People get the leaders they deserve

By Sylvia Wilkey

(From: Vision & Duty, May 1989.
Reprinted with permission in Investigator #7, July 1989)

As the continuing saga of our Federal and State political leadership struggles roll on, I wonder what that says to us about the Australian people? — divided, power-hungry, dishonest, slanderous, ruthless, disloyal. The picture is not a pleasant one. In the same way, how much does the Christian church also get the leaders it deserves? I fear the answer.

In a recent course of lectures we examined Paul's teaching concerning Christian leadership in his letters to Timothy and Titus. We discovered that the qualifications set out by Paul for Christian leaders are no more demanding than those required for all mature believers, yet many of us, who do not have a title of "bishop", "deacon" or elder" tend to ignore Paul's admonitions to Christian leaders or we apply them, without love to some older gentlemen of our acquaintance.

Who are our leaders?

Our leaders are whomever we follow — male or female, friends, parents, pastors, teachers or popular figures. We choose whom we follow. An election or appointment to a position does not make a leader. Most of us would not claim to be leaders but if we take a careful look there is usually someone following.

What Paul Says

So what does Paul say to us as we lead or follow?

Firstly he encourages us to use our unique, spiritual gifts from God, just as Timothy was advised (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6) knowing God's Holy Spirit is also enabling us to perform his will (2 Tim 1:14).

We each have a different mix of spiritual gifts which make us unique. Depending on the task or situation in hand, different people will emerge in leadership. No one person ever possesses gifts for leadership at all times. In our churches leadership roles will change according to the task — with children, young people, adults or senior citizens, music, preaching, evangelism, teaching, catering, welcoming, administering, pastoral care. That is why leadership in the New Testament church always comes from a group, never one person. Christ is the head of the church. Everyone else is part of his living, growing, active body, working together for him.

Secondly our lives are to be godly, (1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 3:17) focused on God and above reproach in dealings with family, the church and in the community at large. (1 Tim 3:2-12)

Recent Christian leaders have brought the gospel into disrepute by their love of money or lack of sexual self-control. We can happily point the finger but how easy it is to lack self-control in our thoughts, to find life too busy to be hospitable, or to join our society in clamoring for the latest pay rise.

Paul reminds us that family and relationships are where the reality of our Christian experience is worked out on the small scale. They need to come under the Lordship of Christ or all our other endeavours will be fruitless.

Thirdly we are to have an informed teaching ministry. We should not be like those who "do not know what they are talking about" (1 Tim 1:7) but should be confident in what we believe and why we believe it (2 Tim 3:14-17).

Our teaching should be grounded firmly in God's word and not used in a magical way to proof-text whatever we want to say. We should do our best to be a "workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth". False teaching and futile questioning are to be shown for what they are while not neglecting gentleness and love (2 Tim 2:24-26).

What should we do?

Australians can be quick to cut down any "tall poppy". In a similar way, we can do the same to those in Christian leadership. Yet if it is true we "get the leaders we deserve", then all of us, leaders and followers, need to repent of our thoughts, words and actions. Then trusting in Christ's strength, using our unique spiritual gifts and living godly lives, we must go out to live and proclaim the message of the "Greatest Leader of All" to those who wander away from Him and His Kingdom.