LEADING GOD’S PEOPLE
Reading: Malachi 2: 1 – 9 (NIV UK)
‘And now, you priests, this warning is for you. If you do not listen and if you do not resolve to honour my name,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘I will send a curse on you and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them because you have not resolved to honour me.
‘Because of you I will rebuke your descendants (or ‘blight your corn’). I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices and you will be carried off with it. And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness and turned many from sin.
‘For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.’
Leadership is an issue that affects all of us because even if you don’t consider yourself to be ‘a leader’, your life is greatly influenced by those who are leaders.
There is one simple test for finding out if you are a leader… look over your shoulder. If no one is there, following your lead, you are not a leader!
- Someone may call himself/herself a leader… or have a fancy title or ‘look the part’ … but if no one follows him/her, that person is just deluding himself/herself.
There are a number of widely accepted attributes that leaders require, notably the following…
Leadership is about leading (of course!) through having a clear focus and knowing where you’re going.
Leadership is about communicating well with others… taking people with you by sharing the vision, clarifying what needs to be done to achieve it and, crucially, persuading potential followers that the effort is going to be worthwhile.
Leadership is about courage to persevere despite criticism and setbacks … but also to evaluate people’s comments openly and make necessary adjustments (courage not obstinacy!)
Leadership is about supporting others… respecting their endeavours and treating their ideas seriously.
Leadership is about enabling others… providing followers with the ‘tools to do the job’ … both practically and emotionally.
Leadership is about personality… decisiveness, enthusiasm and passion are essential characteristics for any leader. Some people claim that personality ‘gets in the way’… but this assertion is only true if the leader’s ego is larger than his/her desire to serve (see later).
Leadership is about having strategies to combat and overcome opposition… by being well informed, not least about the opposition’s tactics.
Leadership is about showing good judgement… knowing when to pause and evaluate the position, when to stop and when to press on with all guns blazing!
Leadership is about caring… being compassionate but not sentimental… genuinely valuing each individual.
Leadership is about training successors… knowing when to pass on the baton and step aside. (For example, a man who was Church Secretary for 50 years left the church in disarray)
Who’d be a leader! It’s a tough job. We need to support them as steadfastly as possible.
Priests were the leaders during Old Testament times… but with the leadership came responsibilities… and in Malachi we find that God had four complaints against them:
1) They failed to love God and honour His name
- This is the First Commandment… they should have known better!
- Someone has said that honouring God is doing and saying things that make Him smile!
- The priests should have been giving God thanks and glory each step of the way… but they were not… and God was NOT impressed!
2) They failed to cherish knowledge about the Lord
- The emphasis is on the word “cherish”… guard it… enjoy it… nurture it… relish it… share it… But they didn’t!
- Instead, they neglected God’s word and were careless about eternal truths
- Some of our ‘liberal’ church leaders, who deny the truth of the Bible, will have to answer to God, as those priests did.
3) They gave the people false teaching
- It gets worse! Not only did they fail to cherish knowledge of God … they offered the people false teaching
- God gave the priests His commandments to use … but they distorted them for their own gain and led the people astray
4) They showed partiality in dispensing justice (‘the law”)
- The priests had a responsibility to be even-handed and fair … instead, they favoured one person above another
- They probably accepted bribes
The Jewish leaders, the priests, had been weighed in the scales and found wanting!
Leadership of God’s people
Leadership of God’s people has some aspects in common with ‘general’ leadership … and some distinctive elements …
1) Leadership is a calling from God… Not just human choice
2) Leaders may not be the obvious ‘human’ choice… God calls whom He will… not necessarily the “obvious” people… For example, Moses, Saul, Jeremiah and Peter were all limited by (in order) stammering (Moses), fear of responsibility (Saul), youth (Jeremiah), upbringing (Peter)… yet God chose them as leaders
3) Leading without the Holy Spirit’s guidance and enabling is pointless… The greatest leaders are the humblest… They know that without God, their greatest efforts will be fruitless
Being fully committed to the work of the Lord must be preceded by being fully committed to the Lord of the work!
4) Leaders have to use loving persuasion…
- A leader is not a bully or a manipulator… he is aware of each individual’s gifts, situation and potential
- The best leaders are encouragers … but are also willing to exercise godly authority… Are we willing to accept it?
5) Leaders must be people of deeply rooted faith in God … not relying on self-confidence but believing what God says in His word…
- Good leaders walk in step with the Spirit… they refuse to allow obstacles to deflect them from the path
- They are not stubborn… but they are determined to obey God and trust Him to do the rest!
