Ministry Misconceptions: Leadership

DISCLAIMER: This is a rant/ramble post. It’s sole purpose is to get thoughts out of my head so that I can process them better. It is an idea generation post, so I would be welcome to any input/response you have while reading it. Thank you.

There are times when I am tempted to think that we have gotten things completely backwards when it comes to leadership within the Church. Even the term, leadership, gets under my skin from time to time. It is very rare that we see anyone of noble character aspiring to be a leader in the Bible. In fact, leadership in the bible seems like a duty that most saints are looking to avoid! The only reason many become “leaders” is because of God’s own choice and these people almost never have their acts together. They are people who struggle and whose only hope for discharging their duties well is in obeying God’s commands.

I think of Moses or David, chosen and called out by God. Moses had God’s literal Presence with him and chose to have frequent conference calls with the Almighty. David was forever retreating to the Temple of the Lord to seek the wisdom needed to lead a nation. Neither of these men had a “master plan” for leadership, they stumbled into.

Then there are the Apostles. I read a contemporary description of “apostle” as a spiritual gift as “visionary leader” or “one known for their long-term vision.” Really… I wonder where they got that from? It certainly isn’t the Bible. More often than not, the Apostles didn’t know which end was up (remember, they were termed Apostles as early as Mark 3). When the Holy Spirit falls upon them at Pentecost, there is a dramatic change in their lives, but I wouldn’t say that they became “visionary leaders.” They became men full of the Spirit who testified to who Jesus was, what He did and what He gave them power to do. They didn’t come up with a plan for evangelizing Jerusalem, Samaria and all the ends of the Earth, Jesus did. And they were led by the Spirit every step of the way.

Are there visionary leaders? Absolutely, I am privileged to known several of them. But so often we confuse idea generation with vision. “Visionaries” are generally nothing more than people who dream up a bunch of tasks for other people to do. The majority of these ideas are never acted upon, they just excite the person generating them so they keep going. (I am well aware of this tendency within myself so please know that I am critiquing my own silliness and not underhandedly meaning to insult anyone.) And even when all of these possibilities are on the table, we still must ask the Holy Spirit which ones (if any) we are to act upon.

So, who would I consider a good leadership candidate, hypothetically speaking? That is a good question, I’m glad I asked myself. A successful Church leadership candidate, in my opinion, is someone who (in no particular order):

  • Is full of the Holy Spirit
  • Asks the Holy Spirit a lot of questions.
  • Obeys what the Holy Spirit tells them to do.
  • Is passionate about God. Not someone who discharges religious duties, but who is a serious student of God’s heart.
  • Diligently studies the Bible for themselves and doesn’t rely overly much on other people’s interpretation.
  • Is respectful and honoring to those in authority over them.
  • Is respectful, honoring, servant hearted, compassionate and patient with those under them.
  • Speaks in Love what they believe is True in every circumstance, even if it means going against popular opinion.
  • Wants to love God first and foremost.
  • Wants to love others as Jesus loves them.
  • Embraces humility, meekness and gentleness as chief virtues
  • Is quick to listen and very, I mean very, slow to speak – someone who sincerely wants to understand others.
  • and at the very end, someone who operates in a leadership gift as mentioned in Ephesians 4 (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher.) This is negotiable since hearing from God and doing what He says supersedes these smaller gifts. (i.e. hearing from God and doing what He says or saying what He says is prophetic and will always work for the benefit of God’s people through instruction (teaching), loving counsel (pastoral), exhortation (evangelism) or clarifying of doctrine and practice (apostolic).)

Those requirements are achievable by every believer in my opinion. Does this mean that every Christian is a leader? Absolutely not. Every believer should be in the pool, but it is up to God to decide who is going to lead in any given circumstance. Jesus “chose those he wanted” in Mark 3, chose Matthias to replace Judas among the Apostles and chose Barnabas and Paul to do missions. Why do we think the Holy Spirit is incapable of making such decisions in this day and age?

In part, because it is a much slower, more prayerful process. In part because the Holy Spirit seems to pick the most unlikely of people. In part because “we have a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for Him,” as Hilary of Tours would say.

Jesus is our Leader and we are simply followers. “Come and follow me,” is still Jesus’ invitation.  I think we need to surrender leadership back to Him and be patiently prayerful, never ceasing in our communion with the Holy Spirit.

What do you think? Am I off base? What are your most desirable (and biblical) traits in leaders? I look forward to your replies!

3 thoughts on “Ministry Misconceptions: Leadership”

  1. Slow to speak. That is the toughest I think. Many with leadership skills want don’t want to be slow to speak. John Piper once said, “One can’t say ‘I disagree’ until one can say ‘I understand.” Leaders should be slow to speak. However, they should not be afraid to speak. Toting this line is tough.

    Also, I think a leader should be responsive to the Spirit and familiar enough with the Word to recognize the Spirit’s voice.

    Good post, Ben.

    1. “One can’t say ‘I disagree’ until one can say ‘I understand.”

      I like that a lot.

      Thanks for reading and sharing, Matt. I really value your opinions on things.

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