Jack Fortenberry is the author of a short essay entitled, “Corinthian Elders“. His book was published in 2008 and Fortenberry emailed me to ask if I would review his book for my blog.
The premise of Fortenberry’s book is that leaders in the Church can harm, not help, our relationship with Christ and hinder the Church’s ability to make disciples. Fortenberry supports this thesis by citing Paul’s admonition in 1 Cor 1-4 to not follow after a gifted speaker, but instead on the wisdom of Christ given to each follower through the Holy Spirit (17). Fortemberry writes:
For the church to present one or a few preachers to a passive audience who attend services because they enjoy the sermon or preaching style is a violation of Paul’s commandment to the Church. Do we know better than Paul? (15)… Giftedness, as some consider oratory skills in professional preachers, may in fact be detrimental to a demonstration of the Spirit’s working as indicated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:4… (23)
Fortenberry’s main concern is that the system of hiring professional speakers or Elders encourages people to follow after “favorite” speakers instead of the leadership of the Spirit among the saints (32-33) .
Fortenberry’s book goes on to say that consensus leadership is the New Testament model of how the church should be governed (46). Additionally, he concludes, that no Elder should ever receive any money in support of their ministry to the flock (55-56).
I have a respectful disagreement with Fortenberry’s claim that paying Elders is not biblical. (I see this as a “Freedom in Christ” issue left open to the decision of each local Family). Far too much of his argument relies on setting up the reader through rhetorical questions that he never fully answers himself.
I would also like to read a more thorough definition of the term “leadership.” than Fortenberry provides in his book.
- What is biblical leadership?
- Is congregational “leadership” by consensus truly the “biblical” model we see in the New Testament?
- Why does Paul even establish Elders?
Ultimately, Fortenberry’s book overcorrects against the unhealthy models of leadership in the West, but at the expense of the Elder’s unique role as “overseer” and “shepherd” for the congregation.
Overall, if you are a discerning reader, “Corinthian Elders” is a decent contribution to the ongoing reformation of the church in the West. The book’s emphasis on following Christ and allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us is a much needed reminder to the church at large.