the weblog of Alan Knox

Leadership is not decision-making

Posted by on Sep 22, 2008 in elders, office, service | 29 comments

When we study the idea of leadership in Scripture, we find that leadership in the church is not decision-making, and decision-making is not leadership. When we study the idea of leadership in today’s church, we find that leadership is primarily about decision-making.

Ready almost any book on ecclesiology or church leadership, and you’ll read about various forms of “church government” or “church polity”. You’ll read about the episcopal form, in which a bishop (or senior pastor) makes decisions for the church. You’ll also read about the presbyterian form, in which a group of people (elders, pastors, staff, or deacons) make decisions for the church. Finally, you’ll read about the congregational form, in which the church itself makes the decisions.

But, when we search Scripture to determine who should make decisions for the church, we come up short. Scripture does not deal with the concept of making decisions for the church. Yes, we find church leadership in the church: elders, bishops, pastors, deacons, teachers, etc. But, these are not mentioned in the context of making decisions. However, we do find that decisions are made in Scripture.

In Acts 6, the people come to the apostles with a problem. Some of the widows are not receiving food, while others are receiving food. The apostles did not make decisions for the people. Instead, the apostles tell the people to take care of the situation. The apostles lead by suggesting characteristics of those who should serve these widows, but they do not make the decision for the people.

In Acts 15, a major question is brought before the apostles: should Gentile Christians become Jews – i.e. should they be circumcised and required to keep the law. The decision that would be made at this time would affect the church for all ages. Who made the decisions? The apostles? Yes, they were part of the decision-making process. The elders? Yes, they were part of the decision-making process. Others? Yes, even Barnabas and Paul were allowed to take part even though they were part of the church in Antioch. In fact, it seems that the entire church took part in the decision-making process. But, certainly the entire church would not have been considered leaders.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul writes to the church in Corinth about a “brother” who was living an immoral life. The church was doing nothing about this situation, and Paul admonished them for it. Paul told them what he thought they should do about this situation, but who was responsible for making the decision to actually do it? Apparently, Paul left that up to the church.

In each case, the “leaders” involved guided and taught and admonished and exhorted, but they did not make decisions for other people. In fact, in 3 John, we see an example of a “leader” who does make decisions for people, and John speaks of him (Diotrephes) negatively.

So, if leadership is not about decision-making in Scripture, then what is leadership? Leadership is service – serving people. Service should be the start of the discussion about church leadership, and service should be the end of the discussion about church leadership. Teaching is about service. Sherpherding is about service. Overseeing (watching out for) is about service. Leadership is about service. Those who do not serve are not leaders in the scriptural sense.

When we see discussions about church government (polity) and its different forms, we should recognize that these questions and forms and structures arose after the New Testament was written. For example, it is from Ignatius that we learn that the bishop should make decisions for the church and that the church should do nothing without the approval of the bishop.

Now, this does not mean that scriptural leaders (servants) do not have influence concerning decisions. They do and they should. Assuming that we have recognized leaders because of their spiritual maturity and their service to others (and this is a HUGE assumption that is often not true), then we should ask for their opinions, and we should often follow what they say (Heb. 13:17). Leaders, on the other hand, must recognize that we can selfishly use our influence to get our own way – even when the outcome doesn’t really matter.

Since they are more spiritually mature (we’re assuming, remember), then leaders should be the first to give up their rights for the rights of others. Leaders should be the first to consider others as more important than themselves and, therefore, to consider the opinion of others as more important than their own opinion. When leaders are concerned about a decision, then they influence that decision through service, teaching, admonishment, exhortation, but not by attempting to exercising authority – that authority belongs only to the one head of the church. Leaders must be willing to serve all, and allow Christ to control the decision-making.

But, that’s not what we find today. Instead, when people talk about leadership in the church, they talk about decision-making. Perhaps, we need to stop trying to make decisions, and start serving. If a decision has to be made (and make sure that it actually HAS to be made), then offer your opinion, teach, admonish, exhort, etc. Then, allow the ones affected by the decision to make that decision.

To do that, of course, we’ll have to find leaders who are willing to serve only.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-22-2008

    You make a strong point Alan. Mind if I probe this with you a bit?

