c of C’s over my life, three of which i worked at (of course not counting the 3 i bummed around for free food, while in college). There were bad Elders, Ministers, Attendee’s and there were time when I was a bad minister. The great thing is there are many different ways to lead a congregation no matter what the organizational structure is and whoever leads it. And of course there is some bad structures and bad leadership.
    The church I currently attend is “emergent” in all aspects and beliefs that lie within. We have a Shepherds/Pastors/Ministry Groups leadership. It’s served us well until we lost our Pastor, not our teaching Pastor but our Pastor. Structurally we are the same but losing your heart sure wounds a church. You can have the best leadership in the world but if you don’t have a Pastor to the people well…there you go.

  2. All good points with no easy answers. I think that we have been far too concerned for “authority” rather than service. We forget that Jesus has all authority. While we select a few to lead, they then tend to ignore those who they lead. Then we get into a pattern year after year. Let’s emphasize service and being servants, thinking of others rather than ourselves.

  3. Just the other day I had the privilege of listening in on one of the best conversations on leadership in the church that I have ever heard (also some of the best steak quesadillas I’ve ever had as well). Essentially, one of the ministers at our church was sharing with a visiting minister that many churches with leadership issues experience difficulties as a direct result of a lack of mission and vision. Obviously this is a catch 22. It takes leadership to cast vision and instill within the congregation a sense of mission. Often churches without strong leadership and a clear vision struggle with the tension between mission and tradition. In Churches of Christ it is not always clear as to whom the holder of the vision is. In some cases the eldership empowers the senior minister or preacher to lead the congregation, but they do so in word only. When “mission” and tradition collide, however, tradition often trumps mission and the perceived leader is stripped of his authority. I truly believe the only solution is mutual submission. This can only occur when ministers and elders trust and respect one another (unfortunately, the two groups are often suspect of each other). I am fortunate to minister in an environment where our elders truly shepherd. Seriously! Our elders meetings consist of elders and ministers praying together; no business- just prayer. All business is taken care of via our governance counsel upon which our senior minister and executive minister serve alongside a few elders. The shepherds trust the GC and vice versa. I have never seen or been a part of a system that works so well. In addition, our senior minister is the best I have ever seen at vision casting and instilling excitement within the congregation concerning the mission of the church. The direction of the church will not be compromised by tradition simply because the mission is more important.

  4. I served as a minister for a church that was still very much healing from the effects of a former and a very destructive preacher (who had an education from one of them preacher training schools that seek dogmatic indoctrination rather than healthy biblical wisdom) but I still would agree that such cases are too few and far to pop up on the radar in Churches of Christ.
    Grace and Peace,
    K. Rex Butts

  5. “In fact, I would have a hard time citing a case of an “out of control” preacher in Churches of Christ–while cases of “elder abuse” are easy to find.”
    100% agree. Mark Driscoll is a great leader and great minister. I love his work.

  6. When Paul sent out Timothy and Titus to continue the pastoral/evangelist work in the local church, he told them to establish elders because the churches needed more leadership than just one man. What Churches of Christ have mistakenly assumed was that Timothy and Titus were to surrender all sense of leadership authority and responsibility to the established elders. But the Pastoral Epistles never say that and that is further confirmed by the responsibility they were to continue to have. What the Chirches of Christ need is a way for the local church to have elders and preacher(s)/minister(s) who work together not as one over the other but as servant-partners who are mutually submitted to Jesus Christ.
    Grace and Peace,
    K. Rex Butts

  7. Well Tim, you and I have had this conversation more than once. As a precursor to my statements I like to say that I fully love the churches of Christ, our amazing heritage, our singing a cappella in our worship services, our insistence on Scripture, and our stance on the necessity of baptism.
    Having said that… I believe the part of our leadership problem is a lack of faith in any “pattern” or “model” of leadership seen constantly and consistently in Scripture. The fact is most of those who are afraid of the “big, bad, pastor–preacher” coming in and like some overpowering Svengali dominating the church in becoming a superstar are speaking more from their fears them from their actual experiences or historical precedent or God’s own preference in the matter.
    When got wanted to save the world he didn’t send a committee, a group, a voting majority, or a flock of Angels. He sent a preacher. The preacher he sent gathered a group of preachers to be sent out to do what he did.
    When God wanted to deliver Israel he didn’t send the committee he said Moses. It’s not that God couldn’t have said a committee, God didn’t. God’s choice was a single leader carrying out the singular vision of God with the help of a qualified team of individuals.
    Also… in the case of a renegade preacher–Pastor acting out his fleshly desires either through sexual immorality , financial impropriety, or just plain stupidity, it is much easier to “get rid of” said preacher–Pastor than a group of elders, or usually in my context “leading brethren” who are in error or bondage to sin or an untenable situation. next time
    the historical fact is that in Christianity strong leadership is overwhelmingly done by a singular creature–Pastor, even when strong unqualified elderships are present. Those who know me, know that I am pro-elder. But I am in no way ‘pro” this authoritarian, CEO, make–decisions–the–back room type situation many of our churches are experiencing. All authority in the Church of Christ belongs to Christ who is the head of the church. Others are given functional authority in order to carry out the will of Christ. Shepherds need to shepherd. The one God has given the vision to need to lead. I am also convinced that the leader with vision should be the one with the voice…

  8. Let me offer another thought: we are preacher-centric and leaderphobic. I always have been supportive of stronger leader models in the Churches of Christ. But in doing so, I find myself more concerned with models of leadership that promotes a “super preacher” or a preacher-centric leadership, and less concerned about having one administrator who “runs” things. Even in Churches of Christ with stronger “senior minister” roles, that same leader is usually the preacher.
    I find this problematic because it tends to promote a celebrity preacher personality, thus limiting the congregation’s perspective and exposure to one person. It then combines that almost celebrity status with … shall, I say … power. Serving as the voice of the church, the interpreter of Scripture and the functional leader of the church can be a lethal combination.
    What if we promoted stronger leaders but played down the sola preachera role? I currently attend a church where we have a church administrator who actually is vested with the most authority over hiring, firing, daily administration, etc. This person is only one of five people on staff who preach. I also would point to models like that of John York and Rubel Shelly who shared the pulpit at Woodmont Hills for a few years. Rubel was more of the administrator, but both shared the pulpit. As a member of the church, I found that my spirituality and thinking was enriched by hearing two different perspectives and voices. Some people were nurtured by one, and some by the other. David Young and John Risse also have partnered in a similar model at North Boulevard in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
    What if we considered a model like this one? Maintain elderships to cast vision, approve overall strategy and mission, and work in partnership with the administrator on hiring decisions. Embolden an administrator to administer the affairs of the church in cooperation with elders. Allow all those gifted with the spiritual gift of preaching to preach.
    This model will become more reasonable for us once we raise the priority of the Table and minimize just a bit the priority of preaching. The sermon does not have to be the longest section of the worship service, nor the penultimate moment. What if the Table became that moment, or equal attention was given to both? Leadership models would follow.
    Thanks for a stimulating article and question.