The Flip Principle

I believe strongly that our enemy loves to wreak havoc in the community by “flipping” relationships on their heads. This happens in the Garden of Eden, of course, when Adam stands passively by, abdicating his leadership responsibilities, leaving Eve to make the crucial decision alone. This happens still today. After all, what generation hasn’t complained about children rejecting the authority of their parents? In fact, at this point in history, with our unfortunate commitment to absolute democratic egalitarianism, we seem to have no regard for any authority whatsoever, never mind the apostolic exhortation (cf. 1 Peter 2:13).


In conversations with a number of pastors serving in very different areas and churches, I have heard mention of one specific application of this principle time and time again. As I see it in the New Testament, God “gives” certain men to the church as leaders—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers—in order to “equip God’s people for works of service,” so that the whole body “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:11-16). The leaders are to exercise leadership in and oversight of the church (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Peter 5:1-4). God’s Word then specifically commands the congregation to submit to the leadership of these men (Hebrews 13:17).


Thus, it seems that the elders/pastors/overseers[1] provide the bulk of leadership and direction,[2] while the congregation performs the bulk of the ministry. But here’s where our enemy seeks to flip the association on its head. These days, it seems that almost exactly the opposite relationship is in place in many churches. Congregations expect the leaders to perform the bulk of the ministry, while they expect the leaders to submit to the bulk of their opinions and expectations. The manipulative threat of leaving the church “because my needs aren’t being met” hangs in the air and keeps the flipped relationship in place.


There is great danger in allowing this distorted dynamic to continue. (One once again suspects God knows what he is doing.) For first, the church will not grow apart from the mobilized ministry of the whole congregation; a handful of men simply cannot minister to an entire congregation, much less the surrounding community, by themselves. And second, a congregation run by the whims of the most vocal members, or by majority acclamation, will very rarely choose the wisest, most effective approach to ministry (Numbers 13:26-14:12 and 1 Samuel 8:1-22 offer a glimpse at the process). God calls and equips certain individuals for the task of leadership, shaping and communicating the ministry’s vision and practical outworking. The congregants then respond in joyful submission, communicating questions and concerns in thoughtful consideration of this dynamic (Acts 6:1-7 offers a glimpse at the redeemed process[3]).


Leaders, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).


Congregants, “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).

[1] These titles are used interchangeably in the New Testament, leading to the conclusion that this is one office.

[2] I say “bulk” because I know that every godly leader longs for and embraces thoughtful, biblical input and discussion.

[3] Note also how many times the apostles, especially Paul, have to defend their authority to unruly congregations.

One Reply to “The Flip Principle”

  1. Amen! Thank you for humbling yourself to godly conviction to write these things. They are a breath of fresh aire to read.
    Peace in Christ Brandon,

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