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Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status…

Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why It…

by Joseph Hellerman

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Joseph Hellerman is a professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Talbot. He also serves as a copastor at Oceanside Christian Fellowship in El Sungundo, California. The dual vocation of Bible scholar and pastor has allowed him to delve deeply into the Bible and ancient literature and discover implications for ministry. In Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why it Matters Today, Hellerman takes a look at the dynamics of power in the Roman culture of Philippi and Paul’s counter-cultural message in Philippians. He then discusses the implications of Paul’s words for our contemporary ministry context.

The three parts of Hellerman’s book delve into the reality of power relationships. In part one, Hellerman examines the reality of power, privilege and class in Roman culture. There were the cultural elites, but a hunger for glory and status from non-elites meant that non-elites also patterned their life after elite culture. This is evident in Philippi. the only place in Paul’s missionary journey that Luke identifies as a Roman Colony (Acts 16).

In part two, Hellerman unfolds Paul’s counter-cultural message from his letter to the Philippians. While there does not appear to be a crisis in the church of Philippi which Paul is addressing, he does go to great pains to give an alternative view of leadership, power and status. Unlike other Epistles, Paul does not stress his apostleship, but uses the sole designation of slave, a status which had a fair degree of shame attached to it in the first century (123-6). He also urges the Philippians toward greater unity, humility and service. The Christological hymn of Phil. 2 demonstrates how antithetical to Roman-business-as-usual, the gospel was. Jesus had status, came in the form of ‘a slave,’ and suffered death by crucifixion on our behalf (141, ff). To a culture organized around gaining glory, status and power, this was a radical departure. And yet Paul called the Philippians (and us) to follow Christ’s self-emptying example.

Part three draws out the implications with an eye toward current church leadership structures. While Hellerman does not mandate a particular approach to church governance, he does question models of church leadership where a sole, senior pastor has absolute and unchecked authority. He includes a number of stories from students which illustrate where church power structures go awry (especially chapter 7) and illustrates the importance of examining the social context of ministry and argues that the ‘team leadership model’ is more consistent with the New Testament. This allows for greater accountability, shared wisdom, and less division between clergy and laity. Hellerman shares what this looks like in his own context, part of a team of pastor-elders at Oceanside.

Hellerman builds his case well, and I loved how he combined a close reading of First Century Philippi and Paul’s epistle with its implications for church ministry today. By beginning with ‘ancient history,’ Hellerman is able to illustrate how Philippians speaks both to its context and our own. This focus on history will be daunting for some readers, but the payoff is worth it. I absolutely loved part two (his reading of Philippians) and copiously underlined several sections.

I am lucky enough to be a part of a church with healthy leadership, but I have lots of friends who I have seen chewed up and hurt by their churches. I think that this is a valuable resource for recovering a more communal and humble approach to leadership. Especially for those who are starting out on their journey in ministry and developing convictions about leadership. I highly recommend it. 5 stars: ★★★★★

Thank you to Kregel Ministry for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. ( )
  Jamichuk | May 22, 2017 |
It should not take another book to explain the radical nature of the way of Christ when compared to non-Christian society. However, sometimes we need to be reminded of the counter-cultural call of Christianity. This is the premise behind Joseph Hellerman’s Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why it Matters Today.
I admit that I expected something different from the book when I decided to read it. I anticipated another book on the wisdom of plural leadership in the church. It certainly is that; but it is more.
Joseph Hellerman begins by showing that Philippi, which is specifically identified in Acts as a Roman colony, was immersed in the culture of honor and prestige that dominated Roman society. He summarizes this by saying, “The people of Philippi had been socialized to embrace the status conscious, honor-oriented values of their cultural world” (p.26). As a Roman colony, Philippi was a “Rome away from Rome.” It is fitting, then, that it was to believers in this church that Paul expounded the selfless self-emptying of Christ in the richly Christological passage of Phil. 2:4-11. Hellerman reminds us that this deep, theologically rich Christology was given in the context of inter-personal behaviors and not in the halls of the academy. Theology is to be lived.
After building upon this and exposing our own culture’s romance with honor and status, the author makes a plea for church leadership that more closely imitates the way of the cross as described in Phil. 2:4-11. We know too well that many churches tend to follow corporate strategies designed more for the business world than for the flock for whom Christ died.
This book is a good exercise in interpreting Scripture in the context in which it was written. We tend to judge the example of Christ by modern concepts of humility. Hellerman clearly shows the absolutely radical nature of Paul’s injunction when viewed through first century Roman lenses.
As I progressed to the latter part of the book, I wondered if Hellerman would take a more extreme approach and denounce leadership out of hand. He does not. He knows that leadership is necessary and that, like nature, it abhors a vacuum. Someone will lead. It is the quality, accountability, and relational nature of that leadership that makes the difference.
Embracing Shared Ministry is a welcomed addition to the body of literature available in church leadership. It may send some sacred cows to the altar, but such sacrifices need to be made.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Kregel Publications as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising ( )
  RonStarcher | Nov 6, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0825442648, Paperback)

Social historian and pastor Joe Hellerman addresses issues of power and authority in the church—in the New Testament and in the church today—in a fresh, culturally nuanced way. The local church, Hellerman maintains, should be led and taught by a community of leaders who relate to one another first as brothers and sisters in Christ, and who function only secondarily—and only within the parameters of that primary relational context—as vision-casting, decision-making leaders for the broader church family. Unique among contemporary treatments of servant leadership, Hellerman interprets the biblical materials against the background of ancient Roman cultural values, in order to demonstrate a social context for ministry that will provide healthy checks and balances on the use of pastoral power and authority in our congregations.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:18 -0400)

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