If your church is currently trying to figure out its way regarding local church leadership, there is a book that can help your understand the biblical path forward. Joe Hellerman’s book, Embracing Shared Leadership: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why it Matters Today, is a must read for anyone involved in the leadership of the local church. Joe is a rare combination of superb scholar and churchman.
Hellerman has done phenomenal work fleshing out the social backgrounds of life in the Roman colony of Philippi as his many publications can attest. In this work he spends the first three chapters developing the stratification of rank in the first century and how it was honor that what desired in 1st century Rome above all else. He states, “Honor – and not money (and certainly not love) – was the most prized social commodity in the Roman world during the New Testament era” (56).
Yet Paul turned his own back on honor arguing that all he achieved in life was nothing but rubbish. Paul lists his own cursus honorum in Philippians 3:3-6:
4 although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more:
5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee;
6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.
All in Philippi would have been impressed with his resumé. Paul then states in 3:7-9 how such honor is empty, arguing that real honor is found in someone else: Christ.
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,
9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ.
This serves as transition to the next section where Hellerman demonstrates how power and authority worked itself out in the early church and how it was countercultural to what those in the Roman world were accustomed. The humility of Christ (2:5-11) serves as the standard for leadership in the local church, being “an unexpected approach to power and authority.”
The final section is very practical and Hellerman gives us a vision for how local church ministry is carried out, including some deserved criticism for mistakes that churches make. For instance, the title of chapter 7 alerts the reader to what is coming: “Stepping over the Line: The Abuse of Authority in the Evangelical Church.” Here he chides those who have abused their authority, mostly the CEO pastor who operates as a “my-way-or-the-highway” autocrat, the “top-down aficionado whose ecclesiastical machine whirs only to the sound his own voice and functions tightly within the parameters of his own limited vision” (207).
I cannot recommend this book enough, especially for those engaging in the development of leadership within their own church.