Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Are You Hoping To Become A Leader?

This may seem like it has nothing to do with you but leadership in the Church is something we should all be concerned about, especially because we seem to be doing it wrong. Sometimes we act in the Church as if leadership is a dictatorship, not meaning that it is run by tyrants but instead that people feel they have no choice. When it comes to leaders and followers there is always a choice. No one is ever forced to follow anyone; it's a choice if we submit to that leadership or not. But even then I think we are using the wrong vocabulary in the Body of Christ.

I don't even like using the word "leader" in connection to the Church because we only have one Leader who is Christ, who directs us through the Holy Spirit in us. The pastor is not a leader in the sense that we have leaders in the world. He is not the head of the church, Christ is. It's not even "our" church; it belongs to Jesus. Maybe we may own the building but the "Church" is his Bride. The pastor and elders are there as trainers, teachers, guides, helpers. They are responsible for making sure we understand the Word and do not head off on some strangely twisted teaching. They are there to help us understand how to mature in Jesus, to train us in spiritual works so that we become productive members of the Body. Do we see that happening?

The most difficult task for the pastor and elders is to bring in correction because it has to be done right. It has to be done in a way that encourages the believer to make right choices for the Lord. It should never be a thing of punishment and vengeance. The pastor and elders should be of such incredible spiritual maturity that they are able to handle such matters in the Spirit without killing any of the sheep. I became a pastor at the age of 28 and I feel I was not mature at all. I know of pastors who started much younger and had even less spiritual maturity. Praise God for his grace.

Perhaps this is the reason Paul found it necessary to give Timothy some guidelines in the selection of elders. I don't like that some people use this as a law, eliminating grace from God's plan in his calling of under-shepherds for his children. If this was a law that was put in place then Paul was disqualified from being the servant-leader he was. He tells Timothy:

Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. (1 Timothy 3:2-3)

Can we say here that he must be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, a born again believer? You would think that this would be a given but basically what Paul is telling Timothy is an elder must have spiritual maturity to take up this responsibility. I know a lot of Christians, Jesus lovers to the core, who still have struggles they are working out. This is a daily submitting to the Spirit that they are learning but have not quite grasped yet. They are still young and needing to mature, but they are getting there. They do not qualify as an elder simply because they have not matured to that point yet.

Then Paul strikes on something that has caused a few of us to give pause and wonder if we are now disqualified as elders in the Body of Christ:

He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) (vv. 4-5)

Does this mean that every pastor, every elder has the perfect family; that all his children are well behaved and walk around in shirt and tie? Hardly. That would remove the sin nature from children. Children will be children, always pushing the limits of the boundaries set by their parents. Only Jesus can cut off the root of that nature but salvation always remains a personal choice. No one can force salvation on someone, not even on children. Now, depending on personalities this pushing will either be a private thing or a very public. So what does Paul mean by manage? We have responsibility as parents to train and correct our children. If we allow them to run wild without correction, if we fail to instruct them in the Word and in the love of Jesus, if we are so busy with our own lives that we don't have time for our family, then we have not been good managers.

There are those who look at a pastor who has a rebellious teenage son and say that he is disqualified as an elder and must resign. I vehemently disagree and call those people immature in the Word and in the Spirit of God. If this is what disqualifies a "man of God" then should God not have to resign as God? Did he not lose "control" of Adam and Eve, and did this rebellion not plunge the entire human race into a state of rebellion? Ridiculous! God has done everything he can to love and correct this entire race. All we can ask of pastors and elders is that they do the same. What they are willing to do for their family speaks well of what they will be willing to do for the church. When you want to understand what Paul is talking about think of the priest Eli and his two sons.

Now Paul really hits the nail on the head:

He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. (v. 6)

The type of leadership Jesus called elders to requires maturity, a great deal of spiritual maturity. A guy may make a great and wise business man but that does not make him spiritually mature. Someone could be a great musician but that does not mean he is spiritually mature. Someone could be flowing in the gifts of the Spirit, but it does not make him spiritually mature. Spiritual maturity is found in those who have discovered that love has no limits, that grace is abounding in Jesus, that they are the least and everyone else is of greater importance. Maturity is found in a servant heart and that is what is required for pastors and elders. If you think you have it you probably don't.

I have been a pastor for 20 years now and I am still sorting through some of these things. I am only now grasping the heart of the matter of servant leadership in the Body of Christ. After all this time I am only now beginning to see the real leaders among us and they are not always the ones standing behind the pulpit. I am seeing a lot more clearly what we have done to God's plan for the Church, what we have done with our "leadership" training, and the business practices of the Church. I am now only falling to me knees in repentance, seeking the forgiveness of the Lord and asking for the grace to move forward in his design. Twenty years to get to this point. I just hope I am a faster learner over the next 40 years so I can get more than two more lessons in.

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