Leadership Commendation and the Laying on of hands
The idea of commendation remains vague within the evangelical mind. We know it is important. So important, in fact, that many traditions implement a variety of methods for its use. One way is to use it within as a career– we are hiring you to the task, another way is for a young enthusiastic leader to want to do some work and for the leaders to allow him to do it, still another is the idea of setting free – ‘we commended him, now he can do what he likes’ – preferably in another region, not here!
All of these originate from pragmatism not a biblical foundation. This study seeks to search out the N.T. practice of commendation and to show how it was not only the means of leadership ‘checks and balances’, but it also was the wonderful expression of confidence in one another’s work. It was a beautiful expression of body-life and partnership.
Elders: Acts 14:23, Acts 20:18:38, 1 Tim 5:22 (and context)
Titus: Titus 1:5, 2:15
Timothy: 1 Tim 1:3,6:3, 1 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 1:3-14 (esp 6, 11, 14)
Paul : Acts 9 (esp 15-16), Gal 2:9, Acts 13:1-3, 26, Acts 15:36-41
Questions to guide your study
What differences can you identify in the types of commendation happening in these passages? What Similarities?
What were the leaders being commended to do? To be? To fulfil?
From these passages, write an initial description of commendation. What does it mean? What freedoms and limitations does it give?
Definition: Commend; Paradidomi
Para – Beside, alongside,
Root word: do – give
Didomi – given, gives, gave, grant, granted Paradidomi – to give, to deliver over, to betray,
Para ensures that we understand that commending happens alongside others – in this case, the church, especially its leaders. Commendation by its very nature cannot happen in isolation from others. It occurs alongside others.
do- shows that something is given or delivered by those others - something that the recipient of the commendation did not have prior to their commending. It is granted to the recipient - even in the negative sense; betrayal.
We now need to take a brief look at the nature of the mission that Christ commissioned us to and how it functioned in the first century. The core of this commission is to make disciples of all nations, baptise and teach. Paul showed that this involved evangelising strategic cities, establishing local churches and entrusting faithful leaders. This commission was to be fulfilled throughout all nations until the end of the age. As the commission unfolds in Acts, we can see that God is building something extraordinary. In Ephesians, Paul describes this as everyone (Jew and Gentile) being built together into one building, and elaborates by explaining that there is One body, One Spirit, just as there is One hope; One Lord, One faith, One Baptism, One God and Father. Essentially, all the disciples are connected into local churches; All the churches from all over the world were connected into one body; everyone has a place – Jew, Gentile, Male, Female, slave, free. Jesus will build His Church – singular.
In the first century, Paul went to the central cities of the Roman Empire, ensuring that all the churches received each other, even ensuring that the Jerusalem churches (who had caused the gentile churches much grief) continued to be received by the churches. He bent over backwards to see that the churches would remain together and work together for the furtherance of the gospel.
Note 2 things in this. First, that within this there is no room for Mavericks. This is a collective effort. This commission is given indiscriminately to all the Disciples of Christ – to all the Churches. Paul could not go out into Galatia and plant churches that were disconnected from the body – the existing churches needed to be prepared to receive those churches into the body as they were planted. Paul could not go without the church at Antioch going with him ‘in Spirit’. Second, that all the leaders who were commended were commended to a role within this One Body of Christ. Even elders were to oversee the local believers and participate in the gifts to Jerusalem. Commendation at every level is primarily a leadership agreement to continue all the work of Christ, all-together.
So then, apostolic commendation is a local church or church network recognising their responsibility for a global mission, recognising that they cannot all travel but that they can participate in that global mission by assigning / appointing / sending and assisting one of their own leaders to go on their behalf.
Elder commendation is an apostle giving the responsibility of a local work that has started under his leadership, into the hands of a local leader whom he appoints. Note that the apostolic leader was also commended by a local eldership to fulfil this task.
That both areas of work (Sodal and Modal) need to be done is not disputed. There is a good deal of weight to the idea that Sodal commend Modal and Modal commend Sodal, although this doesn’t hold entirely true in principle. Commendation is the New Testament partnership.
The Antioch Elders commend Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:1-3)
Paul commends the elders in the churches that are started (Acts 14:21)
Commendation expresses a full level of partnership. The work must be done. In each case, there are those who cannot do the work, and those who can. Commendation is full of confidence in the Lord and in the partnership with a leader that the work will be undertaken in a manner that glorifies the Lord and is in harmony with the commending leader(s).
Formality: Laying on of Hands
Paul says to Timothy ‘Do not lay hands on anyone hastily’. Laying on hands was the method of approving / appointing a leader to a given position or role. Timothy was to ensure that these men were up to the task of teaching and reproving, that their character (as proved in their family) was solid, and that they would consistently be able to lead the local church towards the broader mission. Laying on hands was a seal of passing on a leadership responsibility from the collective to an individual – from the church to an apostolic leader, or from the apostolic (and therefore from his commending church network) to a local elder.
Timothy had the local elders lay hands on him as he was commended to Paul’s team (1 Tim 4:14) and then Paul laid hands on him as he passed on the entire deposit as he was nearing his death (2 Tim 1:6).
It seems that commendation even once formalised was a continuous process that could continue to be given or could stop being given. Some evidences of this are:
Judas clearly did not continue as an apostle even after Jesus appointed him (Lk 6:12-15)
The Antioch Church commended Barnabas and Paul in Acts 13:1-3, but after their fight Acts 15:36-41, only Paul is commended.
Peter seemed to be out on a limb with his commendation as he ‘stood condemned’, ‘not living according to the truth of the gospel’. Gal 2:11-18. Thankfully it seems that Peter made the necessary changes to his doctrine and practices.
Paul seems to continually ensure that he is in harmony with the church at Antioch in between each journey.
2 Tim is full of the names of people who were both sodal and modal who did not continue with their leadership responsibilities in harmony with those who commended them.
At one level, this is sobering for anyone in leadership. As there is no guaranteed lifetime leadership position we need to work hard at not letting the Lord down, nor our brothers and sisters in terms of qualification. Beyond this we also need to work even harder for the body to maintain confidence in our work, commending us to all the necessary tasks needed within the family of families.
What accountability measures are in place for all leaders as we consider the practice of commendation? Sodal? Modal? What is required of a leader to ‘remain commended’? Sodal? Modal? How would these look across your present leadership situation?
In what sense does commendation allow leaders to function at their fullest capacity without limiting their gifting? How might this dynamic function amongst your church?
Since the global church is divided and messy, how might your church do your bit to assist it to come together? How is your church linked into the universal body of Christ?
What kind of difficulties, tensions, or disagreements are we likely to face as we seek to move forward in a unified manner?
Summarise how commendation functions across leadership, uniting, strengthening and empowering leaders to lead at their fullest capacity.