PJ’s Daily Devotional for Saturday, March 4, 2017.
Are the leaders in your church called by God?
I have found that the church struggles with identifying those God has called into leadership. Different churches may not realize they are struggling with this issue biblically because they are satisfied with the way they do it or they don’t question it because it’s just the way it has always been done. But most churches realistically fall into one of two extremes (gutters) when selecting people for leadership positions: volunteerism or elitism.
On one side of the spectrum we whitewash the Word of God and are too permissive. We ignore the clearly stated qualifications for church leadership because we are just glad someone is willing to show up and volunteer their time (volunteerism). The danger of volunteerism is that the person still thinks they are in control of their own life and often their volunteering at the church leadership level is simply another good idea in an already busy life, rather than God’s calling them to sacrifice substantially of themselves to die to self and serve Jesus through the local church. Jesus gave us the example of sacrificial servant leadership and that is not synonymous with volunteerism; it’s a call to being His hands and feet by putting on the towel of service and washing the feet of others.
On the other side of the spectrum we codify the Word of God and are too legalistic. We follow in the footsteps of the Pharisees and we put expectations on people that we ourselves cannot even lift, amplifying the qualifications for church leadership because we are not applying our own theology of grace to qualify the unqualifiable. This leads to all forms of hypocrisy in the leadership, mistrust between the people and the leadership, and an atmosphere of prideful exclusivity and institutional inflexibility. In many situations, this creates an unfortunate caste system such as a clergy-laity divide or a staff-congregation separation, that does not foster the 1 Corinthians 12 call to body life.
Often, these are the gutters churches fall into when it comes to leadership. When a church tries to stay on the Way of Jesus in selecting and appointing God’s chosen leadership, they don’t put titles on people who have not yet shown a testimony of fruitfulness as a member of the body of Christ. As my mentor taught me, “Title follows testimony.” We identify called people by watching their life in and out of the church! Their life’s testimony is not dependent on their title; they live according to who God made them to be, regardless of whether man recognizes them—they are the redeemed ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). You know you are in the gutter when someone changes their behavior based on the title they are currently wearing; you can’t put leadership on like a hat! You either are or you are not; that God’s choosing, it is our job in the local church to recognize those that are leaders and recognize them for who God made them to be.
Here is what Paul said to Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore, an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 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).
After reading this exhaustive list, I can see exactly why we fall into the gutters of volunteerism or elitism. Who in the world can qualify? Does the marriage requirement exclude singles, divorced, or remarried? Do the assumptions of the 1st century Jewish synagogue system (the church’s early structure was based on the model and assumptions of the synagogue) intend to still exclude women from the redeemed model of the church and assumptions of the Kingdom of God? Where does grace fall into this regarding all the qualifications, such as quarrelsomeness, behavior of children, etc.? What is hospitable enough or by what standards does the person need to be a good teacher?
Don’t throw a gutter ball in your church! It seems to me that more church leaders would be disqualified for their finances (management of household), marital history, or their child/ren’s behavior (including their grown adult children who are not following the Lord) than over their gender if we were to hold a legalistic interpretation of this list without understanding that it was intended not to exclude imperfect people or half the population of your church, but rather to call us to examine the testimony of those in our congregation. These are standards of identifying the faithful who are bearing good fruit; not to exclude, but to ensure that God’s grace is all over their lives outside of the church and inside the church.
Throwing a strike requires you stay out of the gutters! Examine the Scriptures, not through the lens of the gutter you fall into by your limited church experiences or cultural assumptions, but allow the Holy Spirit of God to show you how disqualified YOU are to lead. Only then will you have the humility to rightly interpret the Scripture, not from an elitist perspective nor from a permissiveness perspective.
A strike is when you call forth the person who is qualified by the visible fruit of the grace of God manifesting in their life through the active and dominant presence of the Holy Spirit! Regardless of ordinations, degrees, gender, investment portfolio, or business apparel, what matters is the qualification of God’s grace as evidenced by the fruit of their testimony.
Maybe the whole point is why Paul wrote this to Timothy in the first place: SO THAT “you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Let’s be wise in how we wield the truth of God’s Word—it is sharp!
Are you qualified for church leadership?