📄 Church Hierarchy and Discipleship

Rev. Dr. Michael Koplitz

 Mark 10:35-45

Read the following passage to see if you can catch Yeshua’s cautionary words about governing structures in the Christian Church today.

35 James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 They said to Him, “Grant that we amay sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 “But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41   Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. 42 Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Jesus received an interesting request from the sons of Zebedee. One observation is that they were not a part of the inner circle. That privilege belonged to Peter, Matthew, and John. These three men were with Jesus at the critical points in the Gospel story. They would be the de facto leaders of the movement if something happened to Jesus. A note here is that none of them were influential leaders after Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

Paul, the converted Christian killer, became the leader of the Christian movement. That is an odd twist in the leadership circle, which we will have to save for another time. In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, we do learn that Peter had some influence. However, when compared to Paul’s influence, our brother Peter was a minor player. 

There are a couple of items in this narrative that deserve attention. First, I will address the hierarchy. Local churches develop a hierarchy no matter what size they are. A part of my Doctor of Ministry Project was the analysis of church hierarchy. Church modeling says that churches of specific sizes develop the same hierarchy model. My research in this area proved that. The bigger the church, the bigger the hierarchy. Unfortunately, it is clear from this passage that Jesus was against this. Unfortunately, it is a human flaw that when a group of people comes together to form an organization, folks want to control others. This leadership structure has been discussed by Jesus several times. Outside of the local church, there is a hierarchy of the universal church. The catholic church has the most massive hierarchical structure. It would be interesting to calculate what percentage of the clergy in the catholic church actually pastor a congregation. I believe it would be a meager percentage compared to the hierarchy above the local priest. 

Jesus clearly is warning us not to allow a hierarchy to take place. Why? Think about the church denomination you are in if you are in one. How much of the resources of the local church are used to support the hierarchy? Then ask the question of what is the hierarchy doing for you locally? 

A church I served was asked for 22% of its income to support the hierarchy of the denomination. That is a considerable amount of the local church’s resources. The natural question after learning about this amount is what did the local church receive for this expenditure? The answer is a shocking “not much”. The denomination hierarchy argues that they combine resources from the local churches to create a more significant entity that can impact the world. I will not argue that point because it is true. However, I would ask how much of a local impact could the local church have if they had the use of those resources? I have rarely seen the money sent to the hierarchy being returned to help the local church make disciples. 

Why do independent churches do well today? You probably guessed it. They do not have a hierarchy to feed. These resources can stay local. The independent churches I have visited have a global mission fund. The people of the church can contribute to that fund directly. The main difference for the local independent church is that they control the use of their resources. They create their own rules and regulations. They create their statement of faith. 

To the hierarchy of the mainline churches, I would say that you need to shrink your governing bodies. When this is accomplished, the hierarchy will demand less of the local church’s resources, allowing the local churches to do more in their individual communities. Free the local churches to do what they must do so that they can make disciples for Christ. 

The second point of this narrative is that in Jesus’ day, there was a heavy penalty to pay for discipleship. Today in the United States, becoming a Christian will not get you a death sentence. However, religion is an institution in a downward spiral of prestige and importance to the local communities.  There may become a time, according to current trends of society, that being a Christian will not be a good thing. 

Hopefully, in this country, being a Christian will not come with the death penalty. It may, in time, limit what a person can do career-wise and financially. That would draw us back to Jesus’s time, when demonstrating belief in Yeshua the Messiah often meant a specific death penalty.

The time for an evangelical movement in this country is now. Let us sweep out the anti-God politicians and replace them with God-fearing persons. This country was built on Judeo-Christian moral ethics. The country needs to return to its original values and morals. It is up to us to make this happen. Remember that as the disciples of Jesus Christ, we are expected to stop this erosion of Jesus’ influence in the policies and direction of our country. I urge you to consider what you can do to make this happen.  Bring back God into the politics and direction of this country! It is up to all Jesus’ disciples to stand up and be counted for God.

And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.“But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

Matthew 10:39b-40

Pastor Michael H. Koplitz, D.Min., Ph.D. is an ordained minister, author, teacher, and webmaster at BibleInteract. He currently lives in York Pennsylvania with his wife, Sandy, where he has been a pastor at the United Methodist Church for over 18 years.

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