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About Church Leadership

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About Church Leadership
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In Acts chapter 20, Paul calls the elders of the church at Ephesus to him so that he can say goodbye. In the midst of this heart-rending farewell, Paul offers one of the greatest challenges ever issued in the Bible. Discussing their duties, he says, "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears" (vv. 28-31).

What an awesome responsibility! And furthermore, what difficult kinds of men to find. Where and how do we go about finding men such as this to lead the church of God?

Fortunately, we have not been left alone to figure out how to find good leaders. In the first place, we have the letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus in which he details the characteristics of elders. A man who can meet these qualities will be well on his way to being the kind of leader we need to guide the church.

In addition to these qualities, a good study is to determine what other leaders of God's people did. There are many great leaders in the Bible, men who did what was right when it was less than popular, and men who served God against tremendous odds. Studying the character of such leaders is important to developing the kinds of qualities which will make for good leaders in the future.

Besides this, there are a number of men who are very poor leaders. The Bible does not spare us the details of their lives, because we can learn from negative examples as well. Avoiding the mistakes and character flaws of men like Jeroboam, Ahab and Diotrophes is as important as developing the qualities of men like Joshua, Jeremiah and Peter.

Inside this issue, you will find two articles about leaders of God's people. These articles focus on the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David. Saul was a bad king and poor leader who lost the kingdom. David was a good king and good leader (despite his flaws) who was able to receive the promise that the Messiah would come from his lineage (2 Sam. 7:16; Acts 2:30-36). In these two men, we find much of what can go right or horribly wrong for leaders of God's people, and a careful study of their lives provides much insight into the kind of leader whom God seeks.

As we examine the lives of Saul and David, it falls to us to examine our own lives as well. How many of the qualities of good leaders do we have? Are we attempting to develop these qualities? Or are we more characterized by poor leadership qualities?


Good Leaders

Throughout the history of God's people, there have been thousands and thousands of leaders. Some however, have set themselves apart as particularly good leaders. What qualities made them so? When we look at the lives of good leaders, what stands out about their abilities which make them the kinds of leaders who are helpful to the cause of God?

If we look at the great leaders of the Bible, sooner or later we will come to rest at the story of David, for among God's leaders, he has few equals. That a lowly shepherd boy could become not only king of God's people, but one of the greatest kings in all of history speaks to the fact that the characteristics of God's leaders may be somewhat different from what man looks for in a leader. In fact, God says as much in his instruction to Samuel. When David's older brother Eliab appears before Samuel, he thinks, "Surely the Lord's anointed is before Him" (1 Sam. 16:6). But the Lord tells him, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (v. 7). An examination of David's life will reveal what God saw in his heart that made him a good leader.

Good leaders are concerned about what God says. Early on in his leadership of a band of fighting men, David prepares to go into battle against the Philistines by "inquiring of the Lord" (1 Sam. 23:2). In fact, when God tells him to attack, his men are afraid, but David "inquired of the Lord once more" (v. 4). David did not want to be found fighting against the wishes of God, so he sought God's word. Again and again, the scriptures tell us that David "inquired of the Lord" (1 Sam. 30:8; 2 Sam. 2:1; 5:19, 23; 21:1). The point is that David wanted to do God's will, so he took care to discover that will before he acted. A good leader will be characterized by careful study of God's word, in order to determine what His will should be.

Good leaders admit and correct their mistakes. David, in his actions with Bathsheba and against Uriah, made a horrible mistake. His sin is one of the most heinous in all of scripture, involving adultery, treachery and murder. David is made to see this through the parable of Nathan the prophet (2 Sam. 12:1-4), and he responds with fury. When Nathan tells David, "You are the man!" (v. 7), David's grief is heavy. He responds with a heartfelt confession: "I have sinned against the Lord" (v. 13). Further, he writes the 51st Psalm, with its beautiful words of repentance and petition for a clean heart and deliverance. Good leaders, do not deny their mistakes, nor do they shift blame to others, but they accept them and work to correct them. Only a man like this is fit to lead God's people.