    What is your thought regarding this passage from Acts 14:23?

    “When [Paul and Barnabus] had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

    Seems like the decision was made for the church who would serve as Elders. What do you think?

  2. 9-22-2008

    Joe (JR),

    The verb translated “appoint” can have a wide range of meanings, from “choose” to “install” to “point out” to even “elect by raising a hand, that is, voting”. How do we decide which translation to use in this context?

    If Paul and Barnabas selected and told the church who would be there elders, how would they know who to select?

    I think there was alot more involved than Paul and Barnabas making a decision for the churches.


  3. 9-22-2008

    Good point and it shows how Greek can bring some understanding to a passage.

    What is your take on this passage from Acts 4?

    34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

    It seems the Apostles were entrusted with the money and the Apostles distributed as there was need. No indication that every decision about who should be helped was put up for a vote of any kind.

    How would you understand this kind of decision making?

  4. 9-22-2008

    Alan. You write good and important stuff about this. Though, I would like to push things a bit further. I think no one in the church should be called “leader”, and I even think Jesus explicitly forbids this (Matt 23:8-12). Why? Because only Jesus, the Messiah, is our leader.

    This doesn´t mean that no leading is happening, or even that everyone is always leading to the same extent. But since we are kings together as God´s renewed people, we all have a share in God´s leadership, according to our different roles/gifts. So we shouldn´t label only a few of us “leaders”. It´s more dynamic than that. Every one can and should lead in different ways on different occasions.

    So, I don´t believe in other leaders than Jesus. But I do believe that the Spirit gives healers, apostles, prophets, elders, givers etc to the church.
    /Jonas Lundström

  5. 9-22-2008


    You said, “It seems the Apostles were entrusted with the money and the Apostles distributed as there was need. No indication that every decision about who should be helped was put up for a vote of any kind.”

    Well, the scripture does indicate who was helped, “to each as any had need.” What you are quoting is not necessarily leadership but let’s assume for a second that it is. I don’t think this goes against what Alan is saying.

    Alan is not saying that Apostles cannot lead. He is saying that “leading” is not decision-making. Sure Apostles make decisions, just as the whole church makes decision. The examples that Alan used were of people who we traditionally say, “These were the Leaders” then we insert our definition of “leader” into the text saying, “Therefore they made all the decisions for the church”…

    Rather, Alan, is saying look here are some Leaders – but they did not make this decision or that decision, because Leadership is not decision-making. But that does not mean that a leader is forbid from making decisions.

    I hope that doesn’t sound convoluted.

    God’s Glory,

  6. 9-22-2008

    Absolutely love your blog it’s insight and timeliness are a God thing.

    Since language is constantly changing, and because language has nuance, I prefer to translate hegeomai as guide rather than leader. The nuance or the emotional background and understanding that the mind evokes with the word leader seems to reinforce the sense of separation between clergy and laity as well as exuding a sense of “independent” decision making rather than “dependent” decision making as in “doing only what the Father is doing”. This appears to give the impression that a “leader” can pick any direction and take off. It also allows those who chose this title to invest into it all the “authority” they think it ought to have.

    On the other hand, a “guide” has to have been somewhere before he can possibly lead anyone else there. My question to those who call themselves leaders is this: “There are 360 degrees on a compass and only one will lead to Christ, on the other hand 359 will lead away from Christ. What kind of a leader are you, a one degree guide or a 359 degree leader?

  7. 9-22-2008

    So let me ask then Alan,

    When the church must make decisions corporately how should that look? This is where I gues I can be a bit confused. When the church much hire additional staff, expand or build new buildings, add new programs, layoff people, and things like that, just the day to day business who makes those decisions for the local church?

  8. 9-22-2008

    Interesting post.

    In our own work/ministry our habit is to encourage one and all to bring their thoughts to the table and share them with us. Everyone then is encouraged to give their feedback. Decisions are made as a group consensus. If there is not harmony, we do not decide then, but will decide to postpone a decision and pray about it some more. We continue to dialog until harmony is reached.

