In dealing with leadership I was concerned to measure the impact of Baptist understanding of church with its emphasis on the gathered community of believers in Christ, where no one person or group can claim to be the authoritative channel of revelation. Rather, the whole community under Christ's authority is responsible for seeking his will. Obviously, some individuals have key roles like ministers, but all leadership forms should accompany and implement church meeting decisions that should not just be based on counting votes but seeking the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Spiritual discernment together.
Wow, can that be complicated! At the core of this complex authority structure is the huge claim that we are being made a new humanity in Christ, which is a work in progress. We are a living experiment working out Ephesians 4: 1-16. No longer as immature as we once were, pleasing ourselves, forcing our own preferences, we are growing together by the grace of Christ to become 'mature' in community. Faith in Jesus Christ involves a calling to maturity, to shared responsibility with others in his new creation. This is a challenge of the highest order. God gives it and, by triune grace, he empowers it.
While speaking at the conference I realized how I could sum up the negative and positive of this way of understanding church. What is the biggest disadvantage to Baptist leadership, with the gathered church seeking God's will together? It's IMMATURITY. Bluntly, many of the critical problems arise because we are still 'infants tossed back and forth by the waves' (Eph. 4: 14) enslaved to selfish individualism with childish attitudes.
And what is the biggest advantage: a gathered church's MATURITY. When a people is growing together in unity, 'speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ.' (Eph. 4:15). More grown-up in our attitudes to each other.
Isn't Christian leadership about being more grown-up in Christ, helping a church to be more grown-up too? So many issues on the list required learning how to be more grown-up together.