A Review of Leading The Team-Based Church by George Cladis

Have you ever read a book and found a really blatant error on the first few pages, then found yourself turned off from the rest of the book and getting nothing out of it? This unfortunately happens to me a lot, it’s a tendency I have to fight a lot. This was largely my experience with reading the book Leading the Team-Based Church by George Cladis. Unfortunately in this book the error wasn’t a menial point that I was nit-picking, it wasn’t a statement that had nothing to do with the fulfillment of the thesis of the book; it was the entire spine of the book.

In this book Cladis writes about team-based church ministry from his experience as a Presbyterian minister. Throughout the book he explains what team-based ministry looks like and attempts to show the accuracy of his thesis, that “Team-based ministry is the most effective model for leading and organizing Christian ministry for the twenty-first century” (xi). On page one he writes; “The concepts and techniques for building effective church teams must first have a biblical and theological model that gives spiritual direction to team formation. Chapter One provides such a model and gives the theological grounding for everything that follows. It is the linchpin for the whole book” (1). It is this linchpin, the first chapter—his “theological” model—that undermines the entire book.

In the first chapter he outlines his biblical case for the model of team-based leadership; it is based on the word Perichoresis. This is a Greek word used by the early church father John of Damascus to describe the relationship between the different Persons of the Trinity. Cladis explains that this word literally means “circle-dance” and describes a dynamic relationship between the Trinity that “implies intimacy, equality, unity yet distinction, and love” (4). This model of relationship is the foundation for Cladis’ model; a model based of a loving, leveled (in the sense of authority), covenanting, and equal team. This model right here, the Perichoresis model for team leadership, is where the problems arise. Cladis writes in the introduction to part one that a model for effective leadership must have a biblical and theological framework to give direction to team formation (1). This was a very promising start for me as I read the book, but from the first chapter I was turned off from the content of the book because of, what I believe, to be a failure to meet this criterion. Cladis does not cite any Scripture to support the ideas he presents in the first chapter. He presents the idea of Perichoresis used by John of Damascus as an accurate description of the Trinity without looking to Scripture to confirm this. He cites only two Scriptures in this chapter (at least in his explanation of Perichoresis).

He claims that 1 Cor. 12-14 supports the perichoretic idea of a flattened structure for church (i.e. no hierarchy) (pg. 5). This Scripture is not talking about hierarchies at all; what 1 Cor. 12-14 is saying is that we are all equal in worth and value to the Church. As believers each of us has been gifted in such a way to be unique and invaluable ministers in the Church; we are not to envy each other’s gifts because we each have been gifted in a unique way solely on the basis of the Spirit’s sovereign will (1 Cor. 12:11, 14-20). We are each invaluable for ministry, but this does not mean that there is no hierarchy of leadership or authority (not value) in the Church. The second Scripture is from Matthew 28, all Cladis is using this verse for is to make a point that the Trinity is central to Christian worship, creeds, and benedictions; therefore it must make a great theological model for leadership in the Church (4-5). For all the weight that Cladis puts on the word “Perichoresis,” building his model on the supposed etymological meaning of this word, it is interesting to note that it does not actually occur once in the Greek of the Bible.

It’s not just that Perichoresis is not found in Scripture, for we use the word “Trinity” to describe our sovereign and glorious LORD and it is not found in Scripture either. The problem would enter the picture if we started to make arguments and points from the inherent meaning of the word “Trinity” and not from the Scriptures and theological truth that we are describing by using the word “Trinity. It’s not just that Cladis builds his model off of a theological model nowhere found in Scripture, but that his model also seems to misrepresent the historical meaning of perichoresis and draws meaning out of it that seems to be, frankly, inconsistent with the Scriptural description of the Trinity. One of the first warning bells that went off in my head is when Cladis writes “Perichoresis means literally “circle dance”” and then goes on to explain how he this “literal” meaning comes from the constituent parts of this word; the Greek words χορευω (choreuō, to dance)[1] and περι (peri, which is a preposition which could mean many things in many contexts, but often “around”).[2] What he is doing here is defining the word according to its etymology, which is dangerous and often considered and exegetical fallacy (the Root Fallacy).[3] The problem is that often words acquire a meaning radically different from their constituent parts. Let’s look at an example in English; if we were to look at the word “butterfly” etymologically we would conclude that a butter-fly was a fly made out of butter, a fly that ate butter, or something equally ridiculous that has nothing to do with the actual nature of the creature it describes. To make matters worse, if we were to take an etymological route (which can sometimes be valid if it sheds light on the primary method for determining meaning, which is the use of a word in context) Περιχώρησις (perichōrēsis) is probably not derived from χoρεύω and περι but περι and χωρέω (chōreō, which means “contain, have room”).[4] Even if it was derived from χορεύω the historical usage of his word departs radically from the meaning that Cladis (echoing Guthrie) is attributing to it. John of Damascus’ use of this word is in reference to the interpenetration of the different members of the Trinity as described in John 14:11 (“I am in the Father and the Father is in me”). It was used to describe a relationship testified to in Scripture that was not truly understand, and still isn’t today. [5] I mentioned that Cladis’ model is also inconsistent with what the few things that Scripture actually has to say on the interpersonal relationship within the Trinity, let’s look at that now.

