Leadership in Open Brethren Assemblies of North America -- By: Kenneth C. Fleming

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 05:1 (Summer 1996)
Article: Leadership in Open Brethren Assemblies of North America
Author: Kenneth C. Fleming

Leadership in Open Brethren Assemblies of North America

Kenneth C. Fleming1


Open Brethren assemblies have existed in the North American context for over one hundred years. Those years have been marked by some significant advances in home evangelism and foreign missions. God has graciously used many gifted men to push out the frontiers of evangelism within the movement. But we have been blessed with few outstanding leaders. Leadership has never been the strongest point of the movement and sometimes quite the opposite. About twelve years ago there was a definitive survey of North American assemblies taken by Lois Fleming in connection with her graduate work at Wheaton College. Under the heading Leadership she concludes, “Unquestionably the single greatest issue facing the assemblies, according to this research, is leadership. Forty percent of the responses to felt need indicated a concern with some aspect of leadership.”2

In her summary she went on to say, “Types of specific leadership problems are needs for full-time workers, handing over of leadership from older to younger people, better equipped or more elders, improved pastoral care and visitation and the development of future leaders.… It is so urgent because, together with the evident needs in evangelism, the very future of the assembly movement in North America depends on it.” Today these same concerns remain.

Historical Background

In order to properly understand the present situation it will be helpful to review the historical background and development of leadership in the assemblies of

North America. North American Open assemblies were begun by European Brethren who had very little influence from Open Brethren of the George Müller type. At first they were largely Scottish, Irish and English who emigrated in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Donald Ross was one of the most prominent among them. Strong assemblies were established in several cities in Eastern Canada and America. They continued multiplying westward along with the populations of both countries. The advance was aided by British teachers and evangelists who at great personal sacrifice pioneered one assembly after another until there were hundreds.

At first under Ross, the newly planted assemblies were structured with appointed or designated elders. But the influence of Darby’s theory of the “church in ruins” gradually became predominant. The outcome of his theory was to seek the restoration of New Testament piety, but not that of New Testament church structure. The new assemblies were governed by a...

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