Of Hierarchy, Tiers, and Levels of Authority Within the Church.


In Lance Ford’s book, “UnLeader: Reimagining Leadership …and Why We Must,” he states:

“In the kingdom of God we must view Jesus as our big L Leader—the one and only Senior Shepherd. Men and women can, and should, function in leadership but never be underscored with rank as leaders. Leadership must be viewed as a spiritual gift and not as a position of power. To develop the familial culture of a Jesus community requires us to jettison any hint of corporate-style, top-down authority structure, along with the language that supports it.” *

In order to unpack this statement and place ourselves within an environment for fruitful discussion, we must define our terms carefully and establish a somewhat open frame of reference.

I’d like to do that by asking three questions:

1.  How do we, or should we, provide structure to leadership within the church if we are not to have hierarchical systems or tiered authority constructs?

2.  Are there different levels of authority within Church? Are those different authority levels vested in people?  What determines those levels?

3.  Is a flat leadership biblical?  Does flat imply zero structure or leadership? 

Some scripture texts you may find helpful (3 John 1:9) (Mark 10:42-44) (Luke 22:25-27) (2 Corinthians 1:24) (1 Peter 5:3) (Matthew 20:25-27) (Matthew 23:2-12)

*Ford, Lance (2012-09-01). UnLeader: Reimagining Leadership…and Why We Must (Kindle Locations 713-717). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

0 thoughts on “Of Hierarchy, Tiers, and Levels of Authority Within the Church.

  1. Marshall says:

    How Jesus redefined “leader”, and so the way the apostles later redefined leading to their example… The “structure to leadership” query becomes non sequitur in ekklesia, where leading is a Spirit dynamic; where a man may be graced to teaching in one hour, and to prophecy or as a shepherd in the next (though change is not itself a mandate or goal). Human thinking may regard adaptive dynamics as inefficient, while following in the Word & Spirit is the wisdom of God.

    To “different levels of authority”, we have/know only the authority of Christ. May aide to our understanding, simply to say, His authority is a high bar — far above traditional-human modes of authority.

    With Christ as our Source/Head, the “flat leadership” model and question also presents as obscure/alien. His Source authority is echoed into our familial relationships on earth as an additional dimension in His overall. [I Corinthians 11:3]

  2. emmanuel tordzro says:

    Power and authority are not bad in themselves. It is the abuse of them that’s bad. You may want to read the parable of the stewards. Hierarchical leadership works and is acceptable in all spheres of life and even in the animal kingdom. How come some people’s attention have been diverted from discussing preaching the love and forgiveness of God, to undermining His divine principle of leadership.

    • Marshall says:

      emmanuel, it appears you are presenting Christ as ‘divine principles’, rather than the Christ Himself (including the things He teaches).

      “do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.”

      “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave”

      • Emmanuel Tordzro says:

        Hi Marshall.
        It seems you are taking things out of contest. What you should perhaps remember is that, languages have limitations, and that human as we are, we don’t always have the right expressions for what we want to say.

        Ok, referring to bishops etc as leaders does not mean they are leaders ultimately. God is the ultimate leader of His church but he delegates powers. When He chose Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, He also gave him special powers. That is why when Aaron and Miriam murmured against Moses, God’s anger was kindled against them. Here is the passage from the Bible:

        “1 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. 2 So they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it. 3 (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.) 4 Suddenly the LORD said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tabernacle of meeting!” So, the three came out. 5 Then the LORD came down in the pillar of cloud and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam. And they both went forward. 6 Then He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. 7 Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. 8 I speak with him face to face, Even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant Moses?” 9 So the anger of the LORD was aroused against them, and He departed.” (Numbers 12:1-9)

        By God’s direction, Samuel the prophet anointed David to be King over Israel. Now Israel, even before then, had leaders for all their twelve tribes apart from the overall leader (judges and kings). When Jesus told Peter to “tend My Sheep” (John 21:16) he had given Peter special leadership responsibilities because a shepherd ‘leads’ sheep. We are the Lord’s sheep and because He is no more here physically to guide us, He assigns human leaders through whom He leads His church. This means the human leaders are not leaders ultimately. Through the Word of God, these leaders are able to teach as Godly doctrine, reproof, correct, and instruct us in righteousness.

