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The Qualifications of Spiritual Leadership

March 2nd, 2017

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach… He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7 ESV)

Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct” (Heb. 13:7 NKJV)

Though selfish ambition is a danger to any Christian fellowship, the desire to serve the Lord in leadership is a noble one. Here Paul described the qualifications of two positions: overseers, or bishops, and deacons.

The simplicity of leadership structures in the early church: In today’s world we are layered in complexities regarding leadership roles, but in the early church it was much simpler. The “overseer” was the pastor of the local church, not an authority over several churches. But the title itself does indicate some authority or “rule” over others.

The visitation of the Lord: The word translated “overseer,” episkopos, is used only four times in the New Testament, and one of those is Luke 19:44, “Because you knew not the time of your visitation.” All the translators translate the word as “visitation” but it means an authority dropping in to correct, advise, and lead. The very idea suggests gentle leadership and a relative freedom to apply the spiritual principles in our lives without being micromanaged.

The teacher as leader: According to the Hebrews 13:7 passage above, the role of leader was connected with the role of teacher of the Word of God.  Why would that be so? Simply because any other kind of rule would be of man and not God, but if the one who “rules” does so with the Word of God, then his rule would be according to the truth of God’s Word. But, as Peter also pointed out, “Not as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3 NKJV), teachers lead gently, by “being examples to the flock” and by the Christian “considering the outcome of their conduct.”

To try and lead the local church on any other basis – on the basis of intelligence, determination, organizational ability, or a pleasing personality – would put human life above the principle of God leading His people by His Word and through His Spirit. This does not mean that a pastor cannot have other gifts and abilities, but it demands that all of the pastor’s personal gifts are subordinated to the authority of the Word of God and the leadership of His Spirit.

The leader’s walk must match his talk: The Christian leader should practice in his personal life what he preaches to others. These truths must be taken hold of by him deeply, sincerely, and thoroughly. To be “above reproach” dos not require that the teacher be perfect, for none but Christ would claim to be, but it does mean that there is no area of his life – private or public – where the Word of God has not been consistently applied.

He must not be a recent convert: There is an inherent danger both to the church and to the leader’s life to allow a new convert to take charge of a Christian fellowship. He will easily fall into the condemnation of the devil, that is the condemnation that the devil experienced in being overwhelmed with his own pride.

An experienced Christian has dealt with his own failures and weaknesses. He should have no basis for pride, but rather he must have learned to lean heavily on the grace and power of God. A very young person will try to lead by his intelligence, or by his personality, but the seasoned Christian should have learned that in himself “lies no good thing” (Rom. 7:18), but rather he must live by the principle of “Not I, but Christ.”

A new convert, or one who has recently returned to the Lord after a time of rebellion, will misunderstand the nature of leadership, and will try to force his way on the people, rather than to teach and to live out God’s way. He will intimidate, threaten, bully, or use “guilt trips” to control “his followers.” The Spiritual person, however, will teach and practice the Word of God and will live in the life of the Spirit, in order that he might lead “Christ’s followers.”

By the way, it always bothers me when I hear another pastor talk about “my men” rather than about the church in terms of “Christ’s people.”

These simple biblical principles are given that we might know how God will lead us, and who we should have as leaders. The only qualified Christian leader is the broken person, the one who is humble, the one who trusts in God and leads from his knees and his prayers more than from his head. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isaiah 66:2 NIV).

1 Timothy, Leadership , , , , ,