The church desperately needs those who will be faithful leaders. This role, however, is as diverse in its expression as the body of Christ is. Unfortunately, the predominant mindset is rather that of a volunteer than that of a leader. It is often assumed that because particular callings may differ and giftings are varied that the Christian’s duty to lead is particularly delegated as well. This is false. Every Christian has been mandated by the Lord to follow His example in love for and in service of God the Father, and others.
Volunteer or Faithful Leader?
When it comes to leadership in the church, it’s often only thought to entail either a prestigious title or attention-getting responsibility. To lead in the church has typically meant organizing a hobby-centered activity, having your name printed in the bulletin, or humbly standing up in front of the congregation when the pastor finally publicly acknowledges your martyr-like sacrifice of time and sometimes money. If recognition was not included in the deal, then one would rarely feel themselves “called” to take on the task. On the other end of the spectrum, someone might feel like it would be haughty of them to offer to take on a task, or offer to fill an observed need. After all, shouldn’t the truly humble servant wait to be asked to fill an appointment of leadership? These attitudes are so common it is presumed that these are actual Biblical descriptions of leadership. Not so. These are attitudes to be expected out of a volunteer, a hired-hand, if you will, but not that of Christ, and not the “norm” for those who desire to follow His example.
Volunteers are not always easy to spot. They will often readily agree to take on responsibility, or complete a task, but when the responsibility begins to interfere with their own personal interests or hobbies, they will seek to find someone to replace them, do as little as possible to get the job done, or fail to fulfill their responsibility altogether. A volunteer becomes most obvious in their interactions with other people; they are prone to complain, criticize, and cut-down fellow leaders, those they serve, and especially their pastor. They require almost constant external motivation in the form of recognition or sympathy with perpetual expectations for others to bring them fulfillment and satisfaction. Nothing will cause them to give up faster than feeling unappreciated, which is only a matter of time. Their motivations are nearly entirely self-centered, with little thought for the needs or feelings of other people. They view the task as the highest, if not the only priority, and the individuals involved as secondary. Often, they are only concerned about their own comfort and spiritual needs and not even aware of the spiritual, emotional, of physical needs of others.
A litmus test to evaluate if you yourself currently have a volunteer mindset is to objectively evaluate your behavior outside of church activities,or when you are not in exclusively “Christian” situations. If there is a “church-you”, a “work-you,” and a “home-you”, it is possible that you do not have a biblical perspective on leadership.
So What Is True, Biblical Leadership?
Of course leadership implies ambition, but we must stop thinking of ambition in strictly secular terms. Worldly ambition is characterized by a pursuit for self-promotion and self-glorification. However, Biblical leadership stems from a holy ambition to make much of Jesus in this world, give the Him glory, and see Him honored. A genuine biblical leader will not seek one’s own promotion, but the promotion of Jesus. It exists in stark contrast to worldly leadership in that it is often accompanied by hardship, challenges, and suffering. This should be expected, of course, since our Lord Himself said that to be truly great requires one to be a servant of all (Mark 10:42-44), and a servant is not above his master, but should anticipate a life that resembles that of his Master (Matthew 10:24-25). Love of God, and not love of self, is the motivation of the true biblical leader. How this love becomes a reality in our lives, and not just an abstract idea, a lofty goal that we esteem to with no real plan of how to attain, is described in Matthew 22:34-40. Jesus was asked what the single greatest commandment was. It’s interesting that His answer was, “'You shall the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” When asked which one was most important, He stated two because they are inextricably linked. The first command was answering the “what?”, and the second answered the “how?”.
Loving God requires knowing God, because you cannot love who you do not know. Without knowing and loving God with our entire personality there will be no objective point of reference for how we are to love our neighbor, and the result will be incoherence. Without loving your neighbor as you love yourself, the pursuit of God will be an entirely self-centered endeavor and the result will be idolatry. So you cannot truly love God without truly loving your neighbor as you love yourself. At this point we must ask ourselves, and answer truthfully, how do we love ourselves? How much of our time is spent thinking about ourselves? How much patience do we have for ourselves? How accepting are we of ourselves? How aware of our hurts, needs, and happiness are we? Don’t we want others to judge us by our intentions rather than by our actions? Don’t we hope that others will show us kindness and extend us grace when we fail? Someone who desires to be a follower of Jesus will desire to faithfully and consistently love others sacrificially.
A Biblical Leader is a Faithful Leader
In practical terms, a faithful leader is a committed member of a Gospel-centered, word-saturated church. Because the church is Gospel-centered, the faithful leader will be committed to the vision and mission of the church as well. And whatever task they accomplish, that the vision and mission requires is an inevitable byproduct of their commitment. They are primarily concerned for the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of others and the task itself is secondary. Because they are trusting Christ as the source of their identity, they are able to show grace and forgiveness towards others when those they are serving fail to be Christ-like. Whether they are appreciated, whether they are acknowledged or not, whether their love is reciprocated or not, their love for others remains the same. The faithful leader’s attitude toward themselves is humility. Being fully aware of their own failings and shortcomings, they seek accountability and instruction from a mentor who is also following Christ faithfully. They take their own sin very seriously, and desire holiness for themselves. Out of gratitude and love for the Lord, they desire to use all the gifts and abilities He has given them to serve others, seeing their service ultimately as a sacrifice to Him, and often cheerfully going above and beyond what is expected of them. Their motivation is produced by an internal love for God, so they do not demand recognition and are not easily discouraged. Their attitude towards others is optimistic and hopeful, possessing a deep longing to see spiritual fruit produced in the lives of those they serve.
Don’t be mistaken, becoming a faithful leader does not equal becoming a fool. Leaders are not blind to the sins and flaws of others, but instead of criticizing and resenting them, or holding a grudge against them, leaders will be compelled to pray for those who are struggling. They trust that He who is completing a good work in them, is also completing His good work in others. Essentially, a faithful leader is a humble disciple. As one desires to be a faithful leader, they will see the church as the training ground for all areas of their life, and soon will begin to see and respond to opportunities to serve the Lord wherever they are.
Contributors / Eric Stewart & Becca Carr