  9. 9-22-2008

    Lionel, if I may…

    When the church much hire additional staff, expand or build new buildings, add new programs, layoff people, and things like that, just the day to day business who makes those decisions for the local church?

    When these issues are on the table, might I suggest that the church needs to make a different decision: one to start being a church and stop being a business organization 😉

  10. 9-22-2008


    What do you say to those people who are doing this everday? Should they shut down the church? Or just put all of their business to the side? Who is going to handle all of those business decisions then? I am not trying to be funny either. LOL

  11. 9-22-2008

    Steve, one other question. So if a church decides together, as a Family, to hire someone or build a building, is it your biblical mandate to tell them they are wrong and judge their faith? Just curious how far you take the freedom of the local church to make these decisions or if you think other people, not in those churches, have the right to judge their decisions as wrong.

    BTW, I am being serious too 🙂

  12. 9-22-2008


    Regarding your first comment… I think you may be missing the point that Alan is trying to make here. Or perhaps Alan is not making the point very clearly. What I believe Alan is saying is that making decisions does not make you a leader. At least, not a biblical leader.

    So when it comes down to hiring/firing staff, building new additions, etc., etc., etc., the question, “Who makes these decisions?” is not really pertinent to this post.

    Perhaps a leader will make the decision to fire someone or hire someone, but biblically speaking, those actions are not what makes them a leader. Alan is recognizing the fact that we, as the church, often times associated leadership with the person who makes these decisions. But the bible only associates leadership with the person who is serving in various ways. Does this distinction make sense?

    Again, I don’t think Alan is saying that leaders are not suppose to make decisions, he’s just saying that the decisions are not what makes him a leader (if he is even a leader).

    God’s Glory,

  13. 9-22-2008


    I believe Guy is right. It has been my experience that when what Guy proposes is practiced time is available to find the leading of the Holy Spirit. Not so amazingly, in one instance, we found consensus on a matter which was opposed vigourously by a small number.

    It was later discovered that had the majority ruled the matter would have been a catastrophe. It was three months later, that the opposers said they had strongly felt led to a positive response.
    A meeting was held, consensus found, and the project succeeded magnificently..

  14. 9-22-2008

    Joe (JR),

    I’m not opposed to people making decision, especially decision that affect themselves… like giving money to those in need. (Notice, by the way, that the only decision being made by the apostles was to which needy person they should give the money.)

    Instead, I’m saying that in Scripture making decision is not tied to being a leader. Instead, service is tied to being a leader.


    I’m probably closer to your position that you might realize. When we serve one another, we lead. Hopefully, those who are more mature in Christ serve more often, and are therefore leading more often.


    Yes, you’re right. I know what I wanted to say in this blog post, but I don’t think it came out right.


    I remember you talking about using the term “guide” before. I think that “guide” is a good translation of hegeomai. I think that “lead” is a good translation also, as long as we understand what type of “leadership” Scripture is talking about.


    I think I agree with Steve on this one. The decisions that you mention are organizational decision. I think we make very, very few church decisions.


    We usually do something very similar. We take our time making decision that affect the church until we can reach harmony. It takes more time, and some people are not patient enough for this type of decision-making, but I think it strengthens the church.

    There have been occasinal instances when we had to make decisions because of time restraints. In those cases, we did the best we could, and the church took great pains to make decisions that would not cause divisions. Thus, we may choose something that someone else doesn’t prefer, but we want it to be something they can live with.

    By the way… often these decisions were not according to my preferences. That’s okay. I’m just one part of the church.


    Always pushing… 🙂

    Actually, I’ve already said that I agree with you. I don’t think its wrong to make organizational decisions. But, I do think that we need to make a distinction between organizational decisions and church decisions. In the same way, we should probably make a distinction between organizational leaders (decision-makers, perhaps) and church leaders (servants by necessity). I think these are usually blurred.

    Aussie John,

    Yes, I agree with Guy as well. Honestly, whenever we have to “vote”… its almost like we’ve already lost. But, when we can wait for God to bring harmony, the results have been tremendous.


  15. 9-22-2008

    By the way… one more thing… AWESOME discussion everyone! I wish I could have jumped in earlier. Please, keep the discussion going.


