Every organization needs good leaders. That is also true of the church. If there is no one leading the church or organization, it is merely wandering aimlessly. There are thousands (perhaps tens of thousands of books) on leadership on the shelves of bookstores. Most contain valuable principle and strategies for becoming a better leader. This morning we are going to look at some principles of leadership that are basic, simple and direct.
1 Peter 4 ends with the reminder that judgment will begin with the household of God. In a sense, says Peter, the trials of life are God’s way of judging or purifying the church. He will refine us before he judges those outside the church. If we take his words seriously (which we should) it is right to ask, “Am I prepared for such judgment? How can I better align myself with the will and purpose of God?”
With this in mind, Peter addresses the leaders of the early church in 1 Peter 5,
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:
Who is Peter Talking to?
When we read the term elder in the Bible it is natural to think of people who hold a particular office in the church like some who are called elders today.
The first “elders” are usually traced back to the 70 men who were appointed to help Moses arbitrate problems when the Israelites were wandering in the desert. Through the years elders were people who knew and were equipped to teach God’s law. They were leaders who had gained the respect of the people.
It appears that the apostles appointed elders in every church. Most likely many of these early elders became what we know as Pastors today. Deacons in the book of Acts were people appointed to help in the practical aspect of ministry. They served as extensions of the elders. Over the course of time some churches, for the purpose of organization, established a ruling elder who served to oversee the various elders of a certain region. This person in some circles was known as the bishop. In many denominations, there is a “head bishop” who oversees all the bishops. In the Catholic Church this head bishop is the Pope.
Various churches and denominations have different views of the right organizational structure for the church. I appreciate the words of theologian R.C. Sproul,
Because of the difficulties of biblical interpretation here, we ought to be patient and forbearing with our Christian brothers and sisters who favor and adopt a different form of church government from our own. [1 & 2 Peter p. 180]
I am of the opinion that Peter was less concerned with speaking to those who held the “office” of elder and is more concerned to speak to those who lead in the church. Some leaders have titles, others do not.
When I was in seminary I took a church administration class. One of the assignments was to draw two organizational charts for the church of which I was a member. One was a chart of the formal organization of the church (what the constitution says). The other was a chart showing the true flow of influence in the church. The point of the exercise was to show us that the real leaders in a church may not hold any office at all. It is my belief that Peter’s words are not simply for those leaders who have a title.
Characteristics of a Godly Leader
Peter summons leaders to serve with the right motivation, pursue the right goals, and use the right methods.
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be
The Right Motivation. A leader in the Christian community must not serve out of obligation. They shouldn’t feel like it is “their turn” (like it is my turn to take out the garbage). Leaders in the church should serve understanding a couple of things.
First, a leader must understand whom they are serving. Though they serve in the church they are actually serving the Lord. He is the One we seek to please and honor through our service.
People who serve in the White House serve “at the pleasure of the President”. Many people who had been getting large salaries give up those big salaries for awhile to serve in the White House. It is an honor, not a burden. We should serve in leadership positions in the church with that same kind of attitude.
Second, leaders need to understand the importance of what they are doing. Most of us resent having to do jobs for which we see no real purpose. Sometimes people who serve the people of God feel that same way. They feel like they are simply fulfilling organizational requirements! However, a true leader is supposed to be helping people move forward in faith, maintain the house of God, and help the church make an impact on the surrounding community. The work should not be “busy work”. The leader must realize that they are engaged in work that is eternally significant even though it may feel mundane. God. Our job is to alter the eternity of the people we serve.
The Right Goals Second Leaders need to pursue the right goals.
not greedy for money, but eager to serve;
The Bible does not say that elders (especial teaching elders; Pastors) should work for nothing. The Bible teaches that the laborer is worthy of their hire. Paul argued that people who give their lives to the work of ministry should derive their income from the work of ministry.
Peter’s concern is not really money. It is about motivation. Some people take positions of leadership greedy for money others might be greedy for,
- Influence (i.e. they want to advance their agenda)
- Reputation . . .they want to be known as being spiritually mature
- Credits toward salvation
- A resource to address social problems
The problem in each of these things is that our agenda is selfish. When our motivation is about personal profit bad things happen. The first danger is that you begin to water down the truth of the gospel to make it more attractive or to further your agenda. Sometimes the idea seems to be the more you can make people happy, the more people who will be drawn to you. The more people drawn to you, the more money you will take in. The more money you take in, the more you can do to make people happy. So now decisions are made on the basis of what is popular instead of what is true. We begin to do things to advance our Kingdom rather than His.
Second, if our motivation is personal gain, we will start using people as a means to an end. We will cater to those who can further our end and overlook people who cannot further your agenda. This is actually just the opposite of what Jesus did!
Our motivation should be to honor God in what we do. We desire to lead people into a true and lasting relationship with Jesus Christ and to help them in any way possible in their journey. We do this by proclaiming His truth accurately and compassionately.
The Right Methods: A Good Leader Provides an Example to Follow. I am always concerned when I hear leaders talking about the importance of people submitting to their authority. It is not that we should not be willing to submit to earthly authorities, Peter has hammered home the point that we should indeed submit to those in authority over us. The problem is that when the one who leads is concerned about everyone submitting to their authority they reveal that they have the wrong heart! I worry that such people are more concerned about exercising power than leading the sheep. We have seen this very thing in cult groups led by a charismatic leader who “controls” the people around them. Peter says a godly leader is characterized by,
not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
Chuck Swindoll writes,
Sheep do best when they are led, not driven . . . when they are released, not controlled . . . when they know they are loved, not shamed.
