What Makes Leadership “Christian”?
If you do a quick survey of the Second Testament material concerning church leadership, you’ll begin to notice some unfamiliar terms popping up. There’s very little about how to manage employees or recruit volunteers, and an awful lot about self-sacrifice, putting others before yourself, and imitating the sufferings of Christ. Even given the secular emphasis on “servant leadership” (props to Robert Greenleaf), the Second Testament teaching seems way, way different than leadership literature at large.
Three words stand out in particular, for they are always features of church ministry in the Bible. I think of these as our hallmarks: charity, hospitality, and preaching. I realize those might seem daunting at first, but if you want to stand in line with the Second Testament witness and the practices of the earliest friends and followers of Jesus you’ll need to figure out what those words mean and how to apply them.
CHARITY comes from the Greek word diakonia and was most often used in reference to waiters at restaurants. Wait…what? That’s right. Christian ministry is much like table-service. We are servers. When you go out to eat, your server brings you good things that nourish you. Likewise, we’re meant to serve good things to the world. This is actually the word most often translated “ministry” or “minister” in the Second Testament (we even get our word “deacons” from it). In Acts 11.29, this word is used in reference to relief money sent to Judea. In 2 Corinthians 5.18, we’re told we have been given the “ministry of reconciliation”, meaning we’re supposed to continue healing the world in emulation of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 8.4, diakonia refers to supporting the apostles—both financially and with church-related work. There are many other uses of diakonia in the Second Testament, but they all amount to much the same thing. We are meant to serve God by bringing good things to the world. Sometimes those good things are financial, sometimes those good things are informational, sometimes those good things are physical or emotionalbut they are always good. And, more importantly, we are always called to serve.
HOSPITALITY comes from the Greek word koinonia and refers to a wide range of partnerships (including—but not limited to—business, friendship, adventure, and intercourse). We want to welcome others into our community, a collection of believers in-but-not-of the world. The earliest Christians practiced this koinonia in Acts 2 where they are recorded as sharing their possession, their love, and the apostles’ teaching. Similarly, in Philippians 1.6, Paul instructs the church to “make their fellowship effective” through the knowledge of every good thing, demonstrating that this kind of hospitality isn’t just a posture of welcoming others in our churches or homes, but also of welcoming God’s Spirit to penetrate our hearts and a posture of welcoming others to teach us about Christ.
PREACHING comes from the Greek word kerygma and—thankfully—doesn’t simply refer to public oratory. To preach, in the broadest sense of the term, is to tell others the many ways that God’s story is intersecting with our own stories. If charity is our service for the world, and hospitality our invitation to be in-but-not-of the world, then preaching is our proclamation to the world. It is the moment when we tell others that something new is happening, and indeed all manner of new things are now possible, because God came into the world as one of us, died for all of us, and has now placed his Spirit within us to make us new. You can “preach” while drinking coffee in your living room, or on your Facebook wall, or while sitting on a blanket at the park. Don’t be intimidated by the word “preaching”, but don’t shirk from your responsibility to proclaim the good news every way you can, in every available opportunity. You may feel foolish while doing this—even Paul acknowledges this in 1 Corinthians 1.18—but it is through the “foolishness of preaching” that people come to know God (see 1 Corinthians 1.21), and God intends to deploy us as his emissaries so the whole world might know the good news (see 1 Timothy 4.17).