What the Missional Movement Should Learn From the Confessional Movement: Church Polity and Leadership

I hope this series on what the confessional and missional movements should learn from each other has been helpful.  It’s been beneficial for me as I reflect on two mindsets I am steeped in as I enjoy reading both missional and confessional thinkers on various topics.

In my reading of missional literature, I sometimes wonder if a particular author is committed to biblical structures of church polity and leadership.  Now, as a Presbyterian I would add a few layers in my ecclesiology that a Baptist wouldn’t, but I agree with Ed Stetzer and others (especially in the Nine Marks camp) that there is no true church (assembly) without the biblical leadership.  In particular, the authority of elders is required for me to call a gathering of Christians a true assembly, or church.

Many missional authors and thinkers would agree with this, but I fear that an overemphasis in the critique of ‘clergy-led’ churches can muddy the biblical picture.  I grant that many clergy-led churches don’t quite hit the biblical vision for the mobilization of laity as we see in the book of Acts and in Eph 4:11-12.  The church was never meant to be a bunch of people merely following some guild of ministry experts and being mere consumers.

However, this concern doesn’t contradict the biblical emphasis on submitting to authority in the church (Heb 13:17) or the necessity for a plurality of elders (Titus 1:5; Acts 20:17).  Indeed, 1 Tim 3:1-7 shows how seriously the Apostle Paul took the qualifications of elders.

Now, all this doesn’t mean (as I’ve implied in a previous paragraph) that changes aren’t necessary in current institutional structures of the church.  We should consider the implications of Eph 4:11-12 in today’s post-Christian context.  We should also consider our practice of ordaining officers of the church and whether we should require a three year accredited seminary degree which usually favors white educated middle class men and disfavors men who feel called to ministry but have never been to college.  Maybe we are ‘too white’ for some obvious reasons.

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