3 The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spoke to me: ‘He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. 4 And he shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises, a morning without clouds, like the tender grass springing out of the earth, by clear shining after rain.’ (2 Sam 23:3-4)
Leadership is different in the new covenant compared to how it was in the old. But thereby not said that leadership isn’t important in the new covenant – on the contrary! A leader with knowledge and integrity, with passion for God and love for people, could be a like the “morning light during sunrise” by enriching other people’s lives and relationship with God.
In the old covenant, leadership was mainly about the leader hearing from God, after which the people were to obey the leader, unless what the leader did was obviously wrong or contradicted God’s commandments. The priest, the prophet and the king acted as mediators between God and the common man.
The typical example of this we find in the leadership of Moses. Moses went up to the mountain, or entered the Tabernacle, and received instructions from God, which the people of Israel were expected to obey without questions asked. Anyone who disobeyed God’s appointed leadership was judged, like Korah, Dathan and Abiram, who rebelled against Moses and were swallowed up by the earth and buried alive along with their family members.
In the new covenant leadership works differently. There is only one mediator between God and men; not the pastor, apostle, prophet, the Pope, nor Mary, but Jesus Christ Himself (1 Tim. 2:5)! All born-again believers have direct contact with God through the Holy Spirit, who was poured out upon all flesh. All believers are on a levelled playing field before God. We are all God’s children with direct access to our heavenly “Daddy”.
We may have different functions and assignments within the body of Christ, but every individual has the right to approach the throne of grace and have fellowship with God and hear from Him. Just about everyone today, except for in some dictatorship countries, have the right to read the Bible on their own, which wasn’t possible until Gutenberg’s printing press and the Reformation lead to that the Catholic priests lost their exclusive right of interpreting and explaining the holy scriptures of the Bible.
The fact that all have access to God – by grace through faith – does not mean that it is the law of the jungle that now prevails. No, believers are encouraged in the new testament to respect and follow their leaders, especially those who preach the Word (Heb. 13:7). Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Note that Paul did not say, “follow whatever I do”. We are not supposed to follow a leader who doesn’t follow Christ, and in order to judge whether a leader follows Christ or not, we must be able to reason and hear from God for ourselves!
Since every believer today is the temple of the Holy Spirit, leadership in the new covenant first and foremost is about helping people to connect directly with God for themselves, instead of connecting with God through mediators; i.e. other people. This does not mean that we are independent from other believers; no, we are members of the body of Christ and we all need each other, but every individual can hear directly from God and know Him personally.
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. (Jn. 10:27)
None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. (Heb. 8:11)
A leader who strongly encourages people to follow him/her, instead of encouraging people to hear from God for themselves, practices an outdated leadership model which is not applicable under the new covenant!
In some circles, so-called apostles or prophets have told their congregation that they don’t need to think for themselves, but just blindly obey, whenever the leader has received a “revelation” or “instruction from God”. This is nonsense! Never accept what a spiritual leader says without thinking for yourself. Paul said that we should not despise prophecy, but “test everything and hold on to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). If the oracles of Paul needed to be tested then, what present day leaders say must be judged by ordinary believers today!
God’s model in the new covenant is not that we blindly follow our leaders without reflecting on what we are supposed to follow. If the leader has heard from God, God’s method in the new covenant is that He will confirm what He has spoken to the leader by speaking the same thing in the hearts of His children. Should the leader and the congregation by mature enough to hear from God, there will be an inner confirmation in the hearts of the congregation (or at least parts of it). Whenever God speaks He confirms it with an inner testimony in the believers, which leads to true unity in the church, like in the book of Acts when the Apostles and the elders said: “The Holy Spirit and we have decided…” (Acts 15:28).
However, this does not mean that leaders today should be timid, ineffective, or afraid to take new initiatives. A leader with a vibrant relationship with God will have great boldness! It is fully possible to practice a strong and clear leadership, without compromising when it comes to the most important task of encouraging and inspiring others to connect with God for themselves.