Leadership

We live at a time when there have never been more books, seminars, videos and discussions on "leadership". But we also live in a world and a time when there is a distinct lack of leadership, in the world and in the church. We now have "celebrities" instead of leaders - pop-stars, sportsmen and Radio and TV personalities. These are the people who have followings today. Well, tonight we are going to focus on leadership in the Church as we continue with our evening series on "The Church and ... " I expect there are some here tonight, some men, who God is calling to be leaders in the church; he is calling you into full time ordained ministry, in the church, at home or abroad. In the same way there will be some women called to be lay workers. Well, you need to listen carefully to what the bible has to say about leadership. Many, of course, will not be called like this. But you too need to listen carefully to what the bible has to say about leadership. You can then pray in an informed way for those who lead. Also, at some time, you yourself may have to share in leadership. The passage I want us to think about tonight is Acts 20 verses 17 to 38. This is when Paul was at Miletus and speaking to the elders, or leaders, of the church at Ephesus. By way of introduction to this passage, I must say one or two things. First, the leaders of the church at Ephesus, as we can see in our passage, were men who were sometimes called 'elders' (or in some translations 'presbyters' or in the shortened form 'priests'), but sometimes they were called 'shepherds' (or in some translations 'pastors'), and sometimes 'overseers' (or in some translations 'bishops' or 'superintendents'). Originally all these words were used of one and the same people - local church leaders. And secondly, in Ephesus it seems there was not just one elder in the church. There was a team. How important that is. Among those in senior leadership no one has all the gifts. So much by way of introduction. Let's now look at Acts 20.17-38. I want us to do so under the heading of THE THREE "C's" OF LEADERSHIP. And the first "C" is THE CALL - THE CALL REQUIRED Look at verse 24a:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.

Here is Paul nearing the end of his life. And he tells us his great calling in life is to "finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me." Now there is a call to everyone here tonight, not just for church leaders to leadership, but to other tasks. We all are in a "race". There is a "task the Lord Jesus has given" to each one of us. And we can so easily be distracted. But says Hebrews, "let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Heb 12.1); and the art we are told is to "fix our eyes on Jesus"; - not on the pay cheque, nor career advancement, nor where your mother in law wants you to live, nor a host of other things that can prevent you from being in God's will. And Paul was concerned to "finish the race and complete the task" given to him. On holiday over Easter we were in the car and then suddenly I saw blue flashing lights and the Police wanted me to stop. "Oh, no!" I thought. (Do you have that sinking feeling sometimes when you're driving?) But I was not going too fast. So what was it? It was an on-coming cycle race. Soon the fast guys came into view - way out in front. Then the mass. But sadly after we were allowed to drive on, there were some stragglers who clearly had given up. Paul was determined not to be like that. He was going to finish. And he did. So the supreme goal of your life must be to "finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given" to you. It may not mean leadership in the church. It may mean being a doctor or a teacher or a business man. But for some it will mean leadership in the church. That was what Paul was called to, and that is what these elders at Miletus were called to. You say, but how do I know if I might be called to the task of leadership? What are the marks of a Christian leader? What is needed in terms of his character? What does Acts 20 suggest? First, there is the need for humility. Look at verse 19a - Paul speaking of himself says:

I served the Lord with great humility.

That is absolutely key! I used to teach at a theological college before coming to Jesmond. Sometimes I had to interview potential ordinands - those in training for the Church of England ministry. One of the first things I asked myself was, "is he 'humble'?" You are not wanting people to be like "Uriah Heep". But you are wanting them to be willing to have their call tested by others. There are some who say, "I know I have the gifts, so I must be the person to be a church leader." Not necessarily. Other mature Christians may not agree you have those gifts or the right gifts. And sometimes if you have them, now is not the right time to exercise them. The goal is never the mere exercise of gifts, but ministry. And it may not be the right time for you to exercise your gifts. So if you go to a selection conference, you may be told to wait, or come back in a few years time. You may need more experience in the church or the world before being a leader in the church. You see, if you are not humble, you will not be teachable. And teachability is an essential for any leader. Secondly, there is the need for resilience. Look at 19b:

I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews.