Cladis sees in this perichōrētic relationship an implication of complete leveling in any seemingly hierarchical structure of roles within Trinity. It is true that within the Trinity each Person is completely equal in value and deity, but Scriptures teaches a difference in roles. Throughout the NT it is always the Father who “initiates and commissions” while the Son carries out the “commission” and the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. These relationships stretch beyond a simple economic relationship between creation and the Trinity to the eternal relationship of the members of the Trinity. Within Scripture there seems to be a pretty clear teaching that there is functional (not ontological [which leads to Arianism or a similar heresy]) subordination within the Trinity (John 14:28; Phil 2:6-11; 1 Cor 11:3; 15:28). The Son submits to the will of the Father and the Spirit proceeds from both of them; we neglect this truth then many of Jesus’ words about His relationship with God the Father would lead to the conclusion of an ontological difference. Some have suggested that Christ took on a subordinate role only in the incarnation, but this doesn’t do full justice to the texts involved (that being said, in the incarnation His functional role did change, Philippians 2:8 says that He emptied Himself and took on the very nature [role] of a servant; but his does not imply that there was not subordination before the incarnation).[6] There are also clear Scriptures that talk of functional distinction between believers (even though we are all equal in value, Gal. 3:23-29). Some of these include the leadership roles of the elders, deacons, and apostles (e.g. 1 Timothy 2-3) as well as the instructions for wives to submit to husbands, children to parents, and slaves to masters (Ephesians 5:21-30).

There are simply no biblical, theological, or historical grounds for Cladis model and this eviscerates the spine of his book, the part that he himself calls the “linchpin” (1). This trend of building models for relationships and ecclesiological structures out of what is perceived to be the interworking of the Trinitarian relationship has been common in the last 20 or so years. These “Social Trinitarian” models are unfortunate because they divert studies from what Scripture actually has to say about both these relationships and the Trinity to flimsy models built from extreme stretches of supposed implications in Scripture.[7] This made it really hard for me to accept a model based off of this understanding of the Trinity.

Despite all of this, I did learn a little bit from reading this book that will help me in my future. First, reading this book helped me see how my ideas of church ministry were based on bringing myself glory and fame and not building a healthy church that glorifies God. This was a sobering realization and has given me a lot to pray and think about recently. I also found a quote on page 98, about the realization that Eph. 4 teaches the equipping of others for their ministry and not looking at them as team members for my work of ministry, to be very applicable to my thought process and any future ministry I may be involved with. I struggled a lot with this book, but God used it to show me a major weakness in my thinking and hopefully with His help I can work through it and come back to a Christ-, and not self-, centered understanding of ministry.

This book gets a rating of 1/5

Cladis loses one star for the fact that his entire supposedly “theological” and “biblical” model (1-2) is lacking any good exegetical or even historical evidence.

Actually, he loses the next two stars for the same reason; he fails to meet his thesis and support is model.

Lastly, he loses a star because even beyond this failure to provide a sufficient foundation for his model the book was very dry and lacked any profound or even enlightening tips on church structure, leadership, or teams that are not found in other books where they are presented and defended in a much more satisfactory way.




Balswick, Jack O. The Family: a Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2007.

Carson, D. A. Exegetical fallacies. Carlisle, U.K.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Paternoster ; Baker Books, 1996.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology : an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994.

Kilby, Karen. “Perichoresis and Projection: Problems with Social Doctrines of the Trinity.” New Blackfriars (October 2000). http://theologyphilosophycentre.co.uk/papers/Kilby_TrinNBnew.pdf.

