Friday

Responding to Adrian Warnock on Measures of Leadership


Adrian Warnock has posted this week on the subject of measures of gifting and knowing your role as a leader. Since the views expressed in the post are widely held among Christians - the passage is a particular favourite of cell churches, for instance - it seemed appropriate to respond to it and invite readers to consider another perspective on the passage and its application for today.

The passage in question is Exodus 18.

Adrian's arguement, if I have understood it correctly, is that the Exodus passage refers to different measures of leadership capacity that different people possess ("leaders of 10's , leaders of 50's, " etc ) and that church leaders today should be aware of their measure of leadership gifting and seek to operate faithfully within that specific sphere or measure.

My problems with this interpretation are several:

1. The men in Exodus 18 were essentially judges not pastors or elders. The words used to describe them in the NIV are "officials" (21) and "judges" (22). They are called "leaders" in verse 25, but this term is immediately qualified in the same verse by again referring to their role as "officials" and "judges". Moses is here setting up a system of law enforcement - more a police force than a church leadership team.

2. The view that the different roles these judges occupied were based on their "differing capacity for leadership" is stated but not proven from the text. The passage itself does not actually tell us what basis was used by Moses for selecting some to be officials over 10 and others to be officials over 1000. It is an assumption that the different roles were based on "capacity" but not a conclusion that arises naturally from the text, which merely states that men were appointed to these roles.

3. It is entirely possible that Moses made these appointments based not on measures of gifting but on age or on family or clan ties. Anyone reasonably familiar with middle eastern cultures in the past or present would not find that sentence as shocking as those of us raised in a modern, urban and western environment. Of course, I am not claiming that this was the basis for Moses' decisions - I am merely illustrating that "gifting" is not a necessary way of understanding the passage as it is not referred to at all within it.

4. Adrian assumes the validity of the "number one" leader model for local churches and basis his application of the passage on that assumption. His application includes the following : "Sadly we fail to realise that not every godly Christian leader should aspire to be the so-called "number one" leader of a church." I would respond that it is surely preferable that no godly Christian aspires to such an un-biblical role.

The phrase "number one" is virtually always placed in inverted commas when used in a Christian context, as I have done in this sentence. Such usage highlights the inherent problem with the term. We feel it to be an inappropriate phrase because we claim to believe in servant leadership rather than hierarchy in church life; at the same time, our use of the term reveals that, in fact, we do believe in hierarchy in the local church. Hence the inverted commas, as a way of trying to have our leadership cake and eat it.

Who was the number one among Jesus' apostles after the ascension? The vision caster? The most gifted public speaker? Actually, it was the the one who had always been the greatest - namely, the least of all.

Adrian does, of course, make a valid point, which I agree is implicit indirectly in the passage, that leaders should not assume more of themselves than is realistic. Perhaps Paul had something similar in mind when he exhorts us to "not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." The context of this passage in Romans 12:3 does have to do with gifting in a broader sense - not whether I am a "leader of 50" or not but whether my gifts include teaching, being a mercy-giver, prophesying or leadership, all of which are to be used to serve the body of Christ and build others up.


7 comments:

The Friday Joker said...

A few, very disjointed, comments:

I doubt that even Irenaeus would have described his ideal of monarchical bishops as representing the 'number one' leader. I agree that it is an un-biblical role which no-one (especially those who desire the office of an overseer) should aspire to.

The possibility that the captains of 10s, 50s etc. established by Moses in Exodus 18 were also military leaders could also be inferred from 2 Kings 1:9-13. Many ancient leadership roles combined both judicial and military functions.

It is hard to find any reference to anything like a cell/small-group leader in Scripture, which is perhaps why the 'captain of ten' is interpreted in this way. I have heard of small-group leaders being compared to 'deacons' but have yet to be fully convinced of this interpretation.

It is interesting to note that the 17th century republican writer also used (abused?) Exodus 18 as a Biblical justification for his ideal commonwealth.

The Friday Joker said...

Apologies, that last paragraph should have said "... the 17th century republican writer James Harrington ..." (The absence of the name did rather undermine the point of the comment being there.)

Mad said...

Excellent article. I have concerns that we take verses from the bible and use them to fit our leadership model. Is our model of leadership biblical?. I think there is massive over emphasis on "leadership" that I find unhealthy. We say we believe in the church being a body with everyone having a part to play but the culture of leadership gives a hierarchy for some to achieve.

Mad said...

Excellent article. I have concerns that we take verses from the bible and use them to fit our leadership model. Is our model of leadership biblical?. I think there is massive over emphasis on "leadership" that I find unhealthy. We say we believe in the church being a body with everyone having a part to play but the culture of leadership gives a hierarchy for some to achieve.

atlanticwriter said...

Welcome Mad.

A blog is waiting to be created by you. I'm sure.

Paul Hunnisett said...

Very interesting Al - and I think your understanding of the passage is a very helpful one. It's too easy to take a traditional approach to a passage and assume it's correct without questioning...

atlanticwriter said...

Thanks Paul.

Thanks Edward.