The 4th essay. I completed this a while ago, but have been waiting to post as I wanted to edit the latter sections after some discussion and further thinking. Here's part 1.
I will aim to tackle this under various sub-sections, but there will be overlap, inevitably, as we go through. Unfortunately that means there may be things I take for granted or mention early on, which don’t get a definition or clarification until later.
What does leadership look like?
The obviously place to start a discussion on leadership is with Jesus. He is the head of the church (Colossians 1:18), He is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4), He is the Bridegroom, and He called the 12 to ‘follow’ Him. Jesus is the perfect leader and as such the Apostle Paul calls believers to imitate him as he imitates Christ.
Christ is Prophet, Priest and King; which are the primary leadership offices we see in the OT.
So, we look to Jesus as the model of leadership. In Him we see love, humility, service, boldness, clarity and the list goes on. But, as we are looking at what is specifically said about leadership in the Bible, we can look to specific passages that lay out details of character traits, and also how leadership is to work, and what its ultimate purpose is. Then we can apply it to the church today.
Romans 12:8 tells us that leadership is a gift and therefore implies that not everyone is a leader. The rest of the New Testament backs this up as we read of elders and deacons leading churches. There are also “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” who are given by God to build the church (Ephesians 4), although these are more gifts and roles than leadership positions.
The individuals or groups who led God’s people in some way, are very different throughout the Bible. Moses, Joshua, David, Nehemiah and Isaiah for example all had different strengths and weaknesses. Some messed up in hugely public ways, others doubted privately. What they had in common was that they sought to listen to God and to direct His people to love Him. Moses often reminded the people of what the Lord had done for them in the past as the foundation that He would look after them in the future. David acted courageously in battle, led the people in song and celebration and sought to keep his own heart desiring what God desired. Nehemiah led rebuilding works, took initiative and wanted to restore Jerusalem and bring honour to God.
Those who lead in the Bible are all called by God for a specific time and task. They are also gifted by God to do it, and it’s not just those who are prophets, priests, kings or judges, think of Bezalel and Oholiab in Exodus 31, who lead in the construction of the Tabernacle.
Paul often spoke to the Thessalonians of caring for them like a father and a mother. Leadership should be like this. Leading a family. There should be real love, care and concern. Jesus spoke of wanting to take Jerusalem under his wing like a hen does with her chicks. There is love and protection in that too.
Timothy was commanded to teaching in accordance with gospel he had learned and to pass it on to other faithful men. He was also called to lead like a soldier, a farmer and an athlete. Timothy was to be well-trained, diligent, hard-working, read for a battle, running for a prize.
Leadership is not a popularity contest and it is not about building an empire for yourself. It is about loving God, loving His people and seeking to serve wholeheartedly and unreservedly for the sake of His Kindgom. All is evidenced in the lives of Jesus and His disciples as well as OT leaders. They were often maligned, lied about, rejected etc. all for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
There are those who speak of prophetic, priestly and kingly leadership. Prophetic is mainly based around preaching and teaching. Priestly is much more pastoral and personal. Kingly is about having good structures and methods in place. Taking this as a helpful but overly simplistic model, we can see that a church needs people whose strengths lie in each of these different areas involved in their leadership.
Outside of the qualifications for elders (looked at later), they are spoken of doing the following things in the NT (this list is taken from “On Church Leadership” by Mark Driscoll); praying and studying scripture (Acts 6:4), ruling and leading the church (1 Tim 5:17), managing the church (1 Tim 3:4-5), caring for people in the church (1 Pet 5:2-5), giving account to God for the church (Heb 13:17), living exemplary lives (Heb 13:7), rightly using the authority God has given them (Acts 20:28), teaching the bible correctly (Eph 4:11, 1Tim 3:2), preaching (1 Tim 5:17), praying for the sick (James 5:13-15), teaching sound doctrine and refuting false teaching (Titus 1:9), working hard (1 Thess 5:12), rightly using money and power (1 Pet 5:1-3), protecting the church from false teachers (Acts 20:17-31), disciplining unrepentant Christians (Matt 18:15-17), obeying the secular laws as the legal ruling body of a corporation (Rom 13:1-7), and developing other leaders (2 Tim 2:1-2).
The purpose of biblical church leadership
There are numerous verses and stories from the Bible that state or illustrate the purpose and end goal of biblical leadership.
Skimming very briefly across some OT passages we can see leaders were called to direct God’s people to God’s place for them (Moses and Joshua most clearly). Other leaders help the people to fight against their enemies, resist temptation to worship false gods and continue to trust the LORD. The aim of all of this is for the LORD to be worshipped, for His name to be made known and for His glory to be seen.
When David goes out to fight Goliath he is leading a scared people in place of the king who was supposed to lead them and he does it to show that the LORD is the One True God. He stands up for truth, he hates the mocking of God by Goliath. He loves the LORD and seeks to honour him and lead the people to do the same (1 Samuel 17:45-47).
In Isaiah 8 the prophet writes and teaches his disciples to fear the LORD, he wants them to stand firm and trust the LORD, waiting for Him to act as He promised He would. As prophet he is covenant watchdog and his leadership points people to the LORD.
Paul works for the Philippians’ “progress and joy in the faith,” (1:25) he states that he wants to “present everyone mature in Christ,” when writing to the Colossians (1:28), and he speaks in Ephesians 4:12 of roles being given to people to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.” On top of that, if the purpose of the church as a whole is to fulfill the great commission of Matt 28:18-20, then the purpose of church leadership is to facilitate that.
The purpose of church leadership is to build the church, numerically and in maturity so that people come to know and love the Lord and grow in both of those things more and more.
The reputation of the gospel in the world at large and the health of the church spiritually are at stake with church leadership.