Few would question the need for faithful leaders and good leadership in our day. This need for good leadership crosses the various spheres of human relationships and activities in our world. And I would submit that the more chaotic our world seems to be and the more complex our world’s problems, the more concerned people are about leadership. This does not negate cynicism, indifference, or frustration—all of which certainly abound as well—but most people who are concerned for societal or global problems are concerned about leadership issues.
As I write these words, we are in an election year in the United States. It is fascinating to watch all that is taking place during these pre-election months. Candidates, political parties, campaign strategies, major issues, potential scandals, speeches, debates, analyses, polls, commercials, mistakes, corrections, momentum, and much more dominate the media.
All of these pre-election processes and activities seem a long way from Moses and the burning bush, and they are! I do not say this to criticize what takes place today but simply because it’s true! At the same time, there is something that ties together the human process of electing a president and God’s initiative in calling Moses into a major leadership role. Both processes affirm the importance of getting the “right” person in leadership. Though the “burning bush” approach would seem more reliable, I do believe that somewhere in the midst of all of the hype and hoopla of an election is a concern on the part of many for a true leader. By a true leader, I mean someone who will be faithful to important principles and faithful to the people of the country. I know there are many other concerns and subplots, but despite the differing definitions or descriptions of what a faithful leader looks like, many people (in the end) still want such a person in charge.[Endnote1]
Many churches today are going through difficult times in terms of leadership and leadership issues. This is not a new thing, but it is a real thing. Dismissals, church conflicts, and church splits abound, and often leadership decisions and issues are at the center of it all. In a time of rapid change and with an influential culture impacting the church, leadership issues seem to intensify. Many models and expectations for leaders are available (with more or less biblical support). But despite all the confusion and evidences of the “flesh” in the church of Jesus Christ, there are those who still desire to have ministry leaders faithful to the Lord, His Word, and to the people they serve. What such faithful leadership looks like, especially in the church of Jesus Christ, is what this book is all about.
I simply want in the following pages to describe faithful leadership—faithful Christian leadership specifically—and encourage us to pursue such a standard for our own lives and the lives of other leaders. I hope to do this by presenting some biblical instruction, examples, and models that will challenge and encourage us to think about being faithful leaders within the sphere of influence God has given. And of course, I hope that such thinking will lead to more faithfulness in our personal character and the actual practice of leadership in the future.
I know this book is not unique in its burden nor in its appeal to the Scriptures for the truths and examples that will be set forth. It is my hope, though, that what is written will be truthful, meaningful, and helpful. At the same time, by going to various key Scripture passages, I desire to let the Scriptures do the talking as much as possible. Good things happen when we look to the Scriptures afresh with an open heart and mind in order to hear and obey what God would say to us.
We must begin by stating that leadership and faithfulness are eternally united in God Himself. God as Sovereign is “Leader” by definition. At the same time, from Genesis to Revelation, the faithfulness of God is revealed, proclaimed, and celebrated. God is the Faithful Leader, according to His eternal purposes and plans over creation, including mankind. This leadership is especially presented in terms of how God relates to His own people. A study of our great God and His dealings with His creation and His people would be instructive in and of itself. The same can be said of a thorough study of our Lord Jesus Christ. I leave these lifetime pursuits to you; both studies are beyond the parameters of this book. So let’s start with just a few observations concerning some biblical data related to leadership.
Mankind was given leadership/stewardship responsibilities in God’s first mandate to those who were created in His image (Gen. 1:26–28). Throughout the Scriptures, God consistently prepared, called, enabled, and used leaders for His special purposes. Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, and many others come to mind. Israel itself had a God-given leadership structure rather than being a loose-fitting group of autonomous individuals functioning independently from one another. Much teaching concerning good and bad leadership is presented in the historical books of the Old Testament alongside the explicit instructions found in the wisdom literature. Direct challenges to and correction of leadership are found in the prophetic books.
Our Lord Jesus was a leader with followers, even though He spoke of Himself as One who came to serve rather than to be served (Mark 10:45). He called a select group to Himself for training and preparation in order to initiate, humanly speaking, His mission to “make disciples” after His departure (Matt. 28:18–20). Thus, Jesus selected and trained men to become leaders, even though He defined leadership for His disciples in contrast to the Gentile world (Mark 10:42–44). In the early Christian mission, leaders were appointed to oversee local churches (Acts 14:23; 20:17–38). Other roles of responsibility are seen in Acts 6 and 15. Christ is viewed (by the apostle Paul) as the “Head” of the church, to whom He has given gifted individuals to lead and serve the church with the goals of ministry, unity, and maturity (Eph. 4:11–16; also Rom. 12:3–8; 1 Cor. 12–14). Qualifications for leaders are spelled out in a number of New Testament epistles (1 Tim. 3:1–16; Titus 1:5–9; 1 Pet. 5:1–4). Paul’s specific instructions to Timothy (especially) and to Titus give us a model for leadership and ministry training alongside the training of the twelve by our Lord. Numerous other texts of Scripture could be mentioned to indicate the importance of leadership in the church context, but we cite these just to remind us that leadership is of God and is part of God’s will and plan for His people.
