Joseph H. Hellerman is concerned that leadership structures in local churches look more like Fortune 500 companies than the servant-leadership model embodied by Jesus and exhorted by Paul. To discover a much-needed corrective, Hellerman researched the Roman honor-system culture that existed as the cultural backdrop when Paul wrote his letter to the Philippian church. What he offers is a view of the Christ-hymn of Philippians 2:5-11 that serves both as a theological and ecclesiological framework for servant leadership in the church today. Hellerman offers this in the way of Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why it Matters Today(2013, Kregel).
Hellerman divides his approach into three parts. Part One – “Power and Authority in the Roman World” – gives the historical background of the first century Roman honor-system culture. While this survey seemed to be well-researched and thoroughly documented, quoting numerous early sources, for those who do not have much interest in reading history, it may feel a bit like plodding to get through it. It should be noted, however, that this section is integral to the foundation of his argument. Part Two – “Power and Authority in the Early Church” – looks at the influence the Roman culture (and human nature) had on the early church. Here the example of Christ is considered as the biblical ideal for servant leadership, both for individuals and within a local church context. The problem lies in making practical application of this ideal to local church leadership and ministry today, which is the focus of Part Three. In Part Three, Hellerman uses both negative and positive examples of contemporary local church leadership to illustrate how a more biblical view of church leadership can and must be implemented.
While Hellerman does not specifically advocate for a narrowly defined leadership paradigm, he outlines some biblical principles that can serve as the skeleton in any context, regardless of how that skeleton is then fleshed out in a particular church setting. Perhaps the greatest practical admonition one should take away from this book is the necessity of pastoral leaders leading the church by demonstrating authentic relationships in the context of biblical community. Hellerman argues that the “consensus” that is necessary to lead should flow from the “community” that exists between those who, together, are seeking to lead God’s people.
Obviously, every church is not led by power-hungry authority-mongers. However, as I regularly tell my church family, “One of the great ironies of pastoral ministry is that the shepherds are also sheep.” If we utilize a ministry paradigm that allows for power or authority abuse, the fallenness of every human heart makes any church prone to power/authority abuse. Hellerman’s words offer a biblical framework that any church can contextualize and implement within its own context to ensure, over time, that their shepherds are walking with and following the leadership model of the Good Shepherd.
(FTC Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this unbiased review.)