Are church leaders appointed by people or God?

In Covering Theology all legitimate leadership is appointed by God.  This is an application of Romans 13:1-7.  It gets difficult to sort this out, especially in protestant/evangelical churches.

Imagine Pastor Tom gets hired by Faith Community Church, an average evangelical church that follows the typical congregationalist approach to leadership.  In this approach the congregation votes to affirm pastors and council members.  The local church is largely autonomous.  Pastor Tom starts teaching covering theology and because he is in authority he starts telling everyone they should come under his authority.  He is in authority because all authorities have been established by God.  How he became leader, whether he was voted in by the congregation or appointed by a denominational official, is irrelevant.  He is in a position of authority so God must have put him there.  The congregational approach of the church gives way to more autocratic decision making.

If everyone in authority is God’s delegated authority couldn’t anyone in the congregation gather a following and get appointed as a leader and become God’s delegated authority.  Some would say no, because that person arrived at their position through a rebellion against God’s authority for that congregation.  What if that group split off 3 years ago and the rebel leader quit?  Would the next pastor be a rebel or God’s delegated authority?  What if you went back fifty years or a hundred years or even five hundred years?  The reality is if you are an evangelical your church is the descendant of some rebel somewhere.  Take the Free Methodists for example.  The Free Methodists broke off from the Methodists who broke from the Anglicans who broke from the Roman Catholic church.

If all this belief about God’s delegated authority is taken to its logical conclusion the reformation probably shouldn’t have happened we should all fold back in to the Roman Catholic church.  They have an “apostle” with church tradition and apostolic succession to back his claim.  In the New Apostolic Reformation we have C. Peter Wagner.  Wagner, an author and retired Fuller Seminary professor somehow became the “convening apostle” over the “reformation” which will sweep the church and restore God’s authority.  If I believed in a pope I know which one I’d follow.

In a curious little anecdote, Dutch Sheets, a prominent figure in the New Apostolic Reformation and C. Peter Wagner’s pastor just declared that the election of Barack Obama wasn’t God’s will.  Perhaps not all authorities are instituted by God after all.

Shouldn’t it strike us as terribly arrogant to take one person from our midst and proclaim them as God’s representative?  A humbler approach would be to recognize that God speaks through his whole body, not just the leadership.  Christ was given authority and he hasn’t given it to anyone else.  We seek to follow His authority together.

15 comments on “Are church leaders appointed by people or God?

  1. These issues also remind me of the arguments between those in the early church who were fighting over who they were following (1 Cor. 12-13).

  2. Pardon my verbosity, I have a lot on my heart right now.

    Tragically, I really LOVE God, and I desperately want to be in fellowship with believers. The cost of fellowship in Southern California seems to be giving my life over to someone who has no vested interest in me – my future or my maturity in Christ. About half the believers I know have left the church because of pastor-wounds. Unfortunately, I am about to leave my church, but have selected another with fingers crossed that it is not another “false hope.”

    In my current church, the pastors used to say they did not believe they should control us or manipulate us, that they believed we were able to hear from God ourselves. Now that is changing. The sermon last week on “rebellion IS witchcraft,” also covered Aaron and Miriam’s “uprising” against Moses. Again, I go back to the shepherding cult I was in during the 70’s, where I first heard that teaching. (Incidentally, I was asked to leave this cult because of my “rebellion” against God.)

    In this cult, we were often reminded of the punishment God meted on those who questioned Moses’ authority. Every time someone brought that up, I would secretly think to myself:


    If anyone had done in my presence HALF the things that Moses did, culminating with God Himself speaking from a mountain TELLING ME that they were his chosen prophet, I would be REALLY inclined to follow them. (So far, no takers. Which is probably a good thing.)

    Jesus himself said that it was better that he should leave, so the disciples would be given the Holy Spirit, then that he (undoubtedly the best leader ever) should stay with them perpetually. He was their “trainer,” not their “forever parent.” When the time was right, he cut them loose. (To be honest, it does not SEEM like they were terribly mature yet!) Where did they turn? Acts 9:31. The church was strengthened by the Holy Spirit. Just like Jesus said.

    According to Ephesians 4, the purpose of the five-fold is to bring Christians into maturity. Maturity presumes independence. Ironically, covering tehology demands dependence and therefore immaturity.

    It seems like the pattern of the New Testament was “train and release.” Interdependency, not co-dependency.

