19 July, 2006

Leadership: 2 discussion questions

I have moved up the economic ladder a little bit in recent years. I'm in IT, though, so job security is a little bit of an issue (not much, just enough for the analogy I'm drawing.)

As I understand the socio-economic climate of the first century, that probably makes me somewhat equivalent to a "freedman." I'm still a member of the unwashed masses, but I am no longer a slave. I have earned my freedom from my previous owner, and can now seek any employment that happens to jazz me. In fact, that's how it happened. I was freed from doing mechanic work for my employer, and continued to work for them as a programmer. After a couple years, I found another job and moved on.

The point is that I am not a scholar, priest or merchant. I am not in the upper class of professional society, and never will be.

But I could be.

This is America. Upward mobility may be our only common religion.

In the first century, there was no such thing as upward mobility for freedmen. Only the rarest of individuals might make it as high as merchant in a lifetime of work.

The church was the sole shining counter to that example. In the church everyone was known solely by their first name. Class was no obstacle to God, and no obstacle between brothers.

With that background in place, here is my first discussion question.

Could a slave/freedman be a presbyter/elder/bishop/pastor?

We have all agreed that authority/judgement must be exercised by a leader in God's kingdom. Could a freedman carry that authority with the people of God? Could a slave exercise that judgement? Would a merchant submit to a slave?

On to the second question. First a little more background.

In the first century, being a slave carried less stigma than being on welfare does today. It was not your fault you were a slave. It didn't mean you were a less capable person or had made any mistakes to be forced into slavery. Your village was just in the wrong place when the Roman army rolled through, or when your chieftain decided to take on Rome. Stuff happens.

The same was not true in America in 1850. Christianity was complicit in the redefinition of race as a justification for slavery. The Quakers really shone as a beacon against the lies that undergirded slavery. The rest of Christianity, though, was an example of how confused good people can become when interpreting the bible. There were strong abolitionists in our ranks and strong advocates of slavery all quoting from the same word of God.

Repeat question #1 for America in 1850.

Could a black slave be a presbyter/elder/bishop/pastor?

In the North? In the South? (In California? ;-) In an "unenlightened" congregation?


Tomorrow morning at 6:20 I am on a plane bound for California to grace my family and a couple old friends with my presence. My Internet connectivity during my vacation will be spotty. I cannot predict how much I will be able to chat, but I will make the effort.


Milly said...

We have several examples of men who were former slaves being leaders in the church in the 1850's, Now did they draw a white crowd? I doubt it. Were they looking for it at the time? Was that the focus? I'm sure that black merchants listened to these men. Do I think Milly, born into a white slave owning family in Tennessee, would have listened I wouldn’t have been permitted to attend. Life being what it was for women back then I most like dared not go.

John Jasper,Jasper believed the Bible to be the source of all authority, and he preached it in nearly every county and city in Virginia and often beyond.

Samuel Harrison, was born into slavery in 1818 and found his way to Pittsfield in 1850 to become the eloquent pastor of the Second Congregational Church. His congregation was small but his work for black equality put him on the national stage. He lectured and debated in cities up and down the East Coast and as far away as Seattle.

DugALug said...


As Milly said, there were numerous churches with former slaves/freedmen in the 19th and early 20th century.

When I was in college, I really wanted to attend the First Full-Gospel Baptist Church of Auburn. I have to admit that it was more for the music than anything truly spiritual, but none the less, one Sunday, we skipped out of our usual church commitment and went there.

It was a church much like you would see in any movie concerning traditional black congregations: a nice middle-sized church with white-wood siding, a small steeple, and black double doors that swung open to let the people in.

As with most of my life at the time. My friends and I were a few minutes late. Walking up to the church, we could here some of the most fantastic music I'd heard in years. A full gospel choir and a groove on the offbeat: this church had music that would make your ears smile.

As we opened the door to walk in, the music stopped abruptly for a second, some people turned and looked at us, they turned back around, then the music started back up again.

You see, we were the only caucasians in the house. At the end of the service, we were greeted, with pleasant smiles, and a few people came up and shook our hands, but there were children who were pointing at us and whispering. Some mothers even seemed to huddle there kids away from us: I am not sure if it was for our sake or theirs.

In the end, as nice as these people were (and the ones that were, were truly wonderful), it was clear that we didn't fit in their circle. Our presense, though not a threat of any kind, made some of them uncomfortable. It was awkward.

Now, I have no doubt that we could have continued to go there, and many would have warmed up to us... maybe even looked forward to seeing us there, but still, there would be some who would rather us not be there. We could have insisted that we had every right to be there, and few, if any, would have argued about it, but still, we were outsiders.

Is this racism? Maybe? I don't know really, but what would be the likelyhood that I would become the head pastor of that church? My money is on not-likely.

As a white-anglo, male, your question is perfectly valid for a predominately white-anglo church, but the better question is not could this occur, but rather, is it best for the body for it to occur?