Good leaders do what is right even when it goes against their wishes. Shortly after David became king, he determined that he would build a house for the Lord (2 Sam. 7). The prophet Nathan comes with word from God that David should not build. Instead, God tells David that his descendant will build the temple. David was king, and kings are not accustomed to being told, "No!" He could have reacted with anger and set about building the temple anyway. He could have pouted and turned away from God. Instead, David recognizes that God's way is best, and he begins to collect materials for his son to build the house of God. How many times have otherwise good leaders fallen because of their inability to put God's wishes ahead of their own. Too many digressions have been "justified" by saying, "It's a good work." Certainly, building the house of God was a "good work," but God insisted that it was not a good work for David. David accepted God's word ahead of his own wishes.

Good leaders are not easy to find, but if we look at a man's life and examine his willingness to obey God and not himself, we make a good start toward finding good leaders. When a man is humble enough to admit his errors, accept God's plan for doing things, and put his personal desires aside, he will be the kind of leader who can capably lead God's people.


Poor Leaders

What qualities make for a poor leader? It may seem a strange question; why study poor leaders? But in looking at the qualities of poor leadership, we find in their antithesis the qualities of good leadership. The Bible is filled with examples of leaders, good and bad, and in studying them, we may find help in producing leaders in the future who can provide the type of guidance and instruction which all churches need.

The "classic" poor leader has to be King Saul, for his leadership was so poor that his kingdom, and therefore his legacy among God's people, was stripped from him. Let us examine some of his more prominent errors.

A poor leader mistakes doing what is popular for leadership. When Saul had an opportunity to accomplish something great for God (the destruction of the Amalekites), he failed miserably. Instead of leading God's people, he responded as many leaders have done, and continue to do: he did what he thought would make him popular. The children of Israel did not wish to obey God by destroying the Amalekites fully; instead they desired to keep what was pleasing to them among the spoils of their enemies (1 Sam. 15:7-9). Instead of standing up before the people and declaring, as Joshua had, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15), Saul gave in to the wishes of the people. If ever there was a time in Saul's reign which presented an opportunity to lead, this was it, but Saul responded cowardly by doing what was popular.

A poor leader blames others for his mistakes. When confronted with his sin by the prophet Samuel, Saul had another opportunity to lead by example, and again, he failed. In answer to Samuel's question concerning the bleating of sheep and lowing of oxen, Saul blamed his followers, "They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen . . ." (1 Sam. 15:15, emphasis added). Given a further opportunity, he again blames the people, "I did obey . . . But the people took some of the spoil . . ." (vv. 20-21, emphasis added). Rather than admit his wrongdoing, which could have started him on a road to renewal and redemption, Saul chooses to blame those he should have been leading. When a leader does this, he is useless as a leader. Those who are blamed will hate him for his weakness, and those all who hear his excuse will question his ability to lead.

A poor leader attacks those who seek to do right. When a leader is bad, he cannot abide those who are good, and the case of Saul is no different. Having learned that his kingdom is to be taken away, Saul turns against a man of God, David. Despite David's loyalty to God's anointed (see 1 Sam. 24:6; 2 Sam. 1:11-16), Saul held David and his prospering at God's hand in contempt (1 Sam. 18:10-16). Several times Saul sought to kill David, and David's ability to do right and prosper kindled a burning rage the miserable King. Many leaders still hold in contempt those who strive to do right.

A poor leader seeks counsel in evil places. Nothing is more critical to a leader than the place he turns for counsel in time of trouble. For Saul, this is another area of failure. Near the end of his reign, when Samuel, the man of God, is long since gone, Saul needs help and advice as he prepares for battle (1 Sam. 28). Fearful of the Philistines and desperate for some kind of help, Saul visits a medium to seek spiritual advice (vv. 7-14). This points out Saul's inability to even recognize good advice. Any number of good leaders have been brought down by bad advice. Years later, Solomon's son, Rehoboam, would lose most of his kingdom for the same reason (1 Kings 12).

A poor leader may or may not be guilty of all of these bad qualities, but any of them can bring his leadership crashing to an end. The church of our Lord needs good leaders, and the qualities which make for bad ones must be avoided. The examples of old are there for us to learn (Rom. 15:4), and that includes these bad leaders. If we seek to become good leaders, we must not make the mistakes and commit the sins of men like Saul and Rehoboam.

Last Updated ( Friday, 21 January 2011 09:12 )