  3. There’s a whole movement whose church government structure is called the “Moses Model” (spelled out on most of the churches’ websites and on the Movements’ website;) whereby the people are supposed to acknowledge the pastor is a type of “Moses”. If someone questions the pastor then they are labeled unsubmissive/in rebellion to authority, since they are not recognizing the pastor’s supposed “special” position with God. The stories about Miriam and Aaron being struck with God’s punishment (including leprosy) are used as a fear tactic to back up this approach to governing God’s people in the church.

    It took us many years to realize this was the driving factor behind how these churches are run, since it isn’t obvious to anyone who doesn’t have an issue requiring the church’s help for resolution.

  4. I want to talk about this very difficult and misunderstood word submission. The Bible’s call to submission has unfortunately in American culture received a bad rap. Our media parades self reliance and rebellion and self will as more noble than humility. And the reason that humility and submission are so easily discarded is because of pride and self sufficiency and sometimes past hurts which have come from those who have misused their position and authority.

    If we want to understand humility and this word submission, we must understand theologically the nature of God. The Bible teaches that God is three persons in one, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It also teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One, indivisible and absolutely equal in essence. It is a great mystery but shows us several things about God.

    One the Godhead, the Holy Trinity shows us that within God Himself there is loving community. The Father has loved the Son and the Son has loved the Holy Spirit and Father from all eternity. There has never been conflict in the Godhead, there has never been division, and there has never been disunity. Scripture teaches us that God is perfect in love and when we want to understand love we look to God first.

    Secondly, when we look at the Godhead we not only see love but we also see government within God Himself. The Father so loved the world that He sent His Only begotten Son and after Jesus ascended to heaven the Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world. When we read the gospels we find many statements by Jesus of His complete submission to the Father.

    When going to the cross Jesus prayed to the Father, “Let this cup pass from me, but not my will, but your will be done.” While Jesus said on the one hand that the “Father and I are one,” he also said that “the Father is greater than I.” Jesus also said during his ministry on earth “I am not here on my own” and “I am not seeking glory for myself.” (John 7:28; 8:50)

    This is great mystery to us that there is rank and authority and delineation of roles within the Godhead. But as we mediate on the person of God, it is there that we first discover humility and perfect love. Jesus always submitted himself to the Father and always humbled himself, faithfully following the mission the Father gave Him here on earth, which ultimately led to a bloody cross that you and I may be forgiven and be reconciled to God.

    Why is all this so important for us to understand humility and this nasty word submission? God places each of us in humbling circumstances. Whether we recognize it or not we are dependent first on God for everything and ultimately He invites us to humble ourselves and trust Him first and then trust Him in the human relationships He surrounds us with. In every arena of life you will find government and rank that have been instituted by God.

    Within the marriage we find it. God commands the man to be submitted first to Christ and to love his wife as Christ loves the church. If men would just follow this command by God to love their wives like Jesus, most marriages would improve instantaneously. The wife then is invited to submit herself to the husband, trusting not that her husband will do everything perfectly, but trusting in God, who gave the command.

    Are men and woman equal? Absolutely! But just like there is equality within the Godhead, government and rank are also there to fulfill God’s purposes that He has laid out for His own glory before the dawn of time. We see this in the family as God designed it to be. And this design cannot be followed unless both the husband and wife humble themselves first to God and then to one another.

    Another arena God has put us in is the church. The church is first under Lordship of Christ, He is the head. But then God establishes government in the church and appoints pastors, teachers, evangelists, elders and deacons to lead the church towards maturity in Christ. Is this about power? No! Is this primarily about authority? No again! This is about God’s design and He orders it this way that we may learn humility, learn to serve one another and bring glory to God.

    Just because a husband has failed in loving his wife like Christ loves the church or a church leader has failed you personally does not negate God’s design where we can learn love, humility and ultimately trust Him more. Rank and delineation of authority is all around us. We find it in businesses, in national governments, and other organizations. These are arenas that God puts people together that we may learn to sacrificial love each other and learn humility just as Christ gave us an example.

