I’m sitting in a hotel room in San Antonio thinking about my tribe. I’m here because of a national Vineyard leadership gathering. I would guess that most people who attend Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati aren’t all that aware we’re part of a larger community of churches called Vineyard USA, a movement of about six-hundred churches. I think I find an element of safety and accountability in being a part of something more than just an association of churches. Don’t get me wrong: I totally love the idea of associations of like-minded churches who are similar in mission and vision.
But something’s missing in that.
I’m trying to think through the role of authority in ecclesiology beyond the local church. It wasn’t always easy for me to even acquiesce to local church authority structures. Being an aging baby boomer who wore black arm bands in high school to express solidarity against the Vietnam war (I ended up with a high number in the draft lottery) and who argued with the school board to repeal its ‘no hair touching the collar” dress code (we won), I struggled with authority and the often myopic (in my young eyes) stances of leaders.
Then I became a believer. And I really began a transformation in my thinking.
Once you surrender your will to God, there is no question of who has the authority: He’s got it all. But that also plays out in the Church, Christ’s body. An ecclesiological governance was so developed in the early church that the writer of Hebrews insists:
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (Hebrews 13:17 TNIV)
Even more so, Paul asserts his own authority throughout his letters to different pastors. His instructions to Timothy and Titus have more than a simple mentoring feel to them. He instructs Titus to appoint pastors for local churches in Crete, implying levels of a leadership hierarchy across the whole Church. But in our American Protestant cultures, we are fiercely independent and autonomous.
In the end, I find myself wanting to be in systems of leadership…and I find it difficult to believe we can have accountability in leadership without real authority structures. I may not totally agree with everything my tribe does, but it seems healthy to learn to live out submission in “real life” beyond the spiritualized idea of “just me and Jesus”. And it seems disingenuous that we senior pastors want that in our local church but have little desire for it in our relationships with larger church systems and relationships.
I think the Roman Catholics got it right on this one.