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April 1979 · Vol. 8 No. 2 · pp. 30–33 

Bibliographic Essay on Church Leadership

Herb Kopp and Gordon Zerbe

This essay intends to discuss some of the recent literature on church leadership. Actually, there are few books which deal specifically with church leadership, although there is a plethora of studies on the individual pastor’s role in the church and ministry. This essay includes a discussion of New Testament exegetical studies on leadership.

This survey is divided into two sections. The first reviews books which speak to the church in a more general way but which also include discussion of church leadership. The nature of the church is foundational to a discussion about leadership. The second section reviews books which speak more specifically about leadership.


A book of general interest which calls the church to a careful review of its mandate is Gene A. Getz, Sharpening the Focus of the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974, 280). Getz urges us to look at the church through three lenses—Scripture, history, and culture—to arrive at an understanding of its nature and function, to develop a contemporary church strategy, and to orient its leadership. This is a useful, highly readable book which calls attention to the church in its North American setting.

In 1947 Alexander R. Hay published The New Testament Order for Church and Missionary (Audubon, NJ: NT Missionary Union, 4th ed., n.d.). This book has been widely used as a missionary training manual. The usefulness of this book is its thorough attention to the biblical data, which is then cast into a programmatic scheme for church planting. Its weakness is that it assumes all churches to be organized in the same manner without regard to cultural milieu. There is value in {31} such a book only if it is counter-balanced by authors who approach the same questions from other viewpoints.

We are indebted to Lawrence O. Richards, a prolific evangelical writer, for a very stimulating book, A New Face for the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970, 288 pp.). The character and tone of this book is best summarized by the terse comment on the fly-leaf of the cover: “If your mind is closed to change, if you feel the church must go on as it is, then Mr. Richard’s look into the future is not for you.” The problem of change in the church is always a difficult one because it means that comfortable, time-honored assumptions and patterns will be left behind. Richards will probably jolt you; he may anger you, but he will also stretch your thinking. We recommend this book for good, provocative reading; even though we may not choose to follow it, it is sure to enlarge our minds.

Two particularly valuable books which qualify as “must” reading for every perceptive church member are Howard A. Snyder’s The Problem of Wineskins (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1975, 214 pp.) and The Community of the King (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1977, 216 pp.). In his earlier work Snyder analyzes the current evangelical church from the point of view of the church in Biblical perspective and relates this to the challenge of the current cultural milieu. His analysis is penetrating and his suggestions mind-stretching. The later work develops the earlier theme within the context of the Kingdom of God but he insists that the church continue to become the visible demonstration of it in society. Included is an excellent discussion of the nature of charismatic leadership in the messianic community and a contrast of the New Testament pattern of leadership and ours. If you read only two books in the new year, we would recommend these two by Snyder.

Small Churches are Beautiful (ed. Jackson W. Carroll, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977, 174 pp.) is a collection of ten essays centering on the unique opportunities of the small church (membership of 200 or less). The underlying assumption of the book is that quality is not measured by quantity and that small churches are not second class because of their size. Concerning the issue of leadership two essays are insightful, “Shared Ministry: Lay Leadership Development,” and “Organizational Structure for the Small Congregation.” In the former, ministry and leadership is defined as an experience which can be shared by all. In the latter essay, the author asks questions regarding the relationship between the need for sensitivity concerning the unique dimensions of leadership in the local church and over-all denominational polity.

Hans Kueng is a free spirit among Roman Catholic authors. His {32} The Church (trans. Ray and Rosaleen Ockenden, New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967, 525 pp.) came as a breath of fresh air in the wake of Vatican II. His section on “Ecclesiastical Office and Ministry” (pp. 388-480) contains a good study of ministry in the Bible. In particular, he finds that the words then used for office in the church lack a hierarchical sense. Instead, the New Testament defines church office as service. His book is a call for new thinking in relation to the church and its leadership structure. Perhaps Protestants also need a similar reevaluation.


