Have you ever wondered why God needs spiritual leaders? What is their purpose and what is there place? With this in mind Jesus wants Him and His word to be followed directly. He said to one of the first apostles, Matthew, a tax collector, in Luke 5:26, “Follow me”. I wouldn’t say in any way he meant to follow someone else who claims to be certain to be listening and faithfully following what the Lord is saying and doing. What He wants is a personal life of listening and engaging with Him. It is a good point that it was easier to follow Him when physically present but what about now with the indwelling Holy Spirit? This is going to be an interesting discovery into how Jesus expects His followers to be faithfully devoted to Him who is now unseen.
There is probably something many people have been asking but haven’t managed to say it. How should a man as a leader be related to if it’s God who is to be in charge when believer’s meet? The Lord brought up the attitude to have about His leading in Matthew 23:8, ‘But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.’ It’s important to establish the appropriate spirit of relationship to God and man into two separate categories.
We will come back to this. It needs to be known that numbers are very important in the spiritual realm. There are different kinds of Christian fellowship and the dynamic of these can depend on the size. There is a saying that two is company and three is a crowd. Well from the Bible there is insight into these numbers. The Lord Jesus showed that three is a good number for private moments with God, ‘And He allowed no one to accompany Him, except Peter and James and John the brother of James’ (Mark 5:37). And later in the same Gospel, ‘Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them’ (Mark 9:2).
The number of personal meetings I believe goes up to twelve. It’s the total number in the first pioneer group. This corresponds with the twelve tribes of Israel. There was no leader within this group. This probably seems obvious to you since Jesus was actually with them. But it was also true when with Him absent. And even when He was permanently removed after Jesus was glorified they still didn’t need to appoint a leader for their group. You might be asking: Then why do we need leaders at all if they didn’t have a man as leader then? I think this is the answer to that question. It makes sense to me that if the numbers exceed twelve it follows a boundary in the spiritual realm to be categorized as a public or congregational meeting. This being so it’s important to have a leader present. Can you imagine three spiritual friends on fire for God and believe they have clear instructions about what to do, how to achieve this and where to go. I can see how they would reason together to work on God’s leading in each individual’s life. There is the scope for corporate input about each one’s part to fulfill their calling. And all this to be living in repentance and faith so as to be in a good standing with the Lord. A caring friendship group creates a much safer place with involved friends to be used effectively as a channel of grace. I can see that after the number twelve it becomes impersonal and harder to maintain the right level of attention for personal relationships and ministry.
I had to set that understanding about numbers before we go into the real heart of leadership: the five-fold ministry. In the new testament church a leader is called an elder with five distinct branches as mentioned in Ephesians 3:11, ‘ And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.’
There are two categories in the spiritual realm the heavenly sphere and the sphere of man. What this is about is the battle to hear and obey God’s voice. We are made like receivers constantly looking to connect for further instructions and feedback on what is being done. Now that Jesus’ voice is to be heard in His physical absence it is more difficult to follow His right instructions. It can take training with effort and practice to understand His pure will. This is also achieved by how God’s written word relates to every area of life. In a small group it is more personally managed to follow His leading but in the larger gatherings it’s best to have leadership to help to bring order and direction. I wonder can you sense the battle even in the early church when James suddenly spoke up to direct attention to what He wanted to say. It’s like in the technical age of today to pass the microphone, ‘After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me’’ (Acts 15:13). It tells of a need to speak on Jesus behalf to make up for not being there in person. There is a constant search for what exactly He wants to say and do. So the higher level of gifting of the eldership ministry team is to help to manage with the void of Jesus’ physical presence to be replaced with the Holy Spirit’s invisible presence. Good listeners as ministers working in tandem for this same cause is to keep and guard God’s pure voice to be heard, ‘You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him’ (Deuteronomy 13:4). One of the duties of a leadership team has its core purpose to be skilled at hearing and following God’s voice. It helps the Father’s heart to be known. The eldership’s depth of communication with the Lord in the beginnings of the early church is shown in Acts 15:28 in a communiqué, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials’. This is in no way designed to compensate for a lack of each believer’s personal life experience of living and listening to God. But to assist to establish the relationship in a lifestyle of communication with Him. That is, the ministry leadership is not be be a crutch to rely on but an assistance to grow in His grace. Each individual Christian is ultimately responsible to be ordered by the Lord Himself.