Lampe, G. W. H., ed. A Patristic Greek Lexicon. Amen House, London: Oxford University Press, 1961. http://www.scribd.com/doc/52903581/G-W-H-LAMPE-A-Patristic-Greek-Lexicon.

Lewis, Gordon Russell, and Bruce A Demarest. Integrative theology : historical, biblical, systematic, apologetic, practical : three volumes in one. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996.

Liddell, H.G., R. Scott, and J.M. Whiton. A Lexicon Abridged from Liddell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon. Harper & brothers, 1890. http://books.google.ca/books?id=yvQYAAAAYAAJ (accessed April 28, 2013).

Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament). Electronic ed. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Thayer, Joseph Henry, Carl Ludwig Wilibald Grimm, and Christian Gottlob Wilke. Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance numbers. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003.

[1]H.G. Liddell, R. Scott, and J.M. Whiton, A Lexicon Abridged from Liddell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Harper & brothers, 1890), 786, http://books.google.ca/books?id=yvQYAAAAYAAJ (accessed April 28, 2013).

[2] Joseph Henry Thayer, Carl Ludwig Wilibald Grimm, and Christian Gottlob Wilke, Thayer’s Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Coded with Strong’s Concordance numbers (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 501–502.

[3] D. A Carson, Exegetical fallacies (Carlisle, U.K.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Paternoster ; Baker Books, 1996), 28–33.

[4] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), χωρέω.

[5] T.F. Torrance, Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons (Bloomsbury, 2001), 169–170, http://books.google.ca/books?id=TFUYu5c7a8QC.;; G. W. H. Lampe, ed., A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Amen House, London: Oxford University Press, 1961), περιχώρησις, http://www.scribd.com/doc/52903581/G-W-H-LAMPE-A-Patristic-Greek-Lexicon.; Karen Kilby, “Perichoresis and Projection: Problems with Social Doctrines of the Trinity,” New Blackfriars (October 2000): 9–10, http://theologyphilosophycentre.co.uk/papers/Kilby_TrinNBnew.pdf.

[6] Gordon Russell Lewis and Bruce A Demarest, Integrative theology : historical, biblical, systematic, apologetic, practical : three volumes in one (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996), 275–277. (cf. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology : an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994), 249.)

[7] Kilby, “Perichoresis and Projection: Problems with Social Doctrines of the Trinity.” For another example of this tendency see the unfortunately unhelpful (in many key areas) textbook by the Balswicks; Jack O. Balswick, The Family: a Christian Perspective on the Contemporary Home, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2007).


8 thoughts on “A Review of Leading The Team-Based Church by George Cladis

  1. I think you ably reviewed this book from a strictly orthodox biblical perspective, but I think it is also important to note that Cladis doesn’t claim to lay a biblical foundation for his work. From my reading of this book, Cladis is honest about admitting he is drawing upon the the work of Trinitarian theologians — Guthrie and Volf, among others — and finds an interesting link between the old (8th century — not biblical) notion of perichoresis and 21st century team management. He is also approaching the subject as a pastor who seeks to give practical ways to create teams in church — the most helpful aspect of the book. Lastly, while you rightly note the theological rebuttal to the Trinitarian theologians he depends upon, the view you cite in your review has its own problems and lends itself to Tritheism. My intent here is not to enter into a centuries old debate on the Trinity but simply to point out that Cladis is depending upon a credible and widely held approach to the Trinity, though not without its problems and critics, as you point out.

