The Life of a Leader
The Life of a Leader
Good leadership is vital at all times, in all places and in all areas of life. But what is good leadership?
‘Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.’ These are the words of General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the coalition forces in the Gulf War of 1991. Character is what really matters. It is the only thing that counts in the end.
We make a distinction in our church between those in positions of leadership and those ‘on their way in’. We welcome everyone regardless of their lifestyle. We have a big front door. Everyone is welcome. The church is not a museum displaying perfect people. It is a hospital in the traditional sense of the word – a place of hospitality and restoration. It is a place where the wounded, hurt, broken and injured find healing. It is a community of sinners.
On the other hand, we do not put people in positions of leadership if their lifestyle is in direct contrast to the New Testament. Leadership is not only functional, but also involves a responsibility to live as an example to others. Leaders are models for the rest of the congregation. Of course, no one is perfect. You do not have to be perfect to be an example. However, we try to ensure that the lifestyle and character of our leaders is in line with the New Testament.
Worship leadersPsalm 119:57-64
‘The real test, in these days’, as John Wimber put it, ‘will not be the writing and producing of new and great worship music. The real test will be the godliness and character of those who deliver it.’
The psalmist was a worship leader who walked in a close relationship with the Lord: ‘Because you have satisfied me, God, I promise to do everything you say’ (v.57, MSG).
The worship leader who has sought the face of the Lord with all their heart is in a position to lead the congregation in praise of God. The psalmist is really careful to keep to God’s ways, ‘I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes’ (v.59).
Even in real difficulties, do not forget God’s law: ‘Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law’ (v.61).
Inspiration sometimes comes in the middle of the night: ‘I get up in the middle of the night to thank you; your decisions are so right, so true – I can’t wait till morning!’ (v.62, MSG). It is vital to be part of a worshipping community: ‘I’m a friend and companion to all who fear you, of those committed to living by your rules’ (v.63, MSG).
Here is a worship leader who has a deep appreciation of God’s love: ‘The earth is filled with your love, O Lord’ (v.64). God’s love for you should be right at the heart of your worship.
Lord, I seek your face today with all my heart. Be gracious to me just as you have promised (v.58).
Church leaders1 Timothy 3:1-16
In one sense of the word, every Christian is a leader. If leadership is about influence, all of us have influence in the workplace, at home and in community. But this passage is specifically about leadership in the church.
The church should be like a home. It is ‘God’s household’ (v.15). Leading a church is like leading a big family. Paul asks how anyone can lead a church if they can’t lead their own family (v.5).
Good leaders should be capable of running their own households (vv.4,12) (the same Greek word is used as for God’s household – the church). They should be capable of guiding and nurturing their own family with wisdom, love and faithfulness.
It is interesting that almost all of the qualities needed to be an overseer are just the same as those encouraged in terms of godliness for all Christians. The Scottish minister, Robert Murray McCheyne, once said, ‘My people’s greatest need is my own personal holiness.’
The list of characteristics is extensive (v.2). Leaders should be ‘well thought of’. They should live in such a way that no one can find good grounds to accuse them of wrongdoing.
If they are married they need to be faithful to their marriage partners. Faithfulness, loyalty, trustworthiness is key to leadership and it starts with faithfulness in marriage.
They need to be ‘sensible’ (v.2, AMP). Being a Christian does not mean abandoning common sense. Quite the opposite. Much day-to-day decision-making simply involves godly, spirit-filled leaders prayerfully using their common sense.
The word for ‘overseer’ is sometimes translated ‘bishop’. It is not wrong to desire to be a bishop, ‘Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task’ (v.1).
I find it interesting that one of the differences between a bishop and a deacon is that the bishop ‘must not be a recent convert’ (v.6). This does not apply to deacons. Sometimes people criticise putting those who are new to faith into positions of leadership – such as leading small groups on Alpha. My reply, always, is that we are not asking them to be bishops, only to serve as hosts in an Alpha small group!
The reason Paul gives for why an overseer must not be a recent convert, is that they ‘may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil’ (vv.4–6). The devil fell through pride. There is a danger for all Christian leaders of falling into spiritual pride.
The test for deacons is very similar to overseers. A deacon literally means ‘a servant’. Originally, they were people set aside to serve at tables (Acts 6:1–7). Jesus provided the model for servant leadership (Mark 10:35–45). Albert Einstein once said, ‘Only a life lived in the service to others is worth living.’ If service is beneath you, then leadership is beyond you.
These servant leaders and their marriage partners (1 Timothy 3:11) need to be people of strong and proven character. This is why any good selection process for married church leaders should involve both partners. They should be worthy of respect, sincere, not prone to drunkenness, honest, full of faith, trustworthy, and faithful in marriage (vv.8–12).
Above all, leaders are to be people of godly character. In fact, the sole quality in the list that is not directly linked to our character is being ‘able to teach’ (v.2). Church leaders are to be Christians of good character who are able to teach.
Mark Twain quipped, ‘To do what is right is wonderful. To teach what is right is even more wonderful – and much easier.’ The task of Christian leadership is to align our life and character with our teaching. That is a challenge for all of us and will be a lifelong process of becoming like Jesus who is the model of ‘godliness’ (v.16).
Of course, before anyone (bishop or deacon) is put in a major position of leadership they need to be ‘tried and investigated and proved’ (v.10, AMP). A faith that has not been tested cannot be trusted. We are tested by difficulties, disappointments and desert times. Hopefully these mature us, develop our character and make us ready for leadership.
Lord, help me by your Spirit to live up to your high standards and be above reproach.
Prophetic leadersJeremiah 38:1-40:6
Faithfulness to God and good character do not guarantee prosperity and a pain-free life. In fact, for Jeremiah, the opposite was the case.
Jeremiah was a prophet whose life and character is a fine example for us. He remained faithful to God. He continued to hear God’s word and to speak it out. This was in spite of the fact that he suffered a great deal for his pains.
Over and over again, he was threatened, beaten, locked up, put in an underground dungeon and then thrown into a muddy cistern to be left to starve to death. Yet he continued to listen to God’s message and spoke it out courageously.
On the whole, the people were unresponsive. He was completely misunderstood (38:4). He was condemned for destroying morale and actually causing harm to the people he was trying to save. You should not be surprised if you receive the same treatment.
Once rescued from the cistern, Jeremiah was brought before King Zedekiah for the fourth time. Zedekiah was a man with a wishbone rather than a backbone. It was out of cowardice that Zedekiah disobeyed the law (v.19). He was afraid of the people – rather like Pontius Pilate who condemned Jesus.
Four times God had spoken to Zedekiah to try and save him from the consequences of his actions. Each time he had weakly refused to obey. In chapter 39, we read of the consequences. Jeremiah is finally vindicated (40:1–6).
Lord, please bless and strengthen the leaders of our churches today. May their lifestyles and characters inspire us all to lead good and fruitful lives.
1 Timothy 3:11
‘In the same way, wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.’
Now there’s a challenge!
Verse of the Day
‘O Lord… I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise’ (Psalm 119:57–58).
James Charlton (Ed), The Military Quotation Book (St Martin’s Press, 2002) p.83
Robert Murray McCheyne, cited in Tony Sargent, The Sacred Anointing (Crossway Books, 1994) p.128.
John C. Maxwell, Developing the Leaders Around You: How to Help Others Reach Their Full Potential, (Thomas Nelson, 2005) p.62
Mark Twain, cited in John C. Maxwell, The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential (Center Street, 1960).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.