Does Church Have A Future? (7)
Many of our churches operate by thinly concealed power struggles expressed through a semi-democratic veneer of respectability in which leaders struggle to lead congregations who think they are in charge, and in which churches remain the same from year to year, and decade to decade. There has to be a better way.
I believe that we must therefore consider carefully and prayerfully what leadership is and how it should be accountable, for what we have today is virtual paralysis by democratic consent. As Joyner expressed, “Democracy is not only the most inefficient form of government, it is also the slowest form of government.”
The more I reflect on this, the more I believe that the current system of elected leadership is a burden on any church and will cause indecision and paralysis, at least to some extent. I contend that the way that many Baptist churches are governed owes far more to the world of ‘Yes Minister’ than it does to the world of the New Testament. Politics drive many decisions and personalities drive many conflicts. And we wonder why God is not with us.
If leaders will put aside their own agendas and seek God together, then they can quickly become a leadership team that gains the respect and love of the people in the church. If such leaders will be accountable to one another, it would reduce significantly the number of matters that have to be brought to a church meeting. A leadership team that consists of people of character and integrity would gain the trust of the people, and would therefore be enabled to lead in a meaningful way and to a large extent. I do not believe that the actual structure of the leadership team is of great importance, but the character and integrity of the leaders in the team is of paramount importance. True leaders are God-anointed because of who and what they are before him.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke spoke of the search for people who were filled with faith, wisdom and the Holy Spirit. When Paul speaks in Ephesians about being filled with the Holy Spirit, he enlarges this thought by constantly using such words as ‘submit’ and ‘obey’ and does so largely in the context of the home.
If leaders are to be filled with faith and wisdom, they will need to be people who live close to the heartbeat of God and experience an ongoing intimate relationship with him. Such people are sought by others for their wisdom and their faith, and they are sought by others because they ooze the Spirit of God. God uses such people to change and transform people’s lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, and brings the needy and broken to them for care and healing. All of this, however, often takes place quietly and in the background.
A willing accountability to other leaders, both within the same church and outside, will help these people to remain close to the heart of God and to submit themselves to the pastoral care and discipline of the leaders around and near them. A leadership team should be caring for and responsible for every member of its own team, and those who will not submit to other leaders should not be part of the team. With great privilege comes great responsibility. There is a risk here, and it is a risk that we must take. The church today needs God-anointed leaders in a way and to a degree that it has not done so before if the church, before God, is to have a meaningful future.
This is not primarily about function, but it certainly involves the recognition of a person as being of leadership material by virtue of their godly wisdom, integrity and character. This recognition of God-anointed leaders is vital if our churches are to tackle the issues that need to be faced head-on in the days that lie ahead. Of course deeds and actions are important, but it is the character and integrity of the person from whom deeds and actions flow that is of greater importance.
People who respect their leaders will follow their leaders, though this is most certainly not about blind obedience. When Jesus was walking on the water, Peter said, ‘Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.’ God-anointed leaders will lead secure in the knowledge that, when everything else is said and done, their God will back them up. It is he who defends them, it is he who justifies them, it is he who rescues them. The church that trusts its God-anointed leaders of character and integrity will move with confidence into the future that God has for them and will be able to adapt and change as that future makes it necessary.
The church must rediscover true leadership if it is to get out of the cul-de-sac that it has been in for a long time and forge a future for itself. I personally believe that God is going to do a new thing in Scotland in the coming years, but many churches are in danger of being spectators of, rather than participators in, that new thing. Many churches will have ceased to exist by then if present trends continue and the serious issues of leadership are not tackled by our churches.
The quality of leaders is crucial for any church or organisation because, as White said, ‘people do not follow programs, but leaders who inspire them,’ and this means leaders staying envisioned and anointed for the ongoing task of leading God’s people. With a willing and effective submission and accountability to other leaders, those who lead God’s people can be protected from the serious danger of believing more in themselves than they do in Christ. Then their deeds and actions will flow from a godly life and those deeds and actions will be reflection of the quality of the leader.
Deeds are important, of course they are, for deeds are the way that many people will see us at work in leadership. But I do contend that the church in our land has been infected by carnal wisdom and has taught that carnal wisdom as if it were godly wisdom. We have believed and we teach as the world does, that what you do is what you are.
Advertising, business, television and books bombard us with this carnal wisdom, but it is ungodly wisdom that will lead us into serious error; indeed, it has already done so. Such wisdom begins from the starting point that activity determines what you are; that the things you do determine the person you are, that what you do is what you are.
Any leader should realise that they are to be people of Christ-like character and integrity whose lives are made manifest through our deeds and actions. The left hand of character and integrity belong with the right hand of deeds and actions. ‘But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing.’
Character and integrity will always find expression in deeds and actions. This warns leaders not to give advice without commitment, not to gain knowledge without involvement, not to practise correction without encouragement, and not to criticise without understanding. From the leader’s character and integrity flow the deeds and actions of love.