11 September 2012

More on leading

In an attempt to pin down what the New Testament writers meant by the ideas of leader and leadership, we take a look at some of the words that have been translated into English as 'leader'.

A famous leaderFollowing my previous post I noticed Alan Knox's repost of his earlier article, 'Follow the Leader or Simon Says?'

I left a comment on Alan's post, referring back to my own blog. I was perhaps too hasty and didn't really make my meaning clear. When Alan replied, I tried to clarify, but the exchange of views had the side effect of making me think harder about the underlying issues.

As Alan rightly mentions, 'Scripture uses the Greek term for “leader.”' But then he goes on to add, 'I don’t see any problem with having leaders among the church.'

Issues with leadership - Nonetheless I do still see issues with human leaders. And these are issues that were already arising very early on in church life. This is made quite clear in 1 Cor 1:10-17 for example. In verse 17 Paul explains that he was sent for a purpose.

We are all called for a purpose, and for most of us that is likely to include some elements of leading others. During a local meeting all should bring something. In other words, to a degree, everyone should lead (and everyone should follow).

The fact that the Greek word for 'leader' is used in the New Testament is not enough, in itself, to suggest we should follow human leaders. There are a number of Koine Greek words translated 'leader'. Let's look at them in turn.

  1. ἀρχηγός (archégos) - has the sense 'prince' or 'founder'. It's used in Hebrews 12:2.
  2. ὁδηγός (hodégos) - here the sense is 'instructor, 'teacher' or 'trainer'. When Jesus says the lawyers and Pharisees are blind 'guides', this is the Greek word used (Matthew 23:16, Matthew 23:24 for example).
  3. πρωτοστάτης (prótostatés) - the sense is chieftain or ringleader and it's only used once, in Acts 24:5 in the 'ringleader' sense.
  4. ἡγεμών (hégemón) - this word means a ruler, commander or governor and is used in Matthew 27:2 of Pontius Pilate and in Acts 23:26 of the governor Felix. The English word 'hegemony' comes from this source.
  5. καθηγητής (kathégétés) - meaning teacher or leader. Jesus tells us in Matthew 23:10, not to be called masters or leaders. This is the word used in that verse.
There are two further Greek words that I might write about, sometimes used for leaders in more specific ways - episcopos and presbuteros. But that can wait for another article.

Meanwhile, is it fair to conclude that the five words listed above for 'leader' don't really fit our role in 'one anothering'?

Conclusion and some questions - I would argue that we should not think in terms of leaders and leadership in church life. We can all lead by example (and I encourage everyone to do so) but that's as far as it should go.

Is this fair? How do you think Jesus intended the church to be led? Did he intend you to lead, and if so how? Did he intend you to follow, and if so how?

Can you find other examples of leaders in the New Testament? What are they? What does this say about church structure and government?

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