[BOOK REVIEW] Embracing Shared Ministry
There is a great new book coming out on July 1st by one of my former professors, Joseph Hellerman entitled, “Embracing Shared Ministry: Power & Authority In The Early Church And Why It Matters Today“. Finally, we have a book that is not arguing about WHERE the church meets, but advancing HOW we must meet. Without a doubt, I will be using this book in my future leadership courses, so I encourage everyone to go onto Amazon now and pre-order it.
If you are not convinced, let me simply share a couple thoughts from Joe’s book. From the beginning, Joe demolishes the culture of self-promotion in Paul’s day and applies it directly to our own time.
In a frontal assault on all such posturing, honor-seeking, and self-promotion, Paul proceeds forcefully and unequivocally to assert,
But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith (Phil. 3:7–9).
So much for Jewish privilege. So much for Roman citizenship. So much for decurion status. So much for using my social capital—whatever it might be—to build my own empire and serve my own selfish desires.
And what about all those titles that the residents of Philippi found so impressive and attractive? What did our great apostle think of those? Roman social priorities, you will recall, guaranteed that people with titles would make sure that others knew what those titles were—like Pliny did with his statue project.
Paul in Philippians 1:1 does precisely the opposite. He refrains from proclaiming his title, ‘apostle,’ and refers to himself and Timothy, instead, as a ‘slaves.’
Then, in direct contrast to typical Roman behavior, he honors others by addressing them with their titles: ‘overseers and deacons.’ Paul here practices what he will preach later in the letter: ‘in humility consider others as more important than yourselves’ (2:3). (pg. 87-88)
Joe goes on to give an in-depth analysis of both Roman culture and the Scripture and challenges us with the ideal of leadership, and community, within the church.
Paul’s goal was to create a very different kind of community among the followers of Jesus in first-century Philippi. The Philippian church was to be a community that discouraged competition for status and privilege, a place where the honor game was off-limits, in summary, a community in which persons with power and authority used their social capital not to further their own personal or familial agendas but, rather, to serve their brothers and sisters in Christ. (pg. 119)
BUT, as Joe points out, there is a huge difference between the biblical call to leadership and the practice of it today.
We have encountered a stark contrast between Paul’s understanding of leadership, on the one hand, and the ways that power and authority are often leveraged in our churches, on the other. The previous chapter sought to explain this disconnect between the biblical ideal and contemporary practice. An unhappy mix of (a) insecure, narcissistic leaders, (b) corporate models of ministry that give those leaders too much latitude, and (c) Sunday audiences enamored by self-assured, charismatic communicators has converged to open the door to the abuse of power and authority by numbers of persons in vocational Christian service. (pg. 310)
Joe’s conclusions are both encouraging and disheartening. For those looking to use their pastoral gifting in the church, he warns,
Paul’s vision for authentic Christian leadership is a case in point. The concept of a team of pastors, whose leadership arises naturally out of mutually edifying peer relationships, will not even be on the radar screen of most churches looking to hire recent seminary graduates.
This is painfully true, as for years I have not felt disenfranchised and alienated from most churches and have begun to wonder if I will ever shepherd another congregation… I just don’t know if there is a place for this kind of leadership. But, most fortunately Joe also shares much of his own personal story of trying to live out shared leadership and I am encouraged by it. Joe has some great advice for me, and others in this book, and I am working to apply it to my own life.
Please, do yourself and your church a favor, and pick up a copy of this book “Embracing Shared Ministry: Power & Authority In The Early Church And Why It Matters Today“. There are discussion questions at the end of every chapter, so it makes for a marvelous discussion tool that leaders can easily integrate into their leadership teams.