6) Leadership involves servanthood … see later in this message
7) Godly leaders possess divine wisdom… discernment that goes beyond human understanding…
8) Leaders must be ever conscious that Christian leadership has practical and spiritual consequences …
- A Christian leader not only needs to have the right words but also to demonstrate how it works in practice
- Failure in leadership can damage people’s walk with the Lord… It’s a huge responsibility and privilege
- We must all play our part in praying for our leaders
Male or female leadership… or both?
This issue has been contentious and will probably remain so! But let’s put aside our prejudices and explore what the Bible says…
First, the Bible emphasises the importance (but not the exclusivity) of male leadership… but there are instances of female leaders, including Deborah in the Old Testament and Priscilla (with husband, Aquila) in the New Testament
- There are also many instances of women playing a leading role in fulfilling God’s purposes… e.g. Esther, Ruth & Naomi in the OT… and Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Mary & Martha in the NT
It is sometimes claimed that male leadership in ancient times was purely cultural… men were viewed as superior and women as inferior, so naturally men exercised control
Whatever the truth of this statement, a lot depends on how we define ‘leadership’…
- If it means taking the main (but not exclusive) responsibility for preaching and teaching, the Bible pattern is clearly for men to take the lead
- However, leading by example in godliness, dedication and service to others applies equally to men and women
Does the fact that men are called to leadership mean that women are inferior to men in God’s sight?
- By no means! If you are an aeroplane pilot and I am the co-pilot, it doesn’t mean that you are superior… it means that you have the main responsibility and I am there to support you
- If you cannot fulfil your role for any reason, I am capable of stepping in and doing the same job competently
Nevertheless, we must face up to the fact that most church attenders and missionaries are women. Similarly, the majority of charity workers, care workers and organisers are women…
- Without women, the work of Christ in the world would have to be severely curtailed
- The truth is that God wants us to use our ‘natural’ abilities and the talents that He has given to us, regardless of our sex
- To suppress women such that they are unable to use their gifting to serve Christ is illogical, as well as being unbiblical
A question that is often raised is whether or not women should be elders or deacons or priests or bishops or lead any major area of church work ahead of men?
- Should a competent and gifted woman ‘hold back’ and allow a less competent man to lead?
- Should women be allowed to teach the Bible, instruct men or make significant decisions that affect men?
These questions are looking down the wrong end of the telescope!
What we should be asking is how men, as leaders in the church (and the home) can encourage, facilitate and support women in their various roles, whether the role is supposedly ‘minor’ or ‘major’
- If men are leading in a way that pleases and honours God, they will be ‘overseers’ not military commanders!
- They will be seeking the glory of God above all else
- They will be far more interested in ensuring that Christ is given His rightful place than bolstering their position
- They will lay aside their own reputation so that Christ can be glorified
The practicalities about who does what will vary according to the church situation … and we may not always agree about the detail… but the principles of Biblical authority in the church are clearly stated.
So in God’s purposes, men are called to lead… to be examples… to demonstrate faith in God… to protect and cherish others…
- This responsibility is not about being superior or patronising or smug … in fact, quite the opposite!
- A Christian leader is not superior (or inferior) to those who follow… simply called to perform a specific and significant role
The single most important quality in a leader is having a servant-heart … serving and encouraging others… making their welfare a priority
Whether male or female, this principle is fundamental to success
Sadly, some men seem to have become more marginalised in church life in recent years:
- Partly because of societal pressures and the rise of feminism
- Partly because there are fewer men in the traditional churches, especially younger men
- Partly because the role of men has become blurred and men have lost confidence about leading.
Whatever our belief about leadership… leaders and followers alike are ALL called to be salt and light in the world and ambassadors for Jesus Christ… for He is the Head (the leader) of the Body, the church, for whom He died
So EVERY Christian should lead by example and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit … love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5: 22)
To achieve this condition means that we need to have the mind of Christ and thereby demonstrate five characteristics…
- Integrity: your ‘yes’ is yes and your ‘no’ is no… your word is your bond … you are clothed in the righteousness of Christ
- Humility: recognising that you are precious to God but still a sinner saved by God’s grace … There is no room for smugness or self-pride in the church of Jesus Christ, especially among leaders
- Passion: enthusiasm for the things concerning God’s kingdom and His desire to draw all people to Himself
- Perseverance: running the race to the end of life… looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith
- Encouragement: building others up through positive comments, gentle advice and wise counsel.
The priests failed as leaders… they failed God and they failed the people for whom they were responsible… They were called ‘leaders’ but they were a sham… and would feel the full weight of God’s righteous judgement.
Whatever our situation or position, as kings and priests unto God, we are all bound by the same requirement to serve God faithfully… to live lives that honour Him … and to serve one another with love, justice and humility.
In this way, Christ builds His church… and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.