In this weeks article Geoff Macpherson from Trinity Presbyterian Church and Grace Theological College helps us understand leadership and leading people God's way
How do you feel when someone in your church says, “We need leadership”, or, “What is our vision”?
Many pastors and elders feel criticized or become defensive. We respond with plans and programs to show people that we are leading them. But, is that really what people need?
While the church has always talked about ‘leadership’, the last twenty or so years has seen many in the church adopt a model of leadership in the American church that relies heavily on the corporate and business world of a former era.
In the past, when books on leadership were written, they tended to talk about preaching, pastoral care (shepherding), evangelism, and polity (church governance).
Books from the past had a more ‘organic’ and bottom-up feel. More recent books that borrow from the corporate world have a more top-down approach, an approach that even the corporate leadership gurus have long-since abandoned.
In the 1990’s, possibly the high-water mark for corporate style leadership, Glenn Daman from the Western Seminary Institute for Small Church Health wrote an online magazine called ‘Mikros’ (small). In his articles, Daman wrote extensively about leadership, its necessity, priority, goals, and foundation. He eventually wrote a book, Shepherding the Small Church (Kregel, 2002, 2008).
In one of his articles from the nineties, Daman made a vital distinction between corporate and church leadership. He wrote;
‘The purpose of leadership is not to fulfil organizational requirements, but to change people.’
When we look at the key New Testament books such as First and Second Timothy, Titus and First Peter, we see that leadership in the church is unique. Much of the uniqueness comes down to the purpose and means. The purpose of church leadership is to make people into holy followers of Jesus Christ who are ‘equipped for every good work.’
What does such leadership look like?
It starts with a transformed life: Paul assumes that a leader in the church is a regenerated person. This is someone who has been ‘made wise for salvation’ (2 Tim.3:15). The leader must be ‘saved’ before he can ‘serve’. The church has been (and will continue to be) devastated by graceless leaders. When unsaved men (and women) take on roles of leadership over God’s flock, the results are always disastrous. That is why Paul calls them ‘wolves.’
It takes shape in a holy calling: Paul wrote to Timothy about the man who ‘aspires to the office of overseer’ (1 Timothy 3:1). Peter talked about shepherding the flock ‘as God would have you’ (1 Peter 5:2), strongly hinting at the divine appointment necessary to be a leader in the church. A church leader is not someone who has succeeded in the world, and therefore gets a position as a reward. Instead, he hears and obeys God’s call on his life as it is expressed by his brothers and sisters in the covenant community.
Its foundation is the word of God: A leader in the church is recognized as someone who knows God’s word and can teach it to others. To Timothy Paul says that a leader is someone who is ‘able to teach’ (1 Tim.3:2), and he expands on that to Titus saying, ‘He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it.’ (Titus 1:9) The space that Paul devotes to biblical teaching in the pastorals is truly remarkable.
A leader in the church is not someone who has ‘nous’ or business experience, although they may have those skills. First and foremost, they are students of God’s word who desire to teach it to others.
In 1 Timothy 4:13-16 Paul links faithful, word-based ministry with the salvation of members and the church leader.
It has a gospel focus: Everything that Paul writes to Timothy and Titus is predicated on the centrality of the gospel. He writes to Timothy as ‘an apostle of Jesus Christ’ and describes Jesus as ‘our hope.’ (1 Tim.1:1) By verse 12 he gives a memorable summary of the gospel, as if to ensure that Timothy never forgets what it is all about (1 Tim.1:12-16). Leadership in the church is never about maintaining traditions, programs or institutions. It is about Jesus Christ crucified for sinners. A man not convinced of this cannot be a leader.
It is lived out by example: The whole tone of Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus is that the leader’s character matters as much, maybe more, than their competence to perform the role. Peter sums it up when he tells his fellow elders to ‘shepherd the flock of God’ by ‘being examples to the flock.’ (1 Peter 5:3) In other words, a church leader isn’t just a great teacher or passionate evangelist, but they are a person who can be looked to as an exemplar of the gospel. Of particular concern is the state of his own family relationships (1 Tim.3:5).
It seeks to equip and empower others: Coming back to Paul’s famous instructions to Timothy about scripture (2 Tim.3) it is easy to overlook the final statement, ‘that the man (and woman) of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.’ As Paul puts it in Ephesians 4:12, the church leaders are responsible to ‘equip the saints for the work of ministry.’ One of the challenges we face is the expectation (internal or external) that we will do everything ourselves. Sometimes leaders can be a bottleneck to growth. Instead, we should be aiming to give others the tools needed to do the work of ministry.
It is supported by prayer: Paul devotes a whole section to the topic of prayer in his first letter to Timothy (1 Tim.2). Prayer underpins and empowers the ministry of a leader in the church. A church leader prays for and with the flock, just as Christ did with his disciples. In our busy and pragmatic culture prayer is very often neglected. If it is present, it often a token or symbolic element to ‘christen’ the decisions that leaders make. Sometimes it feels like church leaders ‘open’ and ‘close’ their meetings with a prayer because that is what the church rules say that they should do.
As we look at the church and our role in the church, it is vital that we get the basics right. Our business is seeing God change people.