Posted by: William | April 2, 2008

Hierarchy in the Body

Last Wednesday night I was asked to teach briefly at my small group. Now, don’t be deceived, the group is in no way ‘small’. Last Wednesday, we had about 25 people present, all coming from various church and religious backgrounds. I was responsible for teaching on Ephesians 1:1-6, very simply summed up: God’s awesome grace as seen chiefly in his electing of believers before the foundation of the world through the saving work of Jesus on the Cross. We are a diverse group, both socially and theologically and I had in my hands a thoroughly tricky set of verses to teach; I certainly had my work cut out for me.

What quickly emerged as I thought, prayed and studied for the teaching was my fear that was rooted and legitimized in a pride that I, at one time, fostered. As a younger man in my faith, I was introduced to a sort of unspoken hierarchal scale; who was and who wasn’t qualified to lead me or teach me. In the same sense, I also existed in the same structure; there were those who I was qualified to teach, and those who I was not. The qualifications were generally based on things like age or sometimes tenure in the faith and pretty much entirely rooted in pride. In the past two years, that mindset has been drastically deconstructed to where now, while it still rises from time to time, it’s much more silent than ever before. As I prepared for the teaching on Wednesday, I found myself worried that others would look at me with some level of disdain thinking something like, “who does this guy think he is, teaching us—he’s not even older than me” or even, “he’s younger than me!” My fear was legitimate, I felt that way at one point and it’s feasible to think others will now.

Well, the teaching came and went. I got enough feedback to know that I did a pretty good job. I botched a couple of things in my nervousness, but by the end of the teaching I was pretty well settled into the roll.

I engaged in a conversation this afternoon with some good friends on the topic of church and church relationships. The topic of last weeks small group came up and, as it turns out, there were some who did feel like I had attempted to elevate myself into some new hierarchal position among the group (It doesn’t particularly concern me who those people were, so I did not pry into it at all). I took great pains in preparation, prayer and action attempting to avoid this, and all of the other feedback said it didn’t come across like that was my intention at all; as of now, my conscience remains clean. However, this leads me to believe that I had not accidentally projected myself into some hierarchal scale, but rather there was something amiss in the observer; but perhaps its something I still unwittingly feed.

This thinking has led me to believe that there might be something amiss in the body at large. Perhaps an unhealthy mutation in the way we see each other in the church. Is the pastor of the church better than me, above me? No, although he has greater responsibility than I and he has more extensively proven his faith; we are still equals in Christ, we are still brothers. What about the youngest true believer in the youth ministry, am I better than he, am I above him? Of course not, although I have had longer to work out my faith, we are equals in Christ, we are brothers. What about tenure; did you come to Christ just recently? We are still brothers, equals. Regardless of our perceived hierarchy, us in the body of Christ are all equally selected, equally chosen, equally redeemed, equally loved. Our hierarchy is entirely in our heads.  So why the scale at all?

If I was a mechanic and you were not and we were in a discussion about car parts, clearly I would know more than you. I would have more experience than you. I would have greater skills and way more insights, but am I better than you? No, of course not. We could talk about mechanics, automobiles, driving, whatever, I could teach you all sorts of things, and still, at the end of the day, we could go out to dinner as brothers and equals. I hope to see a time when the body can truly operate like the body, each member can view every other member as equally as important as itself. Regard every member of the body as equals, respecting, caring, loving and sometimes even giving honor where it’s due. I would love to see in small groups, churches embracing each other and valuing each others gifts, not because they elevate anyone anywhere, but because one spirit has given each of them and all are given for our edification! If you have been gifted as a teacher, please teach! If you have been gifted as an evangelist, please talk to us about evangelism! If you are a gifted song writer and musician, please share your songs of encouragement with us! If you are an excellent administrator, serviceman, singer, painter, conversationalist, whatever, please serve the body with your gifts so that we can be edified!

Jesus, I pray that you would help me to expand further my understanding of the body. Jesus, help me to joyfully serve the body within the way that you’ve gifted me, and help me to joyfully receive service from the body in all the ways that it’s been gifted. Jesus, I pray that you would help us, your church, to be humble, to always view others as better than ourselves. Help us in all things to seek everyone’s edification and encouragement. Jesus, clean up this mess we call the church! Help us Lord to serve you, as we serve each other. Sanctify us, God, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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Responses

  1. I am with you 99%… just here is where we differ:

    Is the pastor of the church better than me, above me? No, although he has greater responsibility than I …

    I cannot know if this is universally true or even possible to know if it is ever true. I think pastor is primarily a verb in the NT. Like to pastor. Similar to “to teach”.

    So, I wonder if we cannot really measure this … it may be true “temporally.” For the duration of your teaching last night, you had “more” responsibility but as soon as it ended and every left the level of responsibility shifted. How many people does each person pastor and teach? Today or in their lifetime?

    Treating one who teaches or pastors as also a leader (or worse imo, The Leader) with more responsibility is the controversial element I was referring to in your discussion of Baxter’s 8 points.

    I love the mechanic analogy. It reminded me of an axle replacement I once participated in…

  2. When I refer to the pastor in the church, I’m referring not necessarily to the gift of pastoring, but like the modern social or vocational distinction. Whether that’s right or wrong is a discussion for another day.

    Regardless, those people have accepted a certain level of responsibility beyond the rest of the congregation. Even if that responsibility is simply praying diligently and preparing each weak to teach the congregation with his gifting.

    When I say responsibility, I mean it not necessarily in a spiritual sense, although maybe, but more in a practical sense.


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