Think about your dog at home. The dog needs to learn to respect the authority and leadership of the owner (for their own safety). However if we want a loyal companion, we teach obedience through persistence, love, and reward. We create a home that is like a magnet that makes the pet want to stay close. You can get a dog to obey by being abusive, but the dog will obey out of fear, not love.
Jesus did not tell his disciples to “flex their muscle,” he told them to serve each other. His argument was compelling. Jesus said, since a servant is not greater than their master, and the master (Jesus) leads by serving, we should do the same. It is about attitude not power.
Think about your own life. Who has a greater amount of true authority in your life: the person who commands or the One who leads by example? Which person serves as a pattern that you want to copy in your own life: the one with the title or the person who has earned trust by the way they have treated you in the past?
Listen to the qualifications of elders and deacons Paul gives us in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The leaders are to be,
- Above reproach
- Faithful to their spouse
- Exercise self-control
- Live wisely
- Have a good reputation
- Must have a spirit of hospitality
- Be able to teach
- Not a new believer
- Must not be a heavy drinker
- Must not be violent
- Must be gentle, not quarrelsome
- Must not be materialistic
- Must manage his own family well
- People whom people outside the church respect
Notice something! The list does not focus on skills and abilities; the focus is on character and reputation! The only skill mentioned is being “able to teach”. We tend to focus on a person’s knowledge, ability to teach, or their skill at leading meetings. These “gifts” are important for the job the leader is given but of first importance is a person’s heart.
The reality is that a Christian leader testifies more clearly about God through their life than their words. When you testify that you are a follower of Christ yet are angry, indulgent, confrontational, never home with your family, dishonest in business, working the system, and spending your weekends in the tavern, you are declaring that God approves of such things. You have become a false teacher because of the way you live!
Being a leader in the church is not primarily about developing policies or making decisions. The leader demonstrates what it means to follow Christ. They show
- How to handle conflict in a godly way
- How to show compassion
- How to pursue holiness in a secular world
- How to raise a family
It is not that leaders are perfect! They are not. However, a leader should stand out as different from those around them. People who possess character and depth are respected (even when they struggle in life). Their authority is derived not from their title but from the power of their example. People follow people that seem to be going where they want to go. They are worthy of being followed.
And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
The leader must never forget that they are accountable to the Lord. Jesus warns that those who lead others astray face a greater judgment. James tells us that not many should become teachers because “they will incur a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1) Every leader should approach their job with sober reminder.
The promise of Peter is this: those who lead and serve faithfully will find that their greatest payoff will be the pleasure and reward of the Lord. That is the image we must keep clear in our head. We do not work for the people of the church! We work for the Lord of life. We serve the people, but we serve in His name and for His sake. Our goal is not to gain influence, to exert authority, or to make a name for ourselves. Our goal is to point others to Jesus and try to stay out of the way.
Think of a good Hollywood agent. The job of the agent is to represent his client well. If people are talking about the agent and not the client, the agent has done a very poor job. When the client gets the big jobs, wins awards and is adored by the public, the agent (though unknown by the world at large) has done a great job.
What concerns me about “celebrity Christianity” is that the focus is on the agent (the leader) and not the client (God). A good leader understands that even though people may forget our names or our work on their behalf, if that person has come to trust the Lord or grow in faith during our watch, then we have been faithful.
The message to the leader is important: Though you may feel alone, tired, and unappreciated, the Lord sees, He knows, and He smiles.
To those of you who are leaders in this church: the future of our church depends on how well you lead. It is your job to seek the Lord first for your own life, then for the life of this congregation. The leader’s job (much like that of a parent), is to model Christlike behavior as you teach the principles of faith. People need us to step up and illustrate what it means to be faithful followers of Christ.
To those who are leaders in the community. Understand that you still serve “at the pleasure of the Lord of Life”. Serve the Lord wherever you are. Remind yourself daily that the most important responsibility you have is to demonstrate Christian character in all you do. You may not have a title or hold an office but if you are living for Jesus you will be leading someone.
Since godly leaders are so important we need to care for and encourage those who lead in our lives. Here are some simple suggestions,
- Be discerning. Look for good leaders who possess character as well as talent and ability. When you find them, learn everything you can from them.
- Be realistic. Understand that even the best leaders are people who struggle with the sinful nature. Don’t put them on a pedestal . . . they will fall off.
- Be supportive. It is said that only 30% of leaders finish well. The reason is the discouragement, burnout, and frustrations of leadership. The best way to encourage a leader (especially in the church) is to get involved.
- You will encourage a Sunday school teacher or a youth leader when you attend Sunday School or youth group and when you send your children (or yourself) to the class or group. There is nothing quite as discouraging as that feeling of rejection that comes when you prepare and no one shows up or they choose to go to a similar group at another church.
- Encourage those who serve on boards and committees by being informed, open and enthusiastic. Be supportive when asked to help.
- Encourage the Pastoral staff and other spiritual leaders by being involved. 16,000 pastors leave ministry each year! The biggest reason for this is the implied message from congregations that their work is of little value. When you choose to give priority to other things, you are saying to your leaders (and to the Lord), “These other things are more important than the work you are doing”. When that message is spoken time and time again a leader can’t help but feel rejected, diminished, and that they have failed in their work before the Lord. Please understand. Your attendance, your diligence in seeking to grow in your own faith, and your involvement in ministry are more encouraging than any declaration of affection or loyalty you make with your lips.
- Pray for those who lead. Leaders are targets for those who want to discredit the church or organization. Pray that God would give them strength, that they might maintain balance in their lives, and that they may be faithful.
We all need good leaders in our lives. We need to cherish and support those leaders. And when we are in a position to lead, it is important that we lead well and lead others in the right direction.