        “16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)

        What most people don’t recon however is that, these positions as for as God is concerned are positions of servitude, as you rightly quoted. We hold these positions as though we are working in the Lord’s vineyard, His church being that vineyard. Leaders are steward, who by God’s standards, must not lord it over His sheep. I know you understand what I mean, but as I said earlier, there is the tendency for people to abuse their positions, going outside God’s principle of love and care for His cherished flock. We could go on and on but since this is not a book I’m writing… Thanks

  3. Marshall says:

    Emmanuel, as has been noted, Jesus redefined “leader”. When we read again John 21, we’re not to be setting aside any portion of Jesus’ speaking as from Matthew 23. Consequently, we come to reconsider our old (and old testament) assumptions about leaders and leading; we then learn to understand tending/shepherding the sheep as a function (not office or position) and as serving (rather than being designated a leader). It’s a big jump from the old law covenant and centralized temple worship of Moses forward into the our priesthood in Christ. Hope you can make that leap in faith! More than 90% of what is called “Christianity” today yet unable to let go of the old and embrace the new in Christ.

  4. Rob Kampen says:

    Leadership as portrayed in the NT church is the five fold Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors & Teachers of Eph 4. these are to work in unity for “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”
    I do not think we have much idea what this actually looks like here in 2013, certainly not in the western church. Plenty call themselves by these titles, but I see very little evidence that they actually “get it” when examined against Paul’s (predominantly) teaching of the NT.
    Just like the church doesn’t yet get unity, it has yet to grasp leadership according to the five fold model – show me a church where all five of these are in equal positions in five individuals all working together for the goals quoted above.
    Fortunately, God is building His church and there is now actually some talk (preaching and teaching) in as yet very few locations, but He is setting this up, as He is worthy of a bride (church) that is His equal and therefore must be equipped, working in service, fully built up as mature sons and daughters of the King.
    Hopefully that addresses all three questions …… Thanks for reading.

    • David Woods says:

      I wish this blog had +1 buttons, or “Like” buttons for comments such as this one.

      • David Woods says:

        Wow! That’s funny Miguel. Don’t feel compelled to keep them on my account, but that’s pretty cool, thanks! 🙂

    • BiggBear says:

      I have to comment on the notion that there are “gifted” individuals as commonly taught from Ephesians 4. In short: That is not true. They begin by saying verse 7 proves that we all get different measures. I disagree. Do you think you get a different amount of the gift of Christ than I get? No. We all get the same measure, the same amount, the same quantity if you think that Paul is quantifying the gift of Christ. So, because I believe we all get the same gift of Christ, then verse 11 is not saying that one guy is this and another is that. I believe that what are listed are THE spiritual gifts of I Corinthians 12:4. The Teaching/Shepherding spiritual enablement, the Evangelistic spiritual enablement, the Prophetic enablement, and the Apostolic enablement (See Shaliach – the Jewish Law of Agency) are given IN SEED FORM to all born-again believers. The reason they are given is verse 12 (Which is normally chopped up into 3 parts by most – I do not.). I interpret this verse as follows: I have been given these spiritual gifts so that I might be fully equipped (See artios – Greek root word for perfecting) for my work of ministry of edification to the body of Christ. Verse 13: We all use these gifts to unify ourselves in faith and knowledge of the Son of God until we all have completely reached the full measure of the stature of the fullness of that Christ in us.

