(This article was first published in Una Sancta 65-06, 21 April 2018.)
What makes a great leader? We all may have memories of great political leaders from the past. We will remember some important leaders from church history. And many of us will probably have someone in the past who was important for him (or her) and had a large influence on his life. What made people like Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan great political leaders who will be remembered? What made Luther and Calvin important tools in the hand of the LORD to work Reformation? What makes some people stand out as great leaders and others not? What can we learn from that about leadership?
Within the order which God created, the man is called to be leader. Many men will be in a leadership position sooner or later. As husband, as father, as youth club leader, as chairman of board or committee, as office bearers, or in other ways. Men are called to prepare for this task of leadership. How do we do that? What does the Bible say about good leaders?
The Bible about leaders
Not everyone has the talents to be public leader. Not everyone is called to be an elder. Being a leader for a part depends on talents. However, there are several aspects of leadership in which we can train ourselves.
- Biblical knowledge. In Hosea 4:6 God complained that His people was being destroyed for lack of knowledge. Immediately after that, God accused the priests as the culprits because they had rejected knowledge. They were the ones who had the task to teach the people in the ways of the LORD. They didn’t. They even didn’t find it important to have this knowledge themselves and because of that God rejected them as priests. The task of godly leaders is to lead God’s people in God’s ways. To be able to do that they must have a good knowledge of these ways themselves, and this knowledge must be found in the Bible.
- Convictional knowledge. In 2 Corinthians 5:11,20, the apostle Paul urgently and emotionally persuaded the Corinthians to be reconciled with God. He knew ‘the terror of the Lord’. He knew the need for reconciliation and his heart went out to the Corinthians: he wanted them to be reconciled to God and receive salvation. This strong desire for their salvation drove him and he did what he could to convince them. Godly leaders try their best to convince God’s people of what they as leaders know is good for them.
- Understand worldviews. In Ephesians 6:12, Paul explained that we are not fighting a war against flesh and blood, but are dealing with principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. These powers influence the way of thinking of this world and change worldviews. To resist these powers, leaders must know what these are and what they do. Leaders must know how these powers influence the way of thinking of this world and to what the people of God is being exposed, so that they can give good leadership in resisting these forces of evil. To recognize worldviews, leaders must read: newspapers, magazines, books, to know their time.
- Passion. In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul wrote that if a man desires the position of an overseer, he desires a good work. Someone who is called to be an elder but doesn’t have the desire, doesn’t have the passion either. Those under his care will notice it. If he is not excited, he will not be able to get others excited.
- Capacity to teach. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul instructed Timothy to entrust the teaching he had received to others, who are able to teach. Elders have the task to instruct with the Word of God, therefore elders must be able to teach. However, not only elders, but also fathers should be able to teach, see Deuteronomy 6:6-7. Not everyone will be able to teach at a level that elders must do, but at least they should be able to teach their own children. By doing so they will train themselves and develop these talents more. Then they may get noticed and will be able to teach as an elder as well (see also 1 Timothy 3:2).
- Capacity to communicate. Elders should not impose their message on those under their care, but should be able to communicate it in such a way that it is heard and understood and accepted. They must know the members and their situation to bring the message in an appropriate way. That is what Paul did, as we read in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. It was not his goal to come with lofty speeches to show his eloquence. He wanted the Corinthians to get the real message of the gospel. For that he was weak, so that the power of God could work.
- Credibility. Let your light shine before men (Matthew 5:14-16). People must be able to see what your message is. You can say a lot, but if you don’t live what you say, people don’t believe you. In word and deed you show that you stand for the message which you bring.
- Stewards. It is the Word of God which is entrusted to us. We don’t own it. We have the task to tell others what we have learned from God. In Daniel 4:2-3 Nebuchadnezzar made known to the entire world what God had taught him. It was about God and His greatness, not about the person of Nebuchadnezzar. Godly leaders must be servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1) and not promoters of their own opinions.
- Servants. The Lord Jesus Christ is our Master. He came to serve and washed the feet of His disciples. He was teaching them and teaches us: ‘Do you know what I have done to you?’. Godly leaders follow this example of servant leadership.
- Decision makers. Sometimes tough decisions must be made, in situations that there is no unanimity. It is important that godly leaders let themselves be guided by the Holy Spirit and in faith make decisions. In Acts 15:22,28, the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem had to make a decision that was certainly not welcomed by all, in the controversy about circumcision of believers from the gentiles. They came to a conclusion and said: ‘For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us’. Godly leaders let themselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, Who works with the Word of God, and don’t dawdle and dither when the situation requires bold decisions.
Undoubtedly, more can be said. It is not my purpose to give an exhaustive list. This gives an idea of what makes a godly leader. All these elements should be considered in combination. We can’t pick and choose.
The Elder as Leader
In 1 Peter 5, the apostle Peter addresses the elders as fellow shepherds, or fellow pastors. Elders are pastors. (It is unfortunate that many ministers choose to be called pastors, while their elders are not. This gives the impression that only the minister is pastor. This is wrong. Ministers and elders are pastors.)
The Bible speaks at many places about the Pastor or Shepherd.
The king of God’s people is often called shepherd. Psalm 78:70-72 mentions king David as the shepherd. In 1 Kings 22:17, where the death of Ahab is prophesied, we read about Israel as sheep without a shepherd. Ezekiel 34:1-10 speaks about the evil shepherds, who were the rulers of God’s people, whom God would destroy. In 34:11-24 God speaks about Himself being Shepherd over His people. He will establish His servant David as their shepherd.
In Psalm 23, we read about the LORD Who is our Shepherd. He leads me (vs 2,3), with His rod and staff (vs 4). He feeds me (no want, green pastures, restores my soul). The task of the shepherd is to lead and feed the flock.
In John 10:1-6, the Lord Jesus speaks about Himself as the Good Shepherd. The sheep hear His voice, and He leads His sheep and they follow Him.
Leading God’s people must be done with the Word of God, which is the voice of the Good Shepherd. The Word of God must be preached to the people. It is the task of the elders together, to see to the good progress of the preaching and teaching of the Word. It is the spiritual food for the people. The elders and minister do this as consistory. Consistory meetings should be focused on that: giving leadership through the Word of God.
The Word of God must be shown to the people by godly leaders who are an example to the flock. The sheep must follow their way of life (Hebrews 13:7). The Word of God must give guidance to the people in home visits and in other ways where godly leaders interact with the individual members of the congregation.
Godly leaders are a blessing to the church of Christ. They are a gift from God to the Church. Brothers, let us prepare and make sure that we are willing and ready to be used by the Holy Spirit when the calling comes. Brothers and sisters, as congregation, let us all be thankful for the godly leaders whom we receive from the Holy Spirit.