I am blessed to go to a church that has a large ethnic diversity, and at our church, I don't believe it would be too big a deal, some may take issue, but that would be a small minority, yet I know this isn't true in many congregations. Should it be?

The scriptures truths are timeless, yet women at our church don't cover their heads, and men come shaggy and unshaven.

In the end some of this is without question, perspective and some of this is cultural, and some of this caters to the ignorance of things like racism. I, for one, will continue to seek the truths set forth in a complete gospel.

God Bless

Milly said...

I'm thinking that where they wanted equality, they most likely wouldn't have wanted this face in the church. In your church you need to feel safe. White faces would have brought an uneasy feeling. It's in the timing. Would free white men have listened? I'm sure some did, somewhere. Did the ministers get the respect that they deserved? Most likely not from the majority of the white men. Remember we still had the race riots to go.

codepoke said...

It seems that Question #1 is getting NO attention at all, and Question #2 has become one of racism. How to integrate our churches is a great question, but not directly related to leadership.

If a slave is one who has no authority, can a slave effectively wield authority in the church? Question #1 asks whether it can be done when there is no prejudice, and Question #2 asks whether it can be done even against prejudice, but the "it" is a slave wielding authority.

Can someone with no experience of leadership lead in the kingdom? Can someone without the emotional preparation lead? Someone without any credentials? Someone with tremendous burdens?

What would it look like?

Then jump forward to 1850. Add to all those weaknesses an extreme prejudice. If the answer to Question #1 is, "No", then Question #2 is "Absolutely not." But if #1 is, "Yes," then how should the church react to the prejudice. Should it prevent a slave's promotion? Should it prevent a congregation from rebelling?

And DugALug's question, ... is it best for the body for it to occur? is absolutely germane, and where I expect we will go. Is it worth the effort if it's possible? Is it profitable? Does God care?

DugALug said...


Man is this a loaded topic.

Firstly, with my normal timidity and grace, I'm gonna lob the grenade out there.

Is predjudice necesarily racism?

Basically we are creatures who are comfortable surrounded by our own. Yet God calls us to go beyond our comfort areas.

But even Paul recognized that there are deliniations in life. Remember the rhetoric about "The Jew first then the Gentile?". He also pointed to issues like slavery, and the role of women in the body. In each of these instances, he chose a form a separation of identity, without the restriction of access.

So to answer the ignored question #1. Yes, and then #2 would be yeah verily.

Predjudice is something that needs to be battled, and preached against. A true leader will recognize this disention in their church, and should address it immediately.

Still, God will raise who he wants to lead. Creditentials come down to a willingness to follow Gods lead. David is a perfect example of this. Saul served, know his time was over with David era looming.

Moses, was considered the humblest man to ever walk the earth, yet we see him as one of the greatest leaders of all time.

Too much to think about... I'll need to write more later.

God Bless

Anonymous said...

If a slave is one who has no authority, can a slave effectively wield authority in the church?

CP, you're applying our version of "slavery" to Paul's writings.

Joseph (Old Testament) was a slave, yet you can hardly say that he had not authority.

Many Roman slaves had much authority, they ran their masters' businesses, ships, households, wine stores.

At any rate, the qualifications for elders say that a man must be able to rule his own household, not a business.

Milly said...

When we put our life knowledge in this we know the out come so we are set on the issue. If I can apply this to a what if situation and forget what our history has shown us and only look at the Bible. Then I can answer

1. Yes if God leads him to lead and if we are led to follow

2. Yes if God leads him to lead and if we are lead to follow.

With God all things are possible.

codepoke said...


Yes, and then #2 would be yeah verily. ... God will raise who he wants to lead. Creditentials come down to a willingness to follow Gods lead.

OK, one "Yes". Thank you.


Many Roman slaves had much authority, they ran their masters' businesses, ships, households, wine stores.

This is not news, but I am trying to ask a specific question and slaves fit it reasonably well on the whole. The question is about the kind of people who can lead. Can people with no other experience, training, or habit of leadership lead in the church?

If you can come up with a better example, I'll gladly play along.

At any rate, the qualifications for elders say that a man must be able to rule his own household, not a business.

This almost sounds like a qualified, "Yes," so thank you.

codepoke said...


I don't know whether anyone is giving the question a proper look from the other side. I have to go to bed soon, but let me throw out a couple counter-thoughts.

1) Actually getting people to DO what we think they should do is way more than impossible. People do what they want to do. If they are not ready to follow a slave, it ain't gonna happen.

But it ain't "ain't gonna happen" because of pure cussedness. It ain't gonna happen because scripture says it shouldn't happen.

2) Leaders in the early, early church tended to be people who had an education in the Jewish religion. Paul very much encouraged leaders to at least be literate. Yes, there were slaves who were educated in the Jewish religion, and yes there were literate slaves, but the illiterate and uneducated were the majority. It seems that Paul would be against it.

3) It seems that Proverbs is against it:
19:10 Delight is not seemly for a fool; much less for a servant to have rule over princes.