If you are called to leadership in the church you will be attacked - both from without and from within the church. Paul was. Sooner or later every Christian leader is. At the moment a number of Christian leaders are being publicly attacked from outside simply for teaching biblical morality. On the other hand, a former colleague of mine from Jesmond, now at another church, is being attacked from within the church he serves. One person and some others don't like the way things are going and are intent on making trouble. You will need resilience. Thirdly, there is the need for fearlessness. Look at verse 20a:

I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful.

Paul was willing to say things that were unpopular because he had to declare God's word. And he repeats that (verse 27a):

I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

It is hard today to preach about certain things - the biblical teaching on hell, divorce and remarriage, the role of men and women, and sexual morals. That is especially so when the bible runs counter to the assumptions of the world, and when even biblical Christians are getting compromised. But you have to be fearless in teaching. And you need to be fearless when you deal with individuals. The key to biblical leadership is "service". Jesus said you are not to be like the "rulers of the Gentiles" and "lord it over" people. No! Christian leadership is through service. Mark 10.43-44:

whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, {44} and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

So if you are called to Christian leadership you are to be a "slave of all" - notice, though, not a "slave of some". That means that in the interest of the whole, sometimes you have firmly, but lovingly, to say "No!" to some people. That will not be easy and you will not be popular with everybody. I know of one clergyman who so wanted to be liked by all that he gave in to anyone who exerted pressure. But he was not "serving all". He was serving himself and his own desire for popularity. Fourthly, and supremely, teaching gifts are needed. In verse 20b Paul says "I have taught you." Christian senior leadership is through the ministry of the word. It is not fundamentally administration. It is not fundamentally social work. It is fundamentally teaching men and women the truth of God. When that is right the rest can follow. Of course there has to be administration and caring. But teaching is fundamental. Fifthly, you need to be flexible. Verse 20b, Paul taught

publicly and from house to house.

It is to be by all means to win some. So you have the Tavern and Food for Thought as well as Sunday Services and Home Groups and Focus groups and other bible study groups, and audio tapes and videos and books and pamphlets. And you need to be able to teach and talk to both religious people and non-religious people. Paul witnessed to both religious Jews and non-religious - or more secular - Greeks. Sixthly, - and absolutely essential - there needs to be confidence in the Gospel (verse 21b):

I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.

And verse 24b talks about:

the gospel of God's grace

If you have no message or a message that is false, being a good teacher won't help. How you need "the gospel of God's grace!" That says, there is a God; men and women ignore him and go their own way; and the result for them is disaster, often now, but certainly one day. We were thinking about that last Sunday morning and this morning. But the good news, the gospel, is that Jesus Christ is the saviour. He will forgive you. He has borne your sin on the cross of Calvary. You simply need to trust him and accept his forgiveness. Who needs to do that tonight? You then need to live in the power of the Holy Spirit who you receive as you trust Christ. So Paul was concerned (verse 27) to ...

proclaim the whole will of God [not some, just his favourite topics or texts, but the whole will of God].

You need confidence in the whole gospel. And seventhly, you need vision. As we will see in a minute, Paul was concerned for the future. He was not just concerned to keep his friends happy now. Of course, he wants them to be happy, but he knows that they will only be happy as they too have that future orientation. So humility, resilience, fearlessness, teaching gifts, flexibility, confidence in the whole gospel, and vision - these, our passage suggests, are qualities needed in someone called to Christian leadership. Lets move on. What is the second "C" of Christian leadership? Answer: THE CHARGE - THE CHARGE GIVEN. This is the task set before leaders in the Church. There are two parts to Paul's charge here. First, he says, verse 28a:

Keep watch over yourselves.

