Home Pastors Articles for Pastors The Dangerous Myth of Christian Leadership

The Dangerous Myth of Christian Leadership

In Reimagining Church, I argue that there is no special position or office called “leader” in the New Testament.

Some who haven’t read my work have misconstrued my position to suggest that I believe there are “no leaders” in the church…or that there shouldn’t be any.

Not true.

My position is the opposite. I believe that the New Testament envisions all Christians as leaders in their own sphere of ministry and gifting.

To put it another way, according to the New Testament, there is no clergy/laity distinction. Instead, all Christians are kleros (clergy) and all Christians are laos (laity).

The clergy/laity dichotomy is a tragic fault line that runs throughout the history of Christendom. Yet despite the fact that multitudes have taken the low road of dogmatism to defend it, this dichotomy is without biblical warrant.

The word “laity” is derived from the Greek word laos. It simply means “the people.” Laos includes all Christians—including elders.

The word appears three times in 1 Peter 2:9-10, where Peter refers to “the people [laos] of God.” Never in the New Testament does it refer to only a portion of the assembly. It didn’t take on this meaning until the third century. (I trace the historical roots in Pagan Christianity.)

The term “clergy” finds its roots in the Greek word kleros. It means “a lot or an inheritance.” The word is used in 1 Peter 5:3, where Peter instructs the elders against being “lords over God’s heritage [kleros].” (KJV)

Significantly, kleros is never used to refer to church “leaders.” Like laos, it refers to God’s people—for they are His heritage. According to the New Testament, then, all Christians are “clergy” (kleros) and all are “laity” (laos). We are the Lord’s heritage and the Lord’s people.

To frame it differently, the New Testament doesn’t dispose of clergy. It makes all believers clergy.

Therefore, the clergy-laity dichotomy is a post-biblical concept that’s devoid of any scriptural warrant. It’s also a bothersome menace to what God has called the church to be—a functioning body.

There’s no hint of the clergy/laity or minister/layman schema in the history, teaching, or vocabulary of the New Testament. This schema is a religious artifact that stems from the post-apostolic disjunction of secular and spiritual.

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frankviola@churchleaders.com'
FRANK VIOLA has helped thousands of people around the world to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church. His mission is to help serious followers of Jesus know their Lord more deeply, gain fresh perspectives on old or ignored subjects, and make the Bible come alive. Viola has written many books on these themes, including God's Favorite Place on Earth and From Eternity to Here. His blog, Beyond Evangelical, is rated as one of the most popular in Christian circles today.