In Romans 13:1–7 the role of authority figures/ministers (and structures) for society is strongly affirmed, as is the Christian’s responsibility to those who are in authority. This was a “live issue” in the AD fifties as followers of Christ sought to live in a world becoming more and more hostile to its claims and its very existence. In mentioning this one important biblical text, we have just started to scratch the surface of this aspect of the Christian’s view of authority and leadership outside the church and in the world at large. Throughout the Scriptures, God is declared to be sovereign over the nations and leaders, but the legitimacy of leadership itself is affirmed under God’s sovereign rule and purposes.
Before we look at biblical texts to help us see what faithful Christian ministry and leadership are all about, I want to deal with some definitions. There are numerous definitions and descriptions of leadership. Ted Engstrom described leadership along these lines:
The one characteristic common to all leaders is the ability to make things happen—to act in order to help others work in an environment within which each individual serving under him finds himself encouraged and stimulated to a point where he is helped to realize his fullest potential to contribute meaningfully. . . .
We might say, then, that leadership is an act or behavior required by a group to meet its goals, rather than a condition. It is an act by either word or deed to influence behavior toward a desired end.[Endnote 2]
The key word here is “influence,” with the emphasis being on the leader’s influence of others, with goals or “a desired end” in mind. Dr. Engstrom was concerned specifically with Christian leadership, but the preceding words could be used of leadership in general as well.
Again, the concept of “influence” is central to the understanding of leadership, but it is worded here in terms of the context of the people of God specifically.
My concern, as I have said, is to address issues having to do with being a faithful Christian leader. Christian leadership (as a subset of leadership in general) takes place when a Christian influences another or others through Christ and for Christ. It is more formally Christian leadership when this influence is intentional, and it leads toward Christ-honoring goals. It is assumed, in the light of what we have said above, that this leadership is of God and is under the sovereign leading of God.
There are, I suppose, almost countless ways to assess and analyze Christian leadership. At the simplest level, there is the leader, the leading, and the one, the group, or the many who are being led. Focusing on the leader himself, such issues as calling, gifting, preparation, personal development, qualifications, responsibilities, styles, and the like can all receive attention. You can focus also on the leadership process.
This involves all the dynamics of influence: motives, means, methods, movements, mechanics, measures, and various models of the processes involved when a person relates to others in a leadership role. You can focus, of course, on those being led and how the led actually respond to leadership, for those being led are also part of the leadership process as they are moved toward change, actions, goals, and so forth.
I mention these aspects of leadership to indicate that there is much ground to cover if one is seeking to be thorough in a study of leadership itself. That is not my intention. You need to read other books, such as the books listed in the bibliography, to get a better and bigger picture of broader leadership issues. As mentioned in the preface, the original starting place for this book was a study of Acts 20:17–38. The whole dynamic of this text makes it worthy of special attention in relation to the subject of faithful leadership. A leader is addressing other leaders at a critical time of closure and empowerment. A leader is speaking at a time that calls for priority issues to be addressed. Much can be gained by just reading and re-reading this passage of Scripture and meditating upon it.
But we don’t end our study with Paul’s words spoken to the elders from Ephesus. With the help of additional Scripture texts, I have sought to address other matters that relate to faithfulness in leadership. Rather than just talking about leadership matters and mentioning relevant biblical texts, I have sought to try to bring out of the selected texts truths, examples, implications, and applications that help us think about how to be faithful as Christian leaders. This is my approach in this book. Rather than presenting a systematic topical treatment of leadership issues, supplying easy bullet-point steps to follow, I have sought to let the Scriptures speak to us and challenge us on vital personal matters related to being faithful, especially as leaders. There are too many experiential variables to provide simple steps for everyone. But we can look toward the Scriptures to gain truths, insights, examples, and models that will help us examine our own lives and seek to move forward prayerfully, conscientiously, and by God’s grace, courageously.
I have divided the studies ahead into three sections. The first section deals with “Legacies to Leave.” Being faithful means living with the end in mind, preparing to give a “good account” by the grace of God. The next section seeks to cover “Responsibilities to Fulfill.” Here we’ll look at some key areas of life and ministry that need to be handled faithfully. Last, we’ll consider some “Encouragements to Embrace.” The road is long and difficult in the way of faithfulness, but there is much encouragement in the Lord and from the Word.
I write as one who seeks to be on this road, and as one facing the challenges involved. Many lessons have been learned from others and from personal experience (especially from mistakes). I am grateful for the many years of service alongside a faithful Christian leader, my father. His example has been a primary influence upon my life. I dedicate this book to my father (posthumously) in the light of the legacy of faithful Christian ministry and leadership that he left to us and in us.
1. These comments concerning the numerous facets of the election process in the U.S. were made many months before election day 2008. This does not reflect on any candidate or the outcome of any election, but simply the usual dynamics of any election year.
2. Ted Engstrom, The Making of a Christian Leader (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 20.