Arranging the Church to Function as a Body

The Ultimate Performance Review

Hebrews 13:17 makes reference to the ultimate performance review for church leaders.

Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

This passage informs us that church leadership will give an account to God for those placed under their charge, which apparently is a reference to those included in the church body.

Think about standing before the God of the universe and giving an account of your work. In reading this verse one gets the impression that this account includes two aspects. It is an account of how well those under the authority of the church leadership have done. It seems also to be an accounting of how well the church leadership has done in their oversight responsibilities.

The Nature of the Performance Required

How can these leaders perform their oversight responsibilities effectively?

Yesterday we addressed what appears to be the most foundational issue. The shepherds must identify the flock. They must know which sheep belong in their sheepfold for whom they will give an account.

This verse does not describe the specific responsibilities of these leaders. However, it provides a couple of indicators.

First, in saying, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them.” this passage indicates that these leaders give instructions of some kind, which the author of Hebrews tells the parishioners to obey. This conveys to us that they are giving spiritual instructions to those under them that demand a behavioral response.

This verse also informs us that these leaders are actively, continuously watching those under their authority. The Greek word translated “keep watch” embodies the idea of “sleeplessness,” as if those watching never take their eyes off of those under their charge day or night. Of course, this is merely an expression to convey the great care taken by these leaders to let nothing escape their attention. This suggests a parental level of concern.

Combined, these descriptions of oversight give the impression that personal interaction exists between the one in authority and his subordinate in which the leader gives instructions and then watches how the one under his authority follows those instructions and is otherwise living.

Configured Like a Body

The personal nature of this arrangement suggests that in the early church elders or deacons were assigned to specific persons in the church for oversight.

In a church where I pastored, a church of between 500 and 600 in attendance, we had in place an arrangement of this nature in which each elder had a number of “caring couples” working under them, and each “caring couple” had a number of families for which they were responsible. Every member of the church was assigned to a caring couple, so this was not a voluntary arrangement, but rather it represented a required feature of being part of this church. This setup was not my doing but an excellent piece of pastoral work done by the preceding pastor and his staff. By the time I arrived on the scene this arrangement was so well established that it for the most part ran on its own. I mention this arrangement to make the point that even in a midsize church this approach can be instituted.

Think about the difference that an arrangement such as this makes in the church culture. It provides structure to the church body so that every member of the body has a formal and active tie to the church leadership and a corresponding means of the leadership overseeing each person in the body. Combining this arrangement with the one discussed yesterday, that of clearly defining who does and does not belong to the church, results in all those who are officially part of the church body being actively connected to that body. In other words, at least in this respect this church body is configured like an actual body.

I am convinced that the arrangement, making everyone in the body experientially part of the body, would provide substantial strength to churches in America and also to members within the church. We need the figure of the body to be more than a figure of speech but a paradigm for configuring the church.

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