We’re jumping around a bit as I want to get this post online before the talk tomorrow at CHOW, although ideally I want to make a few more points on the business leadership side before doing the bit on leadership in the church. So this is principally for the benefit of those who are trying to follow slides 12 and 13 in the talk, which will hopefully become clearer later in the series. Let’s start with a word of scripture – Mark 10:42 – 45.
42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Slides 12 and 13 in the CHOW talk are essentially two vocab lists. All I am going to do today is to provide a little background and definition and bring in a note on one more leadership word from the NT. In Graham Tomlin’s excellent talk at the HTB Leadership Conference he focused on Ποιμένας "shepherd" and tracked the OT roots of the pastoral motif through Zechariah and Ezekiel, before coming to the iconic John 10:11 and 1 Peter 2:25. I’ll save the discussion of that exegesis for another time.
The other NT words on slide 12, are these:
Διακόνους– servant, waiter, “errand runner” – often transliterated as "Deacon" and read through a Contantinian ecclesiological lens, as a life long order of clergy. I would argue that a better modern gloss might be "that person who regularly stacks away the plastic chairs, or cleans out the tea urn, while everyone else is getting into their cars.
μαθητὴς– student, learner, disciple – a good word for Christian leaders, remembering that we are all lifelong learners, the word "disciple" itself is now probably too religious and archaic to make sense.
δοῦλος – slave, servant – obviously the language of slavery and class makes this a difficult one to use. "Server" is perhaps a better English word than servant.
ἀποστόλους – messenger, envoy – the transliteration "apostle" is just too fully loaded theologically to be useful as a word for contemporary Christian leadership, but in the contemporary context perhaps +John as our Episcopal Visitor is acting as ἀποστόλους?
Προφήτας – prophet – as my friend Richard notes the role of prophet is a key linking role in the plurality of leadership in the church.
Εὐαγγελιστάς – good news bearer, herald – difficult to translate this NT word since as we live in a world post Finney, Moody, Graham, and the televanglists of the modern era. To our ears the word speaks of a short presentation of a "gospel message" of persuasion leading to a "decision for Christ", but it is not at all clear that the NT word refers to such a construct.
Διδασκάλους – teacher – this one suggests one who facilitates learning. Effective learning is a product of environment, questions, dialogue, guided study and skilful teaching.
ἐπίσκοπος – one who watches over, tends attentively. This is another example of a word whose meaning for is influenced by our subsequent ecclesiology. Even where translators seek to avoid the anachronistic "Bishop" the language of overseer, or supervisor, tends to read in a managerial mindset, which is lacking in the original sense of one who watches with attentive and tender care, not one who directs from above.
Πρεσβύτεροι – elder, mature, experienced. We will need another post altogether to handle the "presbuteros = priest" heresy. For now it is interesting to note that the word is virtually always plural in the NT, and speaks of wisdom, discernment and kind advice rather than the sort of authority we saw with "archon".
Slide 13 picks eleven English words that have been used by churches to denote their leaders.
Vicar – “agent / stand-in, representative, substitute, deputy”
Rector – “Ruler, one who guides, directs” “archon”
Dean – “One in charge of ten”
Abbot – “Father”
Priest –”performer of ritual sacrifices / spiritual mediator”
Cardinal – “Permanent assignment”
Canon – “ruling / regulating
Monsignor – “My Lord”
Pastor – “shepherd” , but “Executive Senior Pastor”?
Minister – “servant”, but Prime Minister…?
Reverend – “Honourable / one who must be respected”
Our point is merely that many of these words owe more to the thought world of "archon" than those of the ten words of NT Christian leadership, and the sentiment of the Mark 10:42 passage above.
Finally a note about Προϊστάμενος – Proistamenos. We see this word in Romans 12:8, which the NIV renders:
8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
We also see the word in places such as 1 Thess 5:12, 1 Tim 3:4-5,12,17, Titus 3:8,14 and Romans 16:2. Many translations render it as "lead" (with the exception of the Rom 16:2 occurrence). The word breaks down into two parts; "pro" meaning "in front of" or "before" and "histemi" meaning "to stand". This might lead us to think about the one presiding, or standing at the front of a liturgy. But a better understanding is about someone we set before us as an example to copy, someone we hold in our vision as a model or demonstration of lived out behaviour. This then becomes a consistent reading with our other NT leadership words.
And why does the NIV, along with a good many other translations, balk at using the word "leader" for Proistemenos in Romans 16:2? Maybe its because the example given of this leadership trait is someone the translators cannot permit to be seen as a model of leadership? Romans 16:2 is about a leader of the early church in the strategic port town of Cenchreae. One proven as a leader to many including Paul himself. One given prominence in the list of greetings and commendations at the end of Paul’s greatest letter. Romans 16:2 is about Phoebe.