By Randall Childress
The most powerful leadership lesson I have ever received came not from a “successful” preacher or a business guru, but an 80-something woman I met in another church.
Several years ago, I received a mailer from a large denominational church in Florida offering a “Pastor’s Conference.” The church had a membership of more than 20,000, but was noted for its organization, traditional style of service, excellent music (southern gospel), and strong preaching. Much of the material I had been reading suggested that churches needed to lean toward a more contemporary worship style, so I was curious about this church’s growth.
The conference was open to everyone, not just preachers, and the 10,000-seat auditorium was packed. When the worship leader asked visiting preachers to raise their hands in the first session, the 80-something woman next to me struck up a conversation. It turned out she was originally from east Tennessee, where I had held a ministry for six years. We began to talk about places we both knew, and I was able to bring her up-to-date on some changes in the community.
“Why Do You Attend This Church?”
After a few moments I asked her, “Why do you come to this church? Is it the music? The preaching?”
“Well,” she paused. “The music is wonderful and the preaching is powerful, but that’s not why I come. I didn’t always attend here. I went to a much smaller church of about 200, in fact. But they were always fussing and fighting. You could walk into the auditorium and see the two sides divided by the aisle that ran between the sections of pews. And if you didn’t side with any of them, they’d get mad at you.
“I just got tired of it all and dreaded going to church. I know a church this size has to have problems, but they must handle the problems in the leadership and I can just come and worship Christ.”
Too often we think of leadership positions as honorary positions. Certainly it is an honor to be chosen by the congregation to fill a leadership position; however, we sometimes forget that with leadership comes problems—and the responsibility to resolve them. When problems arise, all eyes are on the leaders to find an appropriate solution.
How many churches or church boards have you known where leaders deny a problem exists, or hope it goes away, and never actually deal with it? Leaders carry the burden of responsibility on their shoulders so the church can worship. Leaders don’t run away from hindrances to spiritual worship; they run to them and work at resolving them.
Acts 20:28 says, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Implicit in that one command are a number of others. The church is not ours to do with as we please; the church was bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ. When making decisions, leaders must not allow personal preferences or opinions to take precedence over Scripture. “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matthew 15:6).
What Must a Shepherd Do?
A shepherd must do at least four things:
Lead: The leader must be out front, setting an example for others to follow. He must have the integrity and commitment that engenders confidence and inspires others to follow his example.
Guide: Leading and guiding are not quite the same thing. The leader must make sure the church is moving in the right direction, closer to Christ, not farther from him. “Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained” (1 Samuel 2:30).
Feed: The leader must make sure the church is being fed the Word of God. The temptation is to begin with the word of man (find a book with a neat title) and then look up Scriptures (proof texts) to validate what man has said.
However, God does not promise to honor man’s word, but his own Word. “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious” (Ezekiel 2:7).
Protect: When Paul commanded the elders to “be shepherds of the church of God,” they were aware of two threats: persecution on the outside and division on the inside. Wherever it begins, leaders must deal effectively with divisiveness. This may be a perennial problem, but a divisive spirit can hinder worship (Matthew 5:23, 24).
Leaders must also protect the church from false doctrine. Paul warned, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). False doctrine can divide and destroy a church.
If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
While church leaders have a remarkable responsibility, every church member has an equally important obligation, to submit to their spiritual leadership.
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17).
Randall Childress ministers with Kempsville Church of Christ in Virginia Beach, Virginia.