      The Apostle is NOT a leader. He is a sent one – the shaliach – the agent who stands in the stead of the principle, who is Jesus, the true head of the church. The Prophetic is simply the spiritual enablement to speak for God when needed. The evangelistic is the spiritual enablement to know how to speak to a non-believer to reach them. The Shepherding/Teaching spiritual enablement is to know what to say, what to teach, how to watch and listen,

      We have made the church into a hierarchical nightmare. The only leadership Paul set up was Elders, deacons (diakonia – minister), and Bishops (episkopos – overseers, watchmen). The elder is the aged one: He’s been around and knows what he’s doing. The deacon is an elder who has shown that he knows how to minister to the church. The bishop is an elder who has shown that he is capable of watching over the spiritual well-being of the church.

      We have made this way too hard. Every one of us is equal, We are given different tasks at times, when we show that we are mature enough to do them, but, we are ALL equal!

  5. Eli says:

    my thoughts

    1. hierarchy is unfortunately necessary when increased organisation and structure is required. eg. if a ministry wants to receive donations, employ staff and work within economic systems.
    That said the church community could avoid this and rather limit official leadership to aspects of their work that require it.

    2. official? no. real, practical, character, spiritual/anointing… yes. this is more about collective recognition of mastery or eldership in certain areas… which of course can change easily which official titles confuses.

    3. i think more in terms of being egalitarian than flat. its more about being relational than structural though at times the lines are blurred. Trying to gain consensus for every small decision would be taxing at best. leadership is never going to be flat anyhow since christ is head. This surely must take a lot of humility and love because we can never be 100% sure we have heard from christ.

  6. Marshall says:

    Rob, Ephesians 4:11-12 for the saints speaks of adjusting [καταρτισμον], while there is no mention here of leadership to doing this. Would it be a cultural overhang to assume that anything of significance requires a leader post or structure? Do we assume that teaching, as example, requires a leader or leadership?

    Eli, we know in Christ, thanks be to God, that no “ministtry” itself need receive donations. Ministries of men and the world (such as those of governments) function upside down, taking in more than they give out. But Christ has not called us in that way.

    • Miguel says:

      Thanks Marshall,

      I believe you are correct. Ephesians 4:11,12,13 is not a leadership text. It’s an every believer text. The first 10 verses set the stage for that idea.

    • Eli says:

      my point stands as i had in mind the broader context of ministry, eg setting up a charity or non profit organisation connected to the church.
      I agree christ has called us to a better way within the church community.

      • Marshall says:

        Eli, as it would be presumptive, “setting up a charity or non profit organisation”, those who undertake such things are already acting in the freedom to do whatever they will. (That would be more of rebellion than leadership.) Yet, better to be acting in the liberty to do all the will of the Father, that the works you do not go to be burned up as chaff in His refining fire.

  7. emmanuel says:

    When Stephen was chosen to oversee welfare affairs in the book of Acts, that was New Testament era, it was not part of the five-fold and it was a leadership position. We can’t limit leadership to spiritual affairs only. In a big church, the five gifts are necessary, but none of them may be an accountant to competently carry out accounting functions. You may as well need home cell leaders whose responsibility it is to report to perhaps a resident pastor and so on and so on. There is nothing wrong with this, especially IF CHRISTIANS WOULD NOT SEE THE POSITIONS AS IF THEY WERE PREVILAGES. Now, Lance Ford was human and should not be quoted blindly just because he wrote his views in a book. He is entitled to his views anyway. Please, if hierarchies work in the circular world, it works in the church as well, because church is not just about spirituality. We have circular functions as well to play in our communities.

    • Marshall says:

      Stephen, along with six others, were called-down (down-standing; καταστησομεν) upon the need. [Acts 6:30] Rather than leadership, these 7 are being set (by the Spirit’s direct) to the task; to be serving. Possibly we have become worldly-accustomed to be auto-associating the preposition “over” with leadership?
      If your church functions like this world, this is reliable testimony that it is also of this world. But the Kingdom of God, His Christ and His Bride/ekklesia/church, while presently in this world, is not of this world.

