The following transcription is presented as both a definition and an illustration of the New Testament concept of leadership. This exchange took place during the question and answer period of a women’s meeting at Willow Creek Community Church. Church elder Laurie Pederson’s answer was given extemporaneously.
As an elder in the church, how do you handle being in authority over others in the church, but being in submission to your husband at home? Doesn’t this create an enormous conflict?
The question suggests that I wear two very distinct and actually incompatible “hats.” It is presumed that I put on the hat of authority and exercise power over people within the church. Then, when I walk through the door of my home, I take off the hat of authority and put on the hat of submission, with my husband exercising power over me.
As I understand New Testament teaching on authority and submission, I don’t see such a picture of two separate hats. The kind of authority and leadership that Christ modeled and taught always found expression in servanthood — considering the welfare and well-being of others: lifting, not lording over (Matthew 20:25-28).
Within the local church, ultimate oversight is vested in the elders collectively as representatives of the congregation. I don’t view myself as having any personal authority as an individual elder. When the elders as a leadership team consider issues and arrive at decisions — based on biblical principles and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, their ultimate sources of authority — those decisions then hold authority for that particular local body. Again, that leadership is carried out with a shepherding, serving spirit, considering the welfare of the body. The “hat” the elders are called to wear is that of a servant-leader.
Similarly, our marriage is based on the principle of mutual submission that Paul articulates in Ephesians 5:21-30. In that context, Scott does not view his role as wielding authority over me, “calling the shots,” holding the power or making the final decisions in every area. In fact, we both feel responsible to bring strength, nurturing, spiritual vitality, and our unique competencies and gifting to the relationship. We’re both called to consider the well-being of the other in any decision-making process and to exercise leadership according to our spiritual gifts.
In our culture, the term “servant-leader” seems like an oxymoron. By Webster’s definition, leadership and submission are antithetical concepts. But not so by Christ’s definition. He exemplified both authority and submission. He modeled servant-leadership for all of us in our own areas of competency. To Him, there was only one “hat.” Whether at home or in the church, we are challenged to follow His example.