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Christ’s Words for Our Leadership Crisis

This week the blog is sponsored by Desiring God and the post is written by David Mathis.

Some doomsdayers might say the church has a leadership crisis.

Perhaps a previous generation gave its presidents (and pastors) too much benefit of the doubt. But is that still our temptation today? Our criticisms of recognized leaders, cynicism toward them, conflicts with them, and controversies about them fill our feeds, queues, and real-life conversations. Are we becoming a society of discontents trying to take it to the man?

Whether in the world or in the church, both a fascination with and a negative mood toward our leaders and celebrities (we’re increasingly unable to draw clear lines between them) pervades our age. Many today are confused, and for good reason. Stories of use and abuse abound, and multiply, with the aid of our technologies.

While our list of what to beware grows longer and longer, do we have any corresponding list of (more positively) what to look for, and pray for, in our leaders?

No Confusion from Christ

For Christians, we have our conflicts and controversies to grieve and address, but the risen Christ has not left us to confusion for what to expect, pray for, and hold our leaders to account for. Scripture has a lot to say about our current crisis.

To my count, 1 Timothy 3 provides fifteen requirements for pastor-elders — the lead or teaching office in the church. Another list (again I count fifteen) comes just pages later in Titus 1, with most of them mapping on precisely to the first list. Added to that, we have, among others, 1 Peter 5:1–5; 2 Timothy 2:22–26; Hebrews 13:7 and 17; and the words of Christ in Mark 10:42–45.

Jesus has not left us without clarity.

Paul Really Knew

For more than a decade now, I’ve given unusual time and attention to lingering over the pastor-elder qualifications. Not only am I a pastor seeking to regularly rehearse what Christ requires of me (and grow, with his help, in these graces), but since 2012 I’ve been assigned “the eldership class” at Bethlehem Seminary. This class is typically a cohort of 15–16 seminarians, training to be vocational pastor-elders.

Over time, we’ve found the lists of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 to be worthy of far more than a brief review or a single session of focus. In fact, in seeking to present to the class and explain what Scripture teaches, and what I’ve learned to be significant in pastoral ministry, I’ve found again and again that essentially all the relevant practical issues in preparing for eldership pair with one or more of the traits Paul lists in 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1.

Imagine that. Paul really knew what he was talking about — not just as a list of prerequisites to become an elder but as a catalog of the kind of virtues that elders need day in and day out to be healthy, effective elders in the long haul for the joy of the church.

What Kind of Men?

Semester after semester, we have found much life, much to learn, much to say, much to discuss, and much to apply in these elder qualifications. For one, the graces mentioned here are not devoid of reference elsewhere in Scripture. Rather, in most cases, the Bible, from Old Testament to New, has much to say about these traits.

In studying these traits — and local-church leadership through them — I’ve come to organize the class (and now the book Workers for Your Joy) under three main headings: humbled, whole, and honorable. Or we might say, the devotional life (before God), the private life (before those who know us best), and the public life (before the watching church and world).

My hope is that such a study will be helpful, first and foremost, for current pastor-elders and especially for young men aspiring to the work. Under God, I’d love to see a new generation of pastors rise-and-fall proof their ministries, under God, long before the crises come.

But I also hope that congregants — church members — might enjoy finding new clarity about what they can expect in their pastors and hold them to. What does Christ call Christian leaders to be?

Christ has not left us without clarity. Christian leadership exists for the joy of the church. Such a vision may turn some of our churches upside down, first for pastors and then for the people. That’s the vision I hope to impart, and linger in, in Workers for Your Joy.


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