“As go the officers, so goes the Church.” Do you agree or disagree with that statement? If you are not sure, consider some other examples. As goes the board of directors, so go the company. As goes the coach, so goes the team. As go the elected officials (or king), so goes the country. Remember, spiritual truths should never be divorced from common sense. If all of those examples are true, why would we think differently about the Church? We shouldn’t. Church leaders affect and shape their churches, just as other leaders affect and shape their organizations.

Yet the Church is not an exact parallel to the examples in the previous paragraph. The great leader, the greatest “officer,” in the Church is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. He is our Great Prophet, Priest, and King; our All-Sufficient Representative and Federal Head; our Savior and Sustainer. Because Christ is eternally faithful as our Mediator, his church cannot fail. As goes the Leader, so goes his Church. God’s will, not the will of the officers, ultimately determines a church’s direction.

The dynamic / tension between God’s plan for a church and church officers’ management of a church is much like the dynamic / tension between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Which is it? Both! God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, but his divine foreordination of all things does not mean that people are not responsible for their decisions. From our finite perspective, we cannot know how every detail of how God is sovereignly directing our church (or any church!). Practically, therefore, we must live by, “As go the leaders, so goes the Church.”

For me, such a thought is inexhaustibly exasperating, and it scares me to death. As go our officers at CPC, so goes everyone at CPC? Though there is truth in such thinking, I want to reframe the entire discussion, to move it beyond just our experience at CPC…

The following passage is about the resurrection, but the principle contained in it can be applied to church leadership as well:

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. ~ 1 Corinthians 15:25-28

In other words, nothing in this present age will be fully “fixed” until the final enemy, death, is “fixed” by being defeated. Until that occurs, everything, including the Church’s human leadership (and the leadership at CPC), will be flawed and tarnished by sin. The remnant of sin within all officers of the Church Visible is both their enemy and Christ’s, but it simply will not go away until the resurrection of the dead at the return of Christ.

Why, then, are we tempted to think Church officers should be more than they are, much closer to perfection than everyone else? Why have I so often been tempted to think the same about myself as a teaching elder? I believe that temptation actually results from a flawed understanding of the Church itself. Too often Christians think in terms of “my church,” rather than realizing all (true) churches (small “c”) are part of Christ’s Church (big “C”). Whether a particular body of believers, a denomination, or the full assembly of God’s people across the ages, believers must remember that the Church belongs solely to the One who bought it with his blood and that he, not local officers, has the prerogative to determine the Church’s direction.

When Christians think in terms of “my church,” they buy into a man-centered way of thinking that, in turn, affects the way they view officers. Because they forget that Christ is the Great “Officer” of his Church, they think that human officers can (should?) accomplish what Christ alone can and does accomplish. “If this is my church and if I elected these officers, then they are accountable to me.” The two “if” statements are “me-centered” so it should be no surprise that there is a “me-centered” conclusion. But notice who is absent from such thinking – Christ Jesus!

What happens when my/I/me is replaced with Christ? “If this is Christ’s church and if Christ called these officers, then they are accountable to Christ.” That one adjustment, from my/I/me to Christ, changes everything! Officers are no longer viewed merely as elected officials of the people but are designated servants of Christ. Pastors are no longer expected to be bulletproof dynamos possessing ubiquitous appeal but are called as humble under-shepherds striving to display Christlikeness in their lives and to instill faithfulness in his people. Church office is no longer a means of exerting influence, obtained primarily because of ability or giftedness, but is a means of serving others, meekly undertaken after of a long-standing pattern of self-denial. Church success is no longer judged by activities, members, or budgets but by collective devotion to God’s standards in Scripture.

What else do you think would change if God’s people thought less in terms of “my church” and more in terms of “Christ’s Church?”

Now I am not saying that thinking in terms of “my / our church” or “my / our officers” is altogether wrong. Practically speaking, we must consider the circumstances of “my / our church” and the character of “my / our church’s officers.” To ignore the present realities at CPC would be altogether foolish! Our church has limitations. Your pastor (i.e., me!) has weaknesses, limitations, blind spots, and character flaws. Our officers should, to a certain degree, be held accountable by those they serve. It is indeed good and profitable to consider such things in our local church.

Nevertheless, an understanding of the Church and its officers should never begin with “my experience” in “my church.” Rather, let us understand the Church and its officers as we look to God’s grand vision set forth in his word. As we continue to do this together, I assure you that God will help us make sense of both the good and the bad in our church (and in other churches). No longer will we find ourselves being overly critical or overly optimistic about what our church (or any church) should be, but we will begin to express gratitude for what our church (and the Church) already is – the redeemed bride of Christ being prepared for her wedding day. As go our thoughts, so go our actions.

May God bless us richly as we learn to love his Church even as he already does!

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