‘Leadership’ is a buzzword these days, with society’s ills frequently (and at times unfairly) traced back to failures by our national leaders. Yet few political leaders would continue to hold office without the tacit consent of the majority – who are thus complicit in maintaining the very leadership of which they complain.
So, what kind of leader do people really want? For example, many in the UK believe that sexual propriety is irrelevant to leadership. It should be no surprise, then, that many in high places behave accordingly. Ultimately, we get the kind of leaders we deserve (1 Samuel 8; Psalm 75:6-7).
It is a bit the same with church leadership. What leadership role models are we encouraging? What qualities are evangelical congregations actually looking for (and thus nurturing) in their future leaders?
There are certain qualities that we need to bring into focus because they are currently under-valued and neglected – qualities that are needed if the church is to stand out uniquely as a ‘colony of heaven’ (Philippians 3:20). And to realise these qualities, congregations will have to ‘positively discriminate’ in favour of them.
The first is humility. Humility today gets a bad press – humility is for wimps! But is it? Humility is not the same as weakness. The Son of God was ‘meek and lowly in heart’, seeking and serving fallen men and submitting to his Father’s will (Matthew 11:29; Philippians 2:7-8). Moses, a strong leader if ever there was one, is commended as the meekest of men (Numbers 12:3).
Humility is the opposite of arrogance – it is approachable and gentle. Even when speaking with due authority it does not strive or contend. Among fallen men, the humble esteem others better than themselves (Philippians 2:3).
They know they cannot trace God’s providence unerringly, or read men’s hearts, or fully comprehend the vagaries of a fallen world. In short, humble people admit their limitations – they know they don’t have all the answers.
Accordingly, humility has a winsome sense of inadequacy that leans on God alone for help (Matthew 5:3). It is a grace that points away from itself and attracts the blessings of a God ‘who resists the proud but gives grace to the humble’ (1 Peter 5:5).
The second neglected leadership quality is love. Everyone cries up Christian love, but few truly display it to any marked degree.
Here are some tests as to whether someone really loves. Think not so much of what they say about themselves. Rather, think – could you trust them with the knowledge of your very worst character defect, if you had to? Love covers a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8).
Could you trust that one to cover your sins without condoning them – to continue relating to you from the perspective of grace, and not with pharisaical suspicion? If the answer is positive, then theirs really is Christian love of leadership dimensions. And without such love, that person – even though a minister or preacher – has not got what it takes.
The third is not so much a quality as a character – summing up humility, love, and much more besides. It is Christ-likeness. How could any other character be seen as essential in a Christian leader?
The greatest desire of every church leader should be to lead believers into the beauty of Christ-like holiness – ‘to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus’ (Colossians 1:27-29). Christ-likeness is a sine qua non. Can we honestly say with Paul, ‘Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11:1)?
Notice that we have not yet mentioned preaching! The gifts of preaching and teaching the Word of God are powerful leadership tools, but they are definitely not sufficient of themselves. We urgently need to remember this as we consider the kind of leadership our churches need today.
As we address the problems of our age, mere words can be very cheap. But unless the Spirit of Christ fills our character – and works through heartfelt words that flow from meditation on the Scriptures – we shall never display that rich quality of leadership the body of Christ both needs and deserves.