An often quoted Wimberism in the Vineyard movement is that “everyone gets to play” (I’ve written about this here). We often encourage our church family to remember that there aren’t any “superheroes” in the kingdom of God and that all of God’s people should participate in areas of ministry. This is a natural outworking of Ephesians 4:11-16 in which church leaders/ministers are gifted to the Church in order to equip them to build each other up and do ministry.
In Marty Boller’s wonderful book The Wisdom of Wimber, he explains John Wimber’s intention behind “everyone gets to play” as follows:
“For Wimber, it was not good enough to have a church with just a few select leaders operating in the gifts of the Spirit. In fact, he would go to great strides to prove his point that, indeed, everybody can play when it comes to healing the sick, casting out darkness, and caring for the broken-hearted.”
This, along with many other Wimberisms, is one of my favorite New Testament realities because it rightly understands the importance of encouraging the Body of Christ to function in the calling, function, gifting, and purposes of God.
But I have some concerns about how this concept is manipulated in ways that I think go beyond both the NT and Wimber’s own view. This is especially true in light of a growing phenomenon wherein disgruntled church people suggest things that essentially boil down to a rejection of leadership within the Church primarily because they have been under leaders who have failed them in some way.
The Church Needs Healthy, Humble, & “Biblical” Leaders
I am not one who buys into dictator-style leadership and I strongly believe that biblical leadership is modeled through humility, service, grace, mercy, and love… not to mention many other qualities and characteristics (which Scripture has a lot to talk about!).
But I do believe the New Testament explicitly indicates that one of the gifts that Christ gives to the Church is leaders. In fact, in the Pauline text I’ve already referenced (Eph. 4:6-11), the apostle indicates that the people serving in those leadership roles are the actual gifts to the Church.
And while everyone, and I do believe everyone, gets to play, not everyone gets to lead… at least in the same way. If everyone were a leader, what meaning would be behind the author of Hebrews when he writes:
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb. 13:17)
Or St. Peter’s commandment to:
“… shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3)
This is not to mention Paul’s advice to the Ephesian pastors when he writes:
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
Now I’m in agreement that some churches have unhealthy leadership structures and some churches are led by pastors who are ill-equipped or have ill-intentions. No argument here. But I also think that there are a lot of those who are disgruntled with the church that need to read Kenny Burchard’s “What’s the Most Biblical Form of Church Government.” After all, many of these folks tend to take serious issue with forms and structures and make statements like “the office of Senior Pastor is an unbiblical concept” or “churches need to follow the biblical pattern of church government.” And while I have some convictions about what is likely the common New Testament model for church polity, I love that Kenny wisely writes:
“If I’m right, then the most biblical way to think about church government is something like, “What structures and methods would work best for us as we keep our unique mission and challenges in mind as a congregation?” In other words, I think it is actually unbiblical to prescribe something for a congregation that doesn’t actually help them with their mission, because the Christians in the Bible structured things for their functions, and not to serve the structures themselves.”
This leads Kenny to suggest two key ideas:
- Structure is the servant of function.
- Structure is not the servant of structure.
All this is to suggest that the different forms or structures that exist in different churches may or may not be helpful or healthy. There’s a lot of variables (e.g., How big is the congregation? What gifting exists? etc.). Often way too much time is spent on form or structure and character quality is either overlooked, ignored, or almost addressed as a minor issue. Only after things have “blown up” do the questions concerning character (or the lack thereof) become a serious part of the conversation.
This is unfortunate.
At any rate, here’s what concerns me about this trend among certain folks… in order to get away from having leaders, people will almost use any means necessary! The biblical witness gets manipulated, Church History is cherry picked, and their experiences begin to trump other people’s experiences or opinions. Ironically (or not), many of the people making these statements are often functioning as leaders or want to be leaders or end up being leaders. Hmmm. But that’s getting off subject. Here’s my point…
Yes, Everyone Gets to Play. No, Everyone Doesn’t Get to Lead
In the Vineyard movement, good leadership is a valued gift to the church. We value leadership because Scripture and history values good leadership. Specifically speaking, John Wimber valued leaders (cf. his chapter “What is Biblical Leadership?” in Everyone Gets to Play). Alexander Venter, whose book Doing Church is somewhat of a Vineyard “church manual” writes:
“Leadership is critical. It is the key to healthy Church life and growth.”
Suggesting that “everyone gets to play” doesn’t mean that “everyone gets to lead” does not also suggest that everyone can’t eventually lead either. It’s far more complicated than that.
But in some very complex ways, leadership is a combination of calling, character, gifting, abilities, influence, vision, and passion (and a lot more). Not everyone in a local church has all of this and even those who are functioning as leaders don’t have all of it (hence the importance of leadership teams!).
My point is that just because everyone gets to play doesn’t mean everyone has the same level of responsibility in a local church, region, or movement. As the aforementioned quote by Marty Boller clarifies, “everybody can play when it comes to healing the sick, casting out darkness, and caring for the broken-hearted.” Everyone can do that. But not everyone has the same level of responsibility in the local church.
Which some people probably are very, very, very thankful for… ha ha!
What do you think?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.