    • Thanks for the feedback! In my reading of the book I got the impression that at the very least Cladis was paying lip service to his model being biblical, I got this from a few places. On page 1 he writes “the concepts and techniques for building effective church teams must first have a biblical and theological model that gives spiritual direction to team formation” (emphasis added). Here he seems to be suggesting that his model meets this criteria of being biblical. On page three he writes “EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP teams in the Church of Jesus Christ look to Scripture and Christian theology for their direction and shape. The culture of the church is thoroughly biblical, and who we leaders are and how we operate must be firmly grounded in Scripture.” Here he either sets himself up for failure by suggesting that we need to be based on Scripture, and then ignoring his own standard; or he is saying that his model will fulfill this criteria. He also says that “The biblical and theological model for team-based ministry that I present here is based on the triune nature of God.” Again he claims his model is biblical, but does not support this assertion. Just before he introduces perichoresis he writes “What biblical picture could I hang on the wall of my mind to guide and shape my thoughts about leading church teams?” (4) He seems to suggest that perichoresis is this biblical picture. In drawing upon Guthrie and Volf he also in error cites the false etymological argument from perichoresis which is at the very least, if their etymology is accurate, completely foreign to its use by the Church Fathers. And lastly, while I agree that I am citing one specific view on the interrelationship between the God-head, it is the view of eternal subordination that is reflected in all the Trinitarian creeds and has been held by the majority of the Church throughout history. It is largely an aberration of our contemporary age to see only a temporary subordination in Christ’s incarnation. This stems largely out of our cultures equation with function and ontology. We tend to consider functional difference to equal ontological difference. In the Feminism debate we see the cultural understanding that if one does not have an equal role then they cannot have an equal value or worth. This undermines (I know, again controversial, but the historical understanding) the Biblical teaching of functional differentiation between genders, while affirming absolute equality in value. The Bible seems to assume that one can have a different role (be functionally subordinate) and yet be ontologically equal. When we look through this lens we will not enter into tritheism, as we see in the churches successful avoidance of that heresy, but if we drop the biblical (and I would understand to be universally correct) lens and take up our cultures glasses that is when we could end up with tritheism. Just because social Trinitarian theology and functional equality (leveling) is current view does not mean that it is an equally legitimate one (this needs to be judged first by Scripture, in comparison with historical understanding, and lastly with other fields of study). That being said, I appreciate the feedback.

      • Your response exactly confirms Cladis’ thesis: that our view of the Trinity influences our view of society. For example, if we were to adopt your philosophical interpretation of Trinitarian theology (ontological vs. functional) as you apply it, then slavery is an acceptable practice, since we would simply consider the slave as of equal ontological worth to the free person but functionally one of perpetual servitude, and the slave (or, as you suggest above, woman) should simply accept that truth, so that the rest of us can fulfill our roles of master without being subject to rebellion on the basis of ontological worth.

      • It is a possibility that someone could push the functional vs ontological difference to that point, but that is by no means necessitated in the distinction; it would very much be a slippery slope fallacy to apply that to this understanding. When viewed in isolation that could be arrived at, but this by no means has to be concluded. If other reasons mitigate the acceptance of slavery as an acceptable social structure, as various NT passages and our current culture would suffice to do, then there is no reason to take it up on the basis of an ontological vs. functional distinction. Also, most slavery systems (at least as North America and Europe are used to thinking of them) are very much built on an ontological distinction and not a functional distinction. In these forms of slavery, as well as in the slavery of the ANE and Roman Empire there was an understanding that the slave was ontologically inferior to his master; he was not a person but property, a slave was an animal, maybe even less. An example of slavery that may exist with a functional but not ontological distinction is that of Biblical Israel (at least as their system was outlined in the Pentateuch, not as it was abused by the Northern and Southern kingdoms during the ministry of the Prophets). In Israel a slave was very much considered to be a person; they were circumcised, they were only a slave for a few years, they would worship in the temple, they were considered a fellow Israelite, even the punishments for harming a slave—while to us seemingly not harsh at all—were drastically different from that of their ANE neighbours; the biblical Jewish model of slavery would be a system that recognized the ability to be ontologically equal but functionally different (though with humans this distinction is never so fine as in the Trinity for while we all are equal in intrinsic worth, since we are different and distinct beings we are not ontologically identical [i.e. Homoousios: one substance] as the individual members of the Trinity are). [p.s. I would argue that is not his thesis but merely a presupposition that he holds in his book]

  2. I thank you for this conversation. I believe you to be quite sincere in what you are trying to accomplish. A further thought: all theses are built upon presumption, if a Beginning Point is presumed, as is true with you. And I don’t take issue with your Beginning Point, which is the assumption of God and the authority of Scripture and your method of interpreting and applying Scripture. Your response to me continues to affirm Cladis’…presumption, if you want to call it that. The concern of his — and he is only applying a view that is not original to him to church teams — is that our concept of God effects our view of people and how they are treated. You write back that this is not necessarily true. But that it is not necessarily true also means that it can be true, and Cladis and others argue it is true. You can honestly debate its application, but you’ve done nothing but affirm the possibility of its truth in this little conversation we’ve had. So, perhaps instead of scoffing the…presumption…you might be able to accomplish your purposes more honestly with a different tone and respect. Nonetheless, please know my admiration for your thoughtfulness and I hope for your wellbeing and continued search for “faith, that seeks understanding” — a journey many of us share with you.

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