The church needs leaders. Always has, always will.
From the earliest days of the church, Paul wrote that leaders were one of the gifts that the risen Christ gave to His bride. It wasn’t so that leaders could gain fame, influence, or wealth; but so that they could “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12).
This is vital because we live in a culture that venerates leaders who seem utterly irreplaceable. We see a man who has a unique charisma, skills and knowledge, and we say, “Now there’s a leader.” We listen to the “sage on the stage” and think, “If only I could communicate like him.”
But when it comes to leadership in the church, the Bible tells us that we should be looking at an entirely different category of leaders: men who can replace themselves by training others.
If you’re in leadership, the questions you should always be asking are, “Who has Jesus given to the church today? Who are the men who have been sent by Jesus to do the vital work of equipping the saints for the work of ministry? What should I be looking for in order to identify the next generation of leaders?”
Those who aren’t in leadership should be asking themselves a similar set of questions, but with a more personal focus: “How do I become a leader in the church? How can I be equipped in order to equip others? What can I do to become one of Jesus’ gifts to the church?”
Here are three categories to help us answer these questions:
1) Character Over Gifting
When it comes to leadership training at our church, we have a saying: “we’re looking for men with exemplary character and adequate gifting.”
It’s so easy to look for the opposite: exemplary gifting and adequate character. We want the razzle dazzle, the charisma, the magnetic personality. We want the brilliant communicator, the visionary leader, the administrative genius. If we find a man like that, we’re willing to overlook flaws in a man’s character. We’re willing to let exceptional gifting cover a multitude of sins, because we say, “It’s not every day that a leader like this comes around.”
But when you look at the leadership qualifications in Scripture, almost all of them have to do with character. Take pastoral leadership as an example. The only criterion that has to do with gifting is the ability to teach. Every other quality has to do with character. He must be the kind of man who is “self-controlled, respectable, hospitable”. He must not be quarrelsome or a lover of money. He must be the consummate family man, faithful to his wife in word and deed, raising up his children with faithfulness and patience (1 Timothy 3:1-7).
These are the kinds of men we should be looking for. They are the “salt of the earth”, men who have a reputation for integrity, men who are far more interested in lifting others up than themselves.
Let’s not make the same mistake that Samuel did when he looked for the king to replace Saul. Instead, let us heed the lesson that the Lord taught him about leadership as he stood outside of Bethlehem: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).
2) Respect Earned, Not Demanded
Lots of men demand respect, but few men earn it. It’s easy for men to feel entitled when it comes to respect. “Do you know how much money I make? Do you know how hard I worked to get this position? Do you know how many men there are who wish they were like me?”
Any man who thinks like that is destined to be a poor leader. They’ve stopped thinking about how they can grow because they’re so fixated on what they’ve already done. A man like this may be respected out of fear, but never out of love. People will follow him not because they trust him, but because they want to avoid conflict with him.
When Paul told young Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth”, he didn’t say “Because no one should speak down to a pastor.” Instead, he said, “…but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12). In other words, he wasn’t to demand respect. He was to earn it. That’s what makes a good leader.
3) Leadership Without a Title
Here’s the final test: is anyone following him? That’s what leadership ultimately comes down to. You know someone is a leader if people are following him. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t have a title, or if he hasn’t been officially recognized as a leader in the church. In the end, leaders will lead, and people will follow. It’s inevitable.
Look for the man whom people look to for counsel. He may not necessarily be the loudest or the most charismatic personality, but people are still drawn to him. They follow him, not because that’s his job, but because he’s a man of substance. He’s a man after God’s own heart.
Those are the men whom Jesus gifts to the church. Let’s pray for them. Let’s look for them. And let’s equip them to do the work of ministry.