By Casey Tygrett
He had been leading in various capacities at our church for at least 20 years.
As a newbie in my first “real” ministry (translated “full time with financial implications”), I was confronted with a church that had been embroiled in conflict for at least 50 years.
The man in question had created some of this conflict, and in the midst of confronting him, I came across a troubling piece of evidence.
“I don’t really read the Bible,” he said. “I’m not much of a reader.”
From the tone of the statement and the expression of his face, I could tell he was conflicted by both shame and scorn. You could chalk it up to his being raised where work was a higher priority than study, I suppose. But I saw something more behind his words: Scripture hadn’t been—and probably would never be—a priority for him
Hindsight tells me I should have tried harder to help this man move past his preclusion to the Bible, but I can’t roll out a heroic tale of pastoral mastery. The conflict escalated until this man and his family left our congregation. However, this episode from my past ministry lays the groundwork for me to say something to leaders, including the elders of the local church today.
Your spiritual vitality, or lack thereof, creates ripples that deeply impact the communities you lead.
My friend above had once been an elder—a position noted for spiritual leadership and shepherding of people’s souls—and had not engaged the Bible beyond occasionally moving it from his coffee table. I must ask: is there a connection between the lack of Scripture reading and prayer in the life of a leader and the presence of conflict in the local church? I am not so naïve as to believe Scripture isn’t the subject of conflict in many local congregations, but in those cases, how much fervent prayer is surrounding that conflict?
The reality is that spiritual growth of our elders and leaders is critical to the healthy spread of the kingdom agenda of Jesus Christ in the world today. The lack of growth certainly won’t stop the movement of the gospel, but here is the issue: is God able to work through us or is he required to work in spite of us? I’d much rather be a conduit than an obstacle.
Here are three measurement devices for elders and local church leaders regarding spiritual growth and formation that will bring light and life to situations stuck in darkness.
Are you regularly engaging with Scripture, both individually and as a leadership team?
Leaders committed to wrestling with the narrative of God both alone and in their group have put themselves in a position to be corrected, humbled, and augmented for the sake of others. Being open to the Scriptures is a posture that embraces the mission of God in the world today. Scripture refines the lenses through which the mission and purpose of the church, as well as the mission and purpose of eldership, are seen. Scripture shows God on a mission as he calls sweetly, but firmly, to elders to fall in step and become missionally minded regarding where the flock they’ve been commissioned to lead is headed.
If you are struggling with how to engage the Bible regularly, consider a book, such as A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People, by Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, which includes Scripture readings for each day. As a leadership team, consider studying the book of Acts for a year and read it both individually and corporately, listening for places of resonance between the infant church and your local community.
Are you praying specifically, honestly, and regularly?
In my current ministry, I am often asked to help teach people to pray. I’ve found the most critical question in developing a prayer habit is whether or not people are willing to bring up the raw, uncensored, and unfiltered contents of their heart to God. Are you, as a leader, honestly expressing both your joys and struggles to the God who constantly leans in to listen (Psalm 10:17)?
The most helpful aspect of prayer in my development in leadership over the last five years has been the opportunity to see myself through the objective lens of God’s Spirit; I’ve grown to understand there are things in my soul that, when applied to leadership in ministry, create issues I couldn’t see on my own. The opportunity to pray with and for other leaders is constantly in front of us—are you taking advantage of the times you could offer prayers that encourage and strengthen others on your eldership or leadership team?
Even Jesus pursued quiet conversation with his father in order to carry out the mission of rescuing all creation (Luke 5:16). The task of leading the church is great—we are not above the quiet places and times of listening that we see in the “rhythm” of Jesus.
Are you reproducing leaders through spiritual friendship and mentoring?
Leaders aren’t meant to be irreplaceable. If we have stepped into the stream of leadership in God’s kingdom with the expectation that we aren’t expendable, it is a clear and unmistakable sign we’ve skipped question number one in this list!
The truth is, engaging in Scripture and prayer—especially reading Acts and praying for our leadership of God’s people—will shine a light on the reproductive nature of the church. The churches we find in Acts had leaders who understood what it meant to give away what they’d learned.
Many elders and leaders may say they have read 2 Timothy 2:2—“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Great. Here is a follow-up question: are you giving away your leadership and ministry to reliable folks?
I realize I am not currently giving my best effort to reproduce my leadership, so I must confess I have some work to do. But my challenge to you is still the same: elders and church leaders need to engage in one-on-one mentoring relationships or spiritual friendships that help individuals see where God is leading them, and how God wants them to use their gifts. A few new resources, such as Steve Saccone’s, Protégé and Greg Ogden and Daniel Meyer’s Leadership Essentials are great tools for mentoring and developing the next generation of leaders in the local church.
My hope is that these questions and suggestions will stir you and stoke the fire in your belly for the good of the kingdom of God. I leave you with this prayer: May the grand script of God’s Scripture and the well-worn path to conversation with him in prayer revitalize and restore your leadership for the next generation of renewal and redemption in the world in which we are pilgrims.