    In the context of Paul’s reminder of how the church is governed in Ephesians 4 we read this, “I… urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

    In Christ,
    Pastor Joe Suozzo
    Howell, NJ

  5. With all respect pastor Joe I must say that the five fold ministry model is simply that, a model of how the church ought to function. As you know, we need not read very far before we see that the glorious sought after titles of ‘leaders in authority’ might not be as one would perceive. Jesus prayed earnestly in the garden that ‘this cup might pass from me’ because of the suffering he was about to endure. This suffering was unto death, a slow painful one. The grandeur of being a leader in authority for most in the Western churches of ‘Monetized Christianity’ has everything to do with the lure of getting ones validation from the position. It is interesting to note that the scriptures paint the graphic picture of what price these foundation layers (the church is built on the foundation of the apostle and the prophet) paid and even today ought to be demonstrating before they lay claim to having the God given right to authority in the church. By the way, you somehow missed them in your church governmental list of servants to the church.
    We must not stick our heads in the ‘Monetized Christian’ sandbox of the hierarchy of our day and go into denial about this incredible cost when one is called into this place of leadership service. Oh and did I mention that the ‘Pastor’ is not the head of the church? (1 Cor 12:28, Eph 4:11)
    Strange that the entire existence of the organized church in the past few hundred years revolves around this heresy.
    Is this ‘walking in a manner that is worthy of the calling to which we have been called…..?’ Are we really walking in the truth of the written word of God by exalting pastors or any of the other four gift functions to be the head of the church when the truth is clearly written for all to obey throughout the ages? The Jerusalem church was led by an elder board…..and the pastor/teacher gift was a valued part of a team based leadership only.
    Can one say they are really walking before God in truth when they are cooperating contrary to scripture? It seems our presumption is arrogance and pride and has nothing to do with the spirit of humility whatsoever!
    When we endure both in the physical and spiritual the beatings, whippings, going hungry, losing status, family relationships and health at times, we gain in His power to preach with authority as a ‘foundation layer’.
    The church desperately needs men and women to present themselves in this manner of love and humility at this time in history.
    It is my conviction that when the people of God see these true loving servants and their sufferings for the gospel that they will gladly volunteer (and submit) in the day of His power.
    We are promised that when we ‘fellowship by sharing with Him in His sufferings’ we will then be raised up with Him. Selah!!!

    Right then. Now about that authority we all want. Suffering anyone?

  6. Gods government is Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (elders) and teachers. At no time did God intend for an elder to be over an entire congregation. The apostles were put in place to bring order to the church. The 5 fold ministry is to work together to equip the church. Without the apostles and prophets God’s intent for the church will not happen. The saints won’t be equipped and released for the work of the ministry. The apostles are the ones who impart and release. So called pastors have placed themselves as the one governing authority when they are 4th in God’s government. Their attitude is how can you serve me instead of how can I serve you. The Apostle, says “how can I help you to fulfill your purpose.”
    @Cindy. I’m sorry to hear that about the church you were attending. They are in the wrong to a point. God has placed men and woman of God over the flock but only to equip, train and release. Sadly because the Apostles and prophets are not in place the church is not functioning as God intended. As leaders we are supposed to love and serve the flock. As an apostle, to impart and equip the flock to reach their purpose and destiny in God’s Kingdom on the earth.

  7. @Katherine. Well said and Amen! But may I correct you on one point? The 5 fold ministry is not a model. But the foundation/government God laid for His church, Christ the Chief Cornerstone, working together to impart, equip, train and release. The church was not meant for the people to stay within the four walls, keeping all the glory for themselves, but to go reach the lost for Jesus and transform our world once they are equipped.

    Francesca, God’s bondservant
    Shekinah Fellowship Church/Yahweh’s International Ministries

  8. According to Ephesians 4. The fivefold Ministry is a gift from our Lord to His Body and intended Bride.
    I believe it is wisdom to assume that a gift can never be more important that the one to whom it is given.
    Also we see in the same chapter insight that at the end of it all it is about the collective not the individual, the ‘we’ not the ‘I’.

    The five fold ministry and those who operate in those graces are therefore to find their purpose in serving the Church and not the other way round. i.e. servant leadership.

  9. Scripture clearly states that God is the Author of all authority.
    The account of King Saul Israel’s first king is also instructive of the fact that God will allow an ungodly ruler to teach His people a much needed lesson.

    It is also noteworthy that this same Ungodly ruler was the main instrument God used to shape David’s Character and prepare him for leadership.

    Perhaps what really does matter in all this is our own individual responses which could either be self seeking, or an opportunity to seek and submit to the divine will through a perceived direction. Which in my own experience only comes through prayer and waiting on Him.

  10. I think in our desire to bring correction, we go from one extreme to the other.

    The “five fold” ministries listed in Ephesians 4 is not a “suggested list” but a list of gifts which were given and placed by Jesus Himself when He ascended. These gifts are given for the equipping of the saints so they (the saints) can go out and do the work of ministry with the result that the whole body is edified and built up.

    Now, it is not a matter of whether or not we should have the gifts; it is a matter of how they have functioned through the centuries.