    • Miguel says:


      Thanks for commenting. That’s exactly the point. It appears that Jesus doesn’t want us to have hierarchies like the secular world does. See (Mark 10:42-44) (Luke 22:25-27) (Matthew 20:25-27)

  8. Rob Kampen says:

    No one has yet mentioned Romans 12:8 – the gift of leadership – where does this evidence itself – just in commerce? just in government?
    God obviously sees a need for and graces some people with skills in leadership, why not in the church? subject of course to the ultimate leadership of the Holy Spirit, who points us to Jesus who only does what the Father instructs.
    As soon as you get more than a dozen folk together, things need to be organized, otherwise chaos results – there are gifts of administration and leadership to facilitate this happening among us.
    As Eli mentioned, a more egalitarian approach seems to fit better with the NT examples – mutual submission, not lording it over one-another, if we obey the “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength AND your neighbour as yourself” we will not stray far.

    • Marshall says:

      Rob, how is it that we would ever act or think to supplement or reassign the work of the Holy Spirit of God?

      But the “chaos” theory is not in effect where His Spirit prevails.

      There are gifts/graces of administrations [I Corinthians 12:28], while these all function ideal without a “leader” or “leadership” impetus.

    • BiggBear says:

      To understand 12:8 you have to start with 12:6. First off you have understand “gifts differing” – they are differing in intensity, not in quantity, This is same Greek word in I Corinthians 15:14 “for one star differeth from another star in glory.” This points out that the growth process is one factor for this passage. Also, the usage of the conjunction “OR” makes a difference in the interpretation of this passage. He continues: “prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;” OR “ministry, let us wait on our ministering” (what is unsaid here but implied is the phrase “according the proportion of faith”) OR “he that teacheth, on teaching” (Again implied “according the proportion of faith”) OR “he that exhorteth, on exhortation” (ditto). That is the end of Spiritual gifts being mentioned because the conjunction is absent for the next item. I hold that the 4 gifts from Eph 4:11, minus the Apostolic, are being referenced by Paul there. After that he is talking about ministries, NOT gifts. So, IMO, there is no “gift” of leadership. There are only those who have grown up spiritually enough to be recognized as bishops – episkopos – overseers, watchmen. God gives the same gifts to all of his children. He is no respecter of persons, what he gives to one, he gives to all.

  9. greg says:

    I’m suspicious that most or all of the comments on this thread are made by folks who have come from traditional church backgrounds, where church-ese was the dialect spoken and although they have left the traditions behind, I find them resurfacing here in what Ive come to regard as the ‘organic-ese’ dialect.
    It all sounds very similar to the bickering and pontificating that my church friends complain about as being the key reason they left their respective churches.
    Never have been to church, I take their word for it.
    Personally, and scripturally too, I dont understand what you most of you are trying to prove.
    Our experience as a fellowship over 30 yrs never once had this discussion, nor was it possible, because a group of believers that daily operate as a loving family, as Jesus commands us all to, rather than this Frankenstein creation typically referred to as church, wont have leaders, as traditionally understood.
    In the kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven, there are only followers.
    Some follow from afar, some stay in the ranks and some are Uber followers, but none are leaders, in the way that the churches have usurped Jesus headship over the body of Christ.
    Arguing the scriptures and Greek and theology, while each generation of gentle newborn lambs grow up to be head butting rams, is the proof that leadership is absent among us.
    But in fact there are leaders, and they are either true followers of Jesus, who point to Him in all they say and do, or they are usurpers.
    As He did with Israel, God will, and even now is cleansing His temple of money changers and leaders for hire, preparing the way of the Lord, who is coming to bring judgement on the earth.
    Real leaders will speak of His coming, warn of His fire and tremble to offend anyone.
    Iv’e had to keep my children from most churches, in order to see Christ formed in them, and its been very painful. Now that they are grown, we see the fruit of that very painfully lonely journey. They are meek, servant hearted, unjudgmental Christians, who would rather be perceived to be wrong by the brethren than offend others by being right. Sadly, there is much opportunity for this inequity.
    Its a crying shame that all of us adults have once again, like our forefathers generations before us, passed on to the next gen, a church that is obsessed with leadership, while we are actually spiritual babies,

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