What are the important leadership roles in the community?
by Kendra Hotz
earliest Christian communities gathered to share a meal commemorating
the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (The Lord’s Supper).
They read and interpreted accounts of the life of Christ, letters
from apostles, and scripture from the Hebrew Bible. They prayed
together, took up collections for the poor and widows, and discussed
matters of importance in their community. They also proclaimed their
faith in Christ to others and received new members into their community
through the sacrament of baptism.
roles within the church emerged in response to these practices,
and as the church grew and developed an institutional structure,
these leadership roles became increasingly differentiated and specialized.
These same basic functions, however, continue to determine the shape
of leadership in the Christian church today. That is, leaders in
Christian communities live as servants whose function is to assist
the church in its worship, ministry, and evangelism.
very rare exceptions, Christian communities ordain certain individuals
to lead the community as clergy. Of
all of the practices of the church, two kinds of activities, which
are understood to be means of grace, are especially entrusted to
the clergy. These means of grace are hearing the word read and proclaimed
and receiving the sacraments. The clergy are responsible for planning
the weekly worship of the church so that the means of grace are
regularly made available to the people.
worship, clergy offer prayers on behalf of the congregation, deliver
sermons that re-tell and interpret the sacred stories of the faith,
and administer the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
Clergy also offer pastoral care to members of their congregation
and coordinate the other ministries of the church. They usually
undertake a specialized program of theological education, requiring
both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree, so that they
are prepared to lead the community in these ways.
important leadership role in the church emerged in the 4th-century
after the period of persecution had ended. This was the role of
the monk, an individual who remains unmarried and is devoted especially
to a life of prayer and contemplation. Monasticism developed into
a variety of forms, both solitary and communal, for both men and
women (who are sometimes called nuns). Monks usually live according
to a “rule,” a set of practices that govern the community.
Such a rule might determine how often they gather for prayer, how
many hours a day are devoted to work or to rest, when mealtimes
will be, what responsibilities various members of the community
have, and how the tasks of the community are distributed among its
orders organized themselves around particular ministries: some devoted
to ministries with the poor, others to study and education, and
yet others to spreading the faith to new places. Traditionally the
office of the monk was separate from the office of ordained clergy,
but now the two often go together so that it is not uncommon for
male monks also to serve as priests.
people serve many important leadership roles in the church and may
even be ordained or consecrated to offices such as Elder or Deacon,
though these terms are not always used or used in the same way.
Usually Elders and Deacons are lay persons who have been chosen
by their congregations to serve on the governing board of the congregation
for a set amount of time.
governing board may be known as the “session,” “consistory,”
“vestry,” or by some other term. Members of this body
typically make decisions about how church property may be used,
develop the budget and disperse funds, assist the pastor by visiting
sick and elderly members of the congregation and bringing the bread
and wine used in the Lord’s Supper to those unable to be present
for worship, coordinate the educational programs of the congregation,
prepare the sanctuary for worship, and assist in worship leadership,
among many other things.
who may or may not be clergy, also play an important leadership
role in the Christian church. Because
belief and doctrine are so central to Christian faith, Christians
have historically placed a high value on educating their children
and new converts about what Christians believe and on nurturing
faith throughout one’s lifetime through continuing education.
Many educators are lay Christians who lead children, youth, and
adults in weekly “Sunday School” meetings, where they
read and interpret scripture together, discuss the relationship
between their faith and current events, learn new devotional practices,
and so forth.
educators who work in congregations have sought advanced training
and certification to become professional Christian educators. They
often serve as resource persons for a congregation, identifying
appropriate curriculum for various age groups and training Sunday
school teachers in its use. Still other educators serve in colleges
and universities or in seminaries where they train future pastoral
leaders for the church.
Christian churches have always sponsored missionaries who bring
the gospel to new places. They serve as evangelists, but also as
ministers to the poor and outcast, as advocates for justice, and
as educators. Missionaries may be clergy, monks, or laypeople. They
may serve in this vocation for a lifetime or for a set number of
years. In recent years, some Christians have undertaken short-term
mission projects. Christians with medical training, for instance,
may serve for a few weeks in an impoverished or remote area, where
there is little access to health care.
©2006 Kendra Hotz
G. Hotz serves as Adjunct Professor of Theology at Memphis
Theological Seminary. She formerly taught at Calvin College. Hotz
is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and coauthor
(with Matthew T. Mathews) of Shaping
the Christian Life: Worship and the Religious Affections
(2006) and coauthor of Transforming
Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice (2005).
from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on
Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra
Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John
Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for
purchase in December 2006.