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Author Frank viola titled his latest blog with the idea that it is a myth for one to believe the New Testament has a position or office called “leader.” With regard to the designation “leader,” this is true. When he says there is no position or office called “leader” he does not want us to understand that he thinks the church is leaderless; no, he thinks all Christians are leaders in the church: “I believe that the New Testament envisions all Christians as leaders in their own sphere of ministry and gifting.” He wants us to understand that there is no distinction between what some have called “clergy” and “laity.” Moreover, he maintains that even with regard to the elders of the local congregation, they themselves are not the leaders. He does believe that they do lead, but only in a “specific capacity that’s different from the other members of the church.”

Frank Viola does not seem to subscribe to overseers/elders/shepherds being the leaders of a local congregation. It appears we are to understand that they are leaders among other leaders with a different function or a specific capacity. If this is so, then perhaps the shepherding quality of their leadership is not as important as we once thought. Yet, the Holy Spirit says clearly that the Christians are to “obey those who rule over them” (Hebrews 13:17, NKJV). Interestingly enough, the NET reads, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls and will give an account for their work. Let them do this with joy and not with complaints, for this would be no advantage for you” (italics added, RT).

Who are these leaders? Peter said that Jesus is the chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4), and by the nature of the “position” (if you will, contrary to Frank Viola), a shepherd leads. If he is the chief shepherd, and if he is our leader, then shall we not conclude that “lower” shepherds are also leaders (1 Peter 5:1-3)? The Holy Spirit said plainly that elders are to shepherd the flock, and that can mean nothing if it does not mean that they lead the entirety of the local congregation!

The New Testament does emphasize leadership, but it is the leadership of Jesus Christ. When Peter declared (Acts 2:36) that Jesus is both Lord and Christ, he made it plain to his hearers that he is both the law-giver (Lord)[1] and God’s chosen (Christ).

In summary, Frank Viola has good ideas with regard to the denominational terminology of “clergy” and “laity” and the nature of leadership. These good ideas, however, do not warrant the notion that the local congregation is to have no leaders (or, the leaders) over the entirety of the whole. Paul recognized such, and so did Peter.

[1] “‘Lord’ denotes ‘master,’ ‘sovereign,’ one who has all authority in heaven and earth.” Gareth Reese, Commentary on Acts, College Press, 1976, p. 72