restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


Who Is Head of Your Church?

 David Alan Black  

Leadership has become an issue in the church today. This ethics of leadership has social and political implications as well as ecclesiological ones. It is not a matter of church eldership per se. No one doubts the necessity for qualified leaders in a congregation. It is the manner and means of leadership that is under dispute. (A similar question may be posed of the classroom: Is the teacher the authoritative and unchallengeable dispenser of truth, or the wise and humble facilitator of learning? This question cannot be treated here.)

It is the attitude of power, of control, of rigidity, of unassailability (no one dare point out the weaknesses of the leader though there may be many) that is under scrutiny. Wherever Christ reigns as Head and Chief Shepherd the instruments of power are devalued and scope is given for freedom. This is possible, however, only if there is true biblical Headship – only when Christ is revered as the Senior Pastor and Leader. Thus, while the movement toward a plurality of co-equal elders in our churches is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough. True mutuality of leadership is belied whenever we speak of “Dr. So-and-So’s church” (you fill in the blank with the name of your favorite pastor). I am not saying that most pastors would desire ever to have their congregations so closely identified with one man. Yet who can deny this is happening? What we are to do in our churches is rather to manifest the reality of Christ in a way that incarnates His sole Headship, so that in all things (including perhaps such mundane things as church letterheads and marquees) He and He alone might have the preeminence (Col. 1:18).

The issue, then, is one of Lordship. Lordship is strictly a mark of the distance between us and the Lord, yet it is also paradoxically the guarantee of proximity. It is purification from the stain of pride that marks our pulpit- and program-centered churches. If we are to be true to Christ, we can no longer exult a human leader, just as we cannot serve two masters. Now, Christ’s Headship remains the same throughout events. He is and remains undeniably the only Lord of the church. But does it show? Is it evident? Not only in our humble and approachable demeanor, but in our ecclesiastical structures and titles and programs? In other words, we cannot claim to follow Jesus as Lord and not seek intentionally to acknowledge Him as such. Indeed, we can do many things that prevent Christ’s Lordship from manifesting itself. Does this suppress His Lordship? Not at all, but it prevents it from being lived out by men.

Perhaps Christ’s Headship will become more and more visible in our churches as the church becomes more and more persecuted. Sunday believers will fall by the wayside. Being a pastor will no longer be profitable or popular. There is often a strict reciprocity between suffering and humility. We suffer, and God makes free. Reciprocally, where there is little cost, there is little love. The wrestling of Jacob, Job, and Abraham brought them into a new view of God and themselves. It enabled them to place their hope in the living God, just as our hope today rests squarely in the victory of Jesus. By destroying the powers, Jesus removes the hubris, the anthropocentricity. We are free to be enslaved to our rightful Master. Power need no longer come into play. There is now one Lord as well as one faith and one baptism. In faith we accept our High Priest, the Overseer and Shepherd of our souls. In faith we bow the knee. In faith we bear witness to Him.

There are no longer any illusions about power.

September 13, 2007

David Alan Black is the editor of

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