Ted W. Engstrom (The Making of a Christian Leader, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976, 250 pp.) is concerned with the issue of leadership both within the church and in para-church organizations. He discusses frankly such issues as the personality of a leader, the problem of motivation in leadership, and the price leadership must pay for leading. The two final chapters, “Guidelines for Excellent Leadership” and “The Marks of a Christian Leader,” are particularly helpful. The strength of this book is that it confronts the leadership issue in a forthright manner. Though it contains good ideas, it should not be viewed as a manual to cure all leadership ills.

Carnegie Calian, a Presbyterian seminary professor with many years of pastoral experience, has just published a challenging, fascinating book, Today’s Pastor in Tomorrow’s World (New York: Hawthorne Books, Inc., 1977, 153 pp.). Calian analyzes the various roles in which a pastor finds himself, pointing out both strengths and weaknesses. He meets head-on the difficult issues of declining church membership in his denomination, the problem of the American home, the issue of women in the ministry, the role of laity in the church, and the practical issues of pastoring a church. We may not agree with all his positions but he will surely challenge us to ask some very pertinent questions for a self-evaluation of our own ministry.

Kenneth K. Kilinski and Jerry Woffard’s Organization and Leadership in the Local Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973, 253 pp.) is basically a “how to” book on various facets of church leadership and structure. With the help of applied psychology and business management theory, it gives a “blueprint” of how a local church should be run. Very practical in orientation, it contains many illustrations, diagrams, and sample forms. It outlines how church boards are to be structured, detailing the number of committees a church board should have. The practical orientation of the book is its strength and, at the same time, its greatest weakness. There is little {33} creativity, and the authors do not provide much of a theological base from which they arrive at their blueprint.

The attempt of Marvin T. Judy, in The Multiple Staff Ministry (Nashville: Abingdon, 1969, 287 pp.), is to provide a major book on the question of church staff. It is comprehensive, theological, theoretical, analytical, and practical, but not as biblical as it could be. It includes a concise review of the historical development of the relationship of ministry, laity, and the church. Social science methodology is basic in its review of principles of leadership, personnel management, and a discussion of various staff persons in a church. The appendix also includes sample forms for personnel policies and various job descriptions. One of the assets of the book is a comprehensive bibliography on the subject of church leadership.

James D. Smart played a vital part in what Brevard Childs has termed the “Biblical Theology Movement” from the late forties to the early sixties. In his The Rebirth of Ministry: A Study of the Biblical Character of the Church’s Ministry (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960, 192 pp.) he claims that biblical faith has been confused with cultural allegiances and that the church which is faithful to its origins has capacity for self-criticism. Although he does not address the issue of church leadership directly, what he discusses is presuppositional to a discussion of church leadership. Nowhere does the Bible present a clear distinction between the ministry of an ordained clergy and the ministry of the whole church. One cannot be a Christian without empowerment for ministry. For Smart, the ultimate criterion for ministry is the ministry of Christ. Accordingly, he provides an excellent discussion of it and how it speaks to our time as well.

John Howard Yoder’s “The Fulness of Christ: Perspectives on Ministries in Renewal” (Concern, No. 17, (Feb., 1969) 33-93) is indispensable reading for those thinking about the question of ministry and church leadership. Yoder analyzes in outline recent thought concerning ministry in the church and asks incisive questions relating to contemporary issues of church leadership. Basic to Yoder’s approach is a presentation of Biblical material (the ministry in the New Testament is seen in terms of its multiplicity, diversity, plurality, and universality) compared with present day assumptions and practices. He finds a hiatus between the two at various points. Yoder maintains that the New Testament witness concerning ministry and leadership (constants within flexibility) does and must relate to today’s church.

Herb Kopp and Gordon Zerbe are both students in the M.A. program in biblical studies at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California. Mr. Kopp is pastor-elect of the Fort Garry M.B. Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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