  16. 9-22-2008

    Thanks Alan, your clarifications helped a bunch. I also think your reply to lionel was very helpful is distinguishing “organizational” vs. “Church” decisions.

  17. 9-22-2008

    Lew, it looks like you were reading it right. Thanks also for jumping in with your thoughts.

  18. 9-22-2008

    Hey Alan,

    Okay then who makes “organizational decisions” aren’t they usually the leaders (usually like in always).

  19. 9-22-2008


    Maybe I misread but the post said “Leadership is not decision-making”. I am saying that could be true expositionally but definitely not practically. So I am asking who should make these “organizational” decisions. As in decision making=leadership as far as I can tell practially. Is that a false statement?

  20. 9-22-2008

    Alan knew where I was coming from, although admittedly, he knows me in real life, too, so it’s a bit easier. And I was trying to be a bit provocative (hence the wink after my comment) in the way I phrased my response.

    But in all seriousness, as Alan has already said, the distinction between organizational and spiritual is way too blurred in our churches. That’s not me judging anyone’s faith (where did that come from??) or telling other churches what to do. Nor did I claim any kind of biblical mandate. (Come on, Joe! Really.)

    It’s just making an observation from a wide variety of experience in my years involved. It’s an opinion, and one that I felt a freedom to express on this blog.

    Quite honestly, I think if a church wants to build a building, hire staff, etc. etc. etc., — all the things that Lionel mentioned — those decisions could be made by any business-type person. Why is it that we appoint leaders to serve in a spiritual capacity, and then ask them to run a business? It’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to the body.

    Paul mentions a gift of administration — maybe that would be a good one to look for when these decisions need to be made. But why burden pastors or teachers or other servants with the affairs of a corporation?

  21. 9-22-2008

    Fair enough Lew.

    But you know as well as I do that often our “opinions” do become judgements and before too long we are looking down our nose at others who chose to do church differently than us.

    My question to you was not an accusation, so don’t take it personally, but it did give you the opportunity to clarify your intent in posting and I appreciate it. Thanks.

  22. 9-22-2008

    Joe (JR),

    Don’t be too impressed with Lew. He and I are good friends, and we talk all the time. (poke, poke, Lew)


    I think it would be a good discussion to consider how organizational decsisions should be made. I prefer Guy’s method – and we’ve tried to use it with some success.

    My concern is this: We take people who are good at making organizational decision, and assume that they are also spiritual leaders. Or, we take those who are guiding others spiritual, and require that they make organizational decision. In fact, many pastors are often “fired” because of organizational issues, not leadership (in a scriptural sense) issues.


    Yes, you’re free to offer your opinions here. I think the give and take, push and pull, on this blog is very beneficial.


  23. 9-23-2008

    Steve Sensenig mentioned administration (kuberneseis – mentioned in 1 Cor 12:28). My question is this; most all the other gifts in this list are also in other gift lists with the exception of administration and helps which are only mentioned once each here. How do you interpret this? Are they collections of two or more gifts from other lists or they additional to those mentioned in Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12 and Eph. 4?

  24. 9-23-2008


    First, I think that God gives spiritual gifts in order to benefit people – primarily other people. Thus, whatever kubernesis is, when exercised it should benefit people. Actually, I think it is somewhat synonymous with hegeomaih – leading or guiding. It is used a few times in the LXX version of the OT and is usually translated “guidance”.


  25. 9-24-2008

    I agree the gifts are not given so much “to us” as they are given to work “through us”. So would you say that kuberneseis in 1 Cor 12:28 equates to proistemi in Romans 12:8?

  26. 9-24-2008


    Yes, I would think they both point to a gift of leading (or guiding, to use your term).


  27. 5-8-2011

    Amen! I do not know you personally, but praise Jesus and thank you God for this man. May He continue to show you the truth in His Word, and thank you for sharing with others.

  28. 9-9-2011

    I read my questions and laugh Alan LOL!!!!!

  29. 2-29-2012

    Here’s an additional thought about serving/leading… Serving isn’t something to do in order to become a “leader”, leading is what happens when you serve.


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