    In today’s church, the prevailing attitude is that the church member is to find a place to join up with, become a part of the “vision of the house”–the pastor’s vision–and have as that member’s singular goal a desire to support the local church/pastor so that the pastor can fulfill his God-given vision. This is actually 180 degrees from what the scriptures say the five fold ministry gifts calling is. It is not my job or calling to see to it that a minister fulfills his ministry, it is his job and calling to see to it that I, as a member in particular of the body of Christ, fulfill what He has called me to do. How? By teaching, training, and instruction.

    What fosters a lot of the error in churches today is the actual local church structure. In and of itself, it breeds the abuses of leadership/power that we so often see. Unquestioned obedience is taught in such a way that the individual feels that even if the pastor is in error, he dare not question anything. This is wrong and potentially dangerous to people’s spiritual life as the potential exists to really abuse the sheep.

    On the other hand, the house church movement, emphasizing equality and the headship of Jesus over His church, has seemingly tossed any notion of leadership out of the window and has made everybody the same when God has given different gifts to each and every member of the body. Just because 10 people get together in a house does not mean that any one of them can be the pastor. Unless God has called and equipped one to function in that regard, there will be no pastoral gifting. That is God’s gift alone to give. Same with any other gift–including the five fold.

    The issue is not whether there is leadership; the issue is what that leadership of Christ’s body is to look like and how it is to behave. Submission is not a dirty word. It has to properly defined and properly implemented.

    One error results in the “covering theology” and the other error is a total negation of any authority/submission at all.

    Balance is the key here.

  11. Gary:

    I’ve been in the house church movement for 10 years. Every church I’ve known has a had a leader. Many of them ex-pastors with formal theological and ministry training. I think you are painting the movement with a pretty broad brush.

  12. LT,

    You missed the point of my post. It was a plea for balance…contrasting two extremes.

    I never said that “every” house church functions without leadership. I said that the house church movement, in general, has a different view of leadership than the local church structure. This cannot be denied. It is in their publications, on their web sites, even in their YouTube videos.

    After leaving an abusive church with abusive leaders, many go to the opposite extreme. In your 10 years “you” may have never seen a house church without leadership, but you are taking your limited perspective and applying it to your movement as a whole. (Let’s pass that broad brush around, shall we?) 🙂

    I have read much of the extant literature of house church advocates (being one myself) and the idea of hierarchical leadership is anathema to them. In their literature and practice, many actually shy away from any leadership at all. Not all house churches…but many of them do. Instead, preferring to make every one equal under Christ.

    If they embrace any leadership structure at all, it surely is not to be found within the corpus of their literature or, at least, it is not emphasized.

  13. Gary

    To be fair I didn’t really respond to your main point positively or negatively.

    I’ve lead a house church for several years now. I see myself as a leader but not in the traditional hierarchical sense. For one this isn’t a whole to be in charge of with a house church. There are no assets, no public programs, no building, and no money. These are a lot of the things we need people to be in charge of in conventional churches.

    It is mostly just people. Now on a few occasions where people were being dangerous and harming others I stepped in with authority when other more gentle options failed.

    I see leadership primarily in teaching, modeling, and serving. Things are structured so the community responds to needs but I feel it is leaders role to make sure no one falls through the cracks. I organized more things than others, but other people people organized stuff as well. It is more like a family and when a family gets together there isn’t big need for a leader to direct everything.

    How do you see a big downside to a lack of hierarchical leadership? The downside to strong hierarchical systems like covering is that they destroy community and dehumanize people. What is the downside to 10 people loving each other, caring for each other, teaching each other scripture? As long as there is open hearted mutual submission.

    If I had a worry would be that things might get messy if someone starts being really stupid and there just confusion about how to respond. Some groups handle this alright because usually there is a leader in the group they just aren’t functioning as one. Others don’t but that is true of every kind of church. The fight over hierarchical power is one the great causes of people being dumb in the church. When you have less to fight over, you have less fights in general.

    It doesn’t worry me that much.

  14. LT

    “How do you see a big downside to a lack of hierarchical leadership?”

    I am a house church proponent myself. I said as much in my post! I tend to agree that the use of hierarchical leadership keeps people from moving in their gifts and callings. So, no argument there.

    My goal was to illustrate by using two extremes. I know that all house churches are not the same nor use the same leadership style. Yet, I believe that God has gifted certain people in the body to guide, guard and govern, but not in the way most institutional churches do. I quite agree with your assessment of leadership and that their job is to see that all are continuing towards growing in faith and discipleship.

    Be blessed!

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