Books on leadership are abundant these days. Management styles come and go while corporate America chases the latest way to lead a company to greatness. The church has followed this siren song, adapting these ideas and methods to its own use. While these sources are helpful, great leaders of local congregations start with Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus.
In 1 Timothy 4:12 we read: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.
Youth can be a problem among leaders. Of course we live in a society that honors youth and neglects the elderly. I have even seen churches that feel a pastor or elder should step down when reaching a certain age. This loss of experience and wisdom leaves a church without its greatest asset. In Paul’s day youth was scorned and elderly were seen as those who had been tested and proven strong enough to survive. Timothy as a young man faced a hard battle. In Paul’s statement we understand the role that age plays in Christian leadership. The issue is not age, but maturity. Paul lays out in the above scripture how Christian maturity and fitness to lead is demonstrated. Let’s look at each of these.
Setting an example in speech goes far beyond restraint from swearing, or off-color jokes. The speech of a leader is to be emulated. He opens his mouth with care, understanding the worst thing he can do is speak without thinking. Every time we speak there is a tendency for the listener to filter the speaker’s words. Years ago, after one sermon a woman expressed her agreement with me, telling me what she had agreed so forcefully with. Unfortunately, she was agreeing with the exact opposite of what I had taught. I said one thing, clearly and forcefully; she heard something else, clearly and forcefully. The possibility of being misunderstood and of our teachings being misapplied are too great to tip toe around issues. A Christian leader says what must be said, even when it gets uncomfortable.
A leader models the Christian life. All areas of his life are examined for conformity to the Word of God. While others are keeping up with the Joneses, he lives to keep up with Christ, willingly sacrificing for the Kingdom and for others. His time is given to God’s service and to God’s people openly and unreservedly. Over the last few decades we have seen a change among those called to serve the church. Church leadership has gone from being a calling to being a profession. While this has meant some positive improvements for leaders—such as compensation that supports rather than exploits the pastor and his family—this has largely been negative, as many move away from shepherding the flock to administering an organization. A biblical leader seeks to emulate Christ in his life. He can tell people copy me as I copy Christ. Through his example the answer to the question: “What would Jesus Do?” becomes obvious.
To model love appropriately the leader must understand what love is. Love is a sacrificial commitment. It is not a feeling or even passion. It is a quiet, active, engaged commitment to the welfare of others. Christian love is not some burning sense of need for another—better defined as lust or infatuation. Infatuations change and passions burn out. Love that we model is not a feeling, but a decision. When feelings and emotions stop divine love keeps going strong. We decide to love and follow through. We ignore our feelings about the other person; it is how we act that matters. Committed love is far more meaningful and deep than the shallow emotional variety. We demonstrate the love of Christ who gave himself for those nailing him to a cross. This love is frightening and discomforting to the world. Such love does the hard thing, takes the rough path, and walks where others would never go.
While doctrine is important in faith, it is not all of it. The ability to break down all doctrine and expound every word of scripture is not enough. A faith worth following is demonstrated through action, not words. It is not enough to tell the world and the church what you believe; it’s essential that it see what you believe. Active faith is contagious. Until we as leaders live out the faith fully our people will never believe what we say. If you want people to learn from you how to live, don’t just tell, show them.
These days, purity is used to brand one as naive or simple. Even in church it is often misapplied. The Christian who cringes when nonbelievers swear is not showing purity he is being petty. This doesn’t mean that we encourage people to swear or to take up the practice ourselves, but we should grow a spine and not fear lightening is going to strike every time someone drops an f-bomb near us. Purity is not how we respond to other people’s sins; it is how we act toward sin in general, and our own in particular. Christian leaders model purity by staying away from temptation, demonstrating proper behavior to those around us—saved and unsaved. The Christians leader worthy of emulation knows that sin begins in the heart and something as simple as a look can lead one down the path to impurity. Marshaling all of his resources internal and external, he build walls against temptation and support for a truly pure life.
The church needs leaders who are worth following; who spurn societies expectations; who stand up to a degenerate world; who strive every day to become more like Christ. Such leaders are a joy to follow.