“Church leaders are not called to stand above a conglomeration of individuals as if the purpose of these people is to fulfill our vision. God calls us to serve as shepherds in the midst of a flock that has been wholly devoted to his purposes.”
In 1932, the University of Southern California started stenciling “Property of USC” on athletic t-shirts for the purpose of preventing theft. Their anti-theft strategy backfired when the stenciled attire became more popular than the original unstenciled t-shirts. USC turned this problem into a profit by producing and selling “Property of USC” shirts to students. Today, nearly every university and sports team in the United States stocks and sells some sort of “Property of” sportswear.
The phrases “kingdom of priests” and “holy priesthood” (Exod. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:5) are like “Property of” t-shirts that God places on everyone he has chosen and purchased as his own. When God referred to Israel as a “kingdom of priests,” he was declaring his people to be “Property of God.” The apostle Peter applied this terminology to the church, identifying new covenant believers as a chosen community devoted to God’s purposes.
Leadership in a Holy Priesthood
United with Christ the great high priest, the new covenant people of God become God’s property, devoted to God’s purposes. This devotion of the whole community frees leaders from at least two deadly delusions about their role in the church. Through this devotion to God’s purposes, leaders are released from the delusion that the people are the leader’s property and from the delusion that the leader is the people’s property.
The delusion that the people are the leader’s property
It is a privilege to lead the people of God—but the privilege of being a leader of God’s people never transforms the people into the leader’s property. Godly leadership results in humble stewardship, not prideful ownership. Church leaders are not called to stand above a conglomeration of individuals as if the purpose of these people is to fulfill our vision. God calls us to serve as shepherds in the midst of a flock that has been wholly devoted to his purposes.
And yet, the delusion that the people are our property remains a persistent temptation.
Some expressions of this delusion are obvious. There’s the dictatorial pastor who’s driven to rage when people don’t measure up to his expectations, the bullying elder who silences dissent by abusing the gift of church discipline, the unaccountable leader who demands control over the church’s finances. A leader may rack up charges on the church’s credit card that don’t clearly contribute to the purposes of the church. In each of these instances, the people and their resources are clearly being treated as if they’re the leader’s property instead of God’s property.
But this delusion also manifests itself in more subtle ways—in ways that may be hidden or even accepted among church leaders.