30:21 For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear:
30:22 For a servant when he reigneth; and a fool when he is filled with meat;
30:23 For an odious woman when she is married; and an handmaid that is heir to her mistress.

4) Onesimus was elevated to the position of "brother" by Paul, but even though he is deemed profitable no hint is given that he might be of value as a leader in the church. He is never described as more than a servant by Paul. Most of the people who travel with Paul are called by him as coworkers. Onesimus is not so honored.

Andreia said...

I feel like you are leading us down some tortured logic path but I keep wondering to what end?

codepoke said...

Sorry, Milly, we crossed in the mail.

Your answer requires thought.

...if we are lead to follow.

I'm not sure about that. What if we felt led to follow Peter, but not Paul? Could we not be led to follow someone whom God had called?

On the other hand, I am a big fan of the church being the group that calls its leaders. So, maybe that makes perfect sense to me.

I will cogitate on it in mid-flight manana.


It's all good to me. In my mind, a discussion question is meant to probe all the corners of an issue before deciding where the truth lies.

codepoke said...


I feel like you are leading us down some tortured logic path but I keep wondering to what end?

Dang. Twisted mind that I have, this just doesn't seem torturous to me. I'm sorry if it does to everyone else.

I'm 4 hours from having to be awake again, so I have to sign off. Really :-)

Am I leading somewhere? Well, yeah. My point is not to torture or trick, though. I just want to establish a baseline of reason as we get to the issue of picking leaders.

So far the consensus seems to be that leadership is between God as the Caller, and the leader as the called without regard to background.

DugALug said...


If I am following your logic, I would think Onisimus is a bad example because, he was elevated to a position of power, but Paul made him return to his 'owner' to fullfill the laws of the land.

It is believed that Onisimus was acting as Paul's assistant, especially durring his time in prison. This position meant that Paul trusted him to not only transcribe and deliver messages, but also, handle matters that required him to represent Paul. All of this implies that he was educated, and faithful.

Paul recognized that we were peers in God's eyes, but circumstances, ethnicity, and law separated them into classes, and divisions.

Maybe I'm not following where you are going here compadre?!

God Bless

Andreia said...

Maybe Im just projecting some of my LSAT woes on you...cant wait to hear where its going.

Have a great trip!

Anonymous said...

Can people with no other experience, training, or habit of leadership lead in the church?

If one is faithful in the small things, one will be entrusted with the large things.

It is why I advocate for strong men mentoring and raising up strong men to be leaders behind them.

Most leaders don't grow in a vacuum - they are raised.

My point was that Paul gave us qualifications for elders/leaders - they don't include being free men.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm not following where you are going here compadre?!

I think I know...

Danny Kaye said...

I say the answer is "yes" to question 1.

And I say that answer to question 2 is also a "yes." However, it is more like a "yes...BUT." It depends not on whether or not the potential leader is called by God to lead, but on the individual potential leader's courage to stand up and take the lead. And the individual potential follower also needs to embrace the courage to follow a leader whom he believes is called by God to lead.

Our prejudices do play a role whether we like it or not. The example of Paul doing that "thing which must not be named" to Timothy is a good example of when prejudices are considered seriously enough to take action. But that was a bit different. For Timmy, there was something he could do about removing the walls of prejudice. For a black leader, such a change is obviously impossible.

Just like a woman cannot change her gender simply to remove prejudices which would keep her from effectively leading a church of men. That's besides the fact that it's unbiblical for them to do so. I am simply using that as an example...because I think that is where our traveling host is going with this...but I could be wrong. ;-)

codepoke said...

I was talking with my impromtu traveling partner, Charles, today about this very subject. He is a black gentleman, and probably a bit older than I am.

His take on the first question was an immediate, "Yes."

His take on the second question was an equally immediate, "No."

God might have gifted a black man to lead, and you might be able to find some examples of a black man leading (as Milly did immediately - very cool), but it could never be common.

I was inclined to these answers myself, so I was glad to hear that I was not alone.

It is just too hard to get a body of believers to do anything that hard together. People, in large bunches, are more like sheep that we care to admit. Succeeding at introducing a man without leadership background, and with any tremendous prejudice against him, just would not happen without a rare move of the Spirit.

codepoke said...


I think I know...

Danny Kaye,

I think that is where our traveling host is going with this...but I could be wrong. ;-)

I do eventually want to get back to the issue of women leading within the church. I also think there is a misty connection between slavery and feminism only in that with slavery cultural changes resulted in a correct reinterpretation of scripture. OUr latest cultural changes may also lead to a correct reinterpretation of scripture with feminism. Any attempt to link slavery and feminism, though, runs the risk of clouding the issue because it sounds like you are accusing reasonable non-feminists of equivalence with advocates of slavery. That is certainly not something I want to do at all.

At any rate, I don't intend to leap from here to feminism.

Stay tuned. We'll have that chat some day. I will look forward to your challenges, and I will not expect to sway you. :-)