For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. [Romans 12:4-5 NASB95]
Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians with this analogy as well. Each 'member' or part of the body has a different spiritual gift and together, under the direction of the 'head' - Christ - function in a cooperative, even unified manner. Paul paints a theologically beautiful picture, but a painfully difficult one to put put into action. It would seem that even Paul had a difficult time working with some of these churches!
Part of the problem would seem to lie in the ambiguity of the governance. Being 2000 years removed from the early church, we struggle understanding how the different governing roles of the church should operate. In other words, how are the pastors, elders and deacons to work together? Is there a 'pecking order' in regards to authority? Is the role of 'pastor' an office or a function or both?How does the congregation-at-large function in the governance? How does our Western, secular democracy influence the manner in which we attempt to implement these Biblical concepts?
These are questions every church must ask itself as it seeks to be faithful to scripture and effective in mission. How a church implements its governance may even determine the nature and success of its mission. Too much governance, too many committees and the church may become ineffective in fulfilling the great commission. The church simply becomes bogged down in its own bureaucracy. On the other hand, too much authority focused in the hands of one or only a few individuals could create a dictatorial governance that alienates the congregation. Church leadership constantly walks a fine line between effectiveness and ineffectiveness.
I would like to point out two small items though as I reflect on this topic: giftedness and authority.
First, church leadership operates according to the gifts given it. Paul goes to great lengths to point out leadership gifts in Ephesians 4:11 - apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. In other words, church leadership must evidence the working of the Spirit in their lives that would suggest these gifts. It is significant that Paul in Romans 12:8 points out the spiritual gift of diligent leadership. Leadership, therefore, under the direction of the Spirit, is not haphazard or self-focused. It is bound to the directives of Christ through the Holy Spirit and to the glory of the Father.
Second, there is an authoritative structure to leadership. Foremost is the headship of Christ. All offices and gifts submit to the headship of Christ or they are illegitimate. (I believe the real issue is here - How do we acknowledge and rely upon the headship of Christ in our churches? I truly believe that we fail in this area over and over again!) The structure to leadership in the church, however, would seem to be flexible. Paul, in Titus 1:7 and 1 Timothy 3 suggests that the episkopos or 'overseer' is the primary administrative leader in the church. In 1 Timothy 3:8f, a second office of diakonos or 'servant' and its qualifications are outlined. Although 1 Timothy 5:17-19 and 1 Peter 5:1 refer to the 'elder' or presbuteros, this would seem to refer more accurately to older or experienced Christians, rather than to a specific office. Paul made it a point to designate 'elders' in the churches he planted in order to anchor the young church in a mature leadership base, hence the appointments of Acts 14:23 and Titus 1:5 and the allusion to 'elders of the church' in Acts 20:17. The 'elders' then are those who inhabit the offices of 'overseer' (1 Tim 5:17) and teacher. The concept of a 'council of elders' is a holdover from the Jewish synagogue and thus would not have been unfamiliar to Paul and Peter.
Thus described, the entire church is given gifts by the Spirit to carry out the ministries of the church. The mature Christians, the Elders, are the ones who are to be prayerfully considered for the offices of the church - preaching, teaching, serving (diakonos) and administration (episkopos). These elders also serve as an advisory council, if you will, to those who hold specific offices. The deacons then assist the elders in their responsibilities. But, what about the 'pastor'?
In my tradition, each church has a primary 'pastor' or 'minister' who functions as the 'overseer' of the church on a daily basis on both a spiritual and administrative basis. What is the warrant for this office or activity? Throughout the Bible, the image of 'shepherd' aka 'pastor' is used as an analogy for spiritual leader. Although it is used as a noun, it is more frequently used as a verb - "to shepherd" - and refers to the activity of spiritual direction, leadership and general care. Paul uses the term only once, in reference to the duties of the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28. The pastor, then, is an overseer by appointment and an elder by qualification who evidences the spiritual gift of leadership, and is tasked with teaching, leading and defending the sheep.
You see, leadership is an interesting and complex phenomenon. The key, however, to which I keep coming back over and over again is the headship of Christ. The system by itself is fraught with difficulties. Nevertheless, when firmly placed under the authority of Christ - where the leadership is constantly measuring itself and its actions by the character and commands of Jesus - it can flourish in a miraculous way!