How important that is. If you, as a leader, don't nurture your own spiritual life how can you nurture others. Secondly, verse 28 again:

Keep watch over ... all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

"Be shepherds" - that is a vital metaphor or image. It tells you that those you are to be serving are "like sheep". Sheep desperately need a "shepherd". That is why if you are called to leadership in the church, you have a vital task. Do you remember Matthew 9.36? It says that "when he saw the crowds, [Jesus] had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." So he said, pray for more shepherds. And the Church of Christ in England today is like that. There is a desperate need of shepherds to shepherd the sheep. Oh, yes! sheep can be a problem. They are not like the cuddly toys you buy for children. I saw sheep and lambs in Northumberland yesterday. Some were dirty; others mangy; many, I'm sure, needed to be dipped because of lice, ticks and worms. And when you meet a flock coming along the road it is obvious that they can be stupid and stubborn. Now, that is not to suggest people here tonight at Jesmond are like that! But it is important to remember we all, as fallen human beings, even if forgiven and with God's Holy Spirit, can be like that. A shepherd in the country is needed precisely because the sheep have problems without him. The good shepherd cares for the sheep. It is so in the Church. The Church, we are told in verse 28, is God's flock, "which he bought with his own blood". It is therefore infinitely precious to him. So God's shepherd needs to love the flock and care for God's church. And that means two things. First, he must see the flock is fed. How are people fed spiritually? Answer: with God's word which, of course, you have in the bible. Jesus said, Matthew 4.4:

"It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

Paul said, verse 32, it is "the word of God's grace, which can build you up." Secondly the shepherd must protect the flock. This is what Paul is especially wanting to tell the Ephesian elders. Look at verses 29 - 31:

{29} I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. {30} Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. {31} So be on your guard!

The shepherd has to guard against the wolves. And these can be "wolves" who are elders! Isn't that what you have in the world-wide church today - church leaders, as well as outsiders, who "distort the truth". Today you get people who say that "Christ is not the only way; all roads lead to heaven in the end; so let's have multi-faithism." That is a complete contradiction of Jesus who says, "no one comes to the Father except through me." Today you get people who say that God's standards for sex and marriage, namely that sex is only for marriage, can be by-passed. And people can distort the truth in non-doctrinal ways. Literally "distorting the truth" is to say "crooked things". So you even get senior leaders in churches who negatively pass on mis-information or half-truths. Why do they do it? verse 30, "in order," says Paul, "to draw away disciples after them." It is for their own ego. In 3 John verse 9 you read of "Diotrephes who wants to be first". And what was he doing? 3 John verse 10 says, "gossiping maliciously about us." I know of a church in the South where this has been the problem. But leaders are warned to protect the flock against spiritual "wolves" - whether they are heretical wolves or malicious orthodox wolves, whether they come from inside or outside. And the good shepherd will stand up to the wolf. That is what Jesus teaches in John's Gospel chapter 10. But there are also, he tells us, "hired hands". What does the hired hand do? Oh! he feeds the sheep and waters them. So a church leader who is a "hired hand" can teach the bible and feed the sheep. The critical distinction between a hired hand and a good shepherd is that, John 10 verse 12:

"when [the hired hand] sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away ... (verse 13) he runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep."

He will not fight and drive the wolf away. He is not there primarily for the sheep but for himself and what he gets out of doing the job. Tragically some Christian leaders can be hired hands rather than good shepherds. So be warned. If you are being called to full time leadership in the Church never let status, hopes of promotion or even money prospects deter you from fighting a wolf if you have to. Finally, and very briefly the third "C" of Christian leadership is THE COST - THE COST INVOLVED. Often there is a financial cost. There was for Paul, verse 33:

I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing.

Paul was no rich "televangelist". Then there is the cost of hard work. Verse 35 speaks of ...

this kind of hard work.

That means early mornings and late nights. And why are these costs necessary? Because, says Paul, "we must help the weak" - people who rightly, or wrongly, find it hard to give money or man or woman hours. So the leader may have to bear the cost. But remember, says Paul, verse 35, it was Jesus who said - and it's a great verse for the beginning of our Gift Week:

"It is more blessed to give than to receive."

Back to top