Lay leaders are often very busy. They can often work long hours and have kids to raise. This can make on-going training difficult. This can be frustrating for the pastor, and the elders and other leaders. They often want to learn more but find the realities of life an obstacle.
“In any group of any size, a leader will emerge. Someone who takes initiative, assumes responsibility for the activity and direction of that group. … But in the end, I have a deep and enduring conviction that it is the gospel that should shape my attitude to and practice of leadership.”
Steve Timmis’ new book, Gospel Centered Leadership, is an answer to some of that frustration. It is a short book with short chapters on important subjects that encourage and challenged leaders new and old. He includes questions to help you think through the implications of the material. His fundamental position is that church leaders lead from an on-going faith and repentance. Apart from this, their hearts become hardened by sin and they will inevitably be unable to counsel, guide and direct the sheep.
Leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens in the context of Jesus as the Head of the Church. Gospel centered leaders submit to His authority and recognize that they are merely under-shepherds. It also happens in the context of culture. Each culture has definite ideas about leadership. The church will usually follow that style of leadership, but should repent of unbiblical notions of leadership within that culture. For instance, Korean churches in the US often have a more autocratic style of leadership then other churches in the U.S. This is not a problem as long as they don’t “lord it over” the people.
“In simple terms, headship is all about creating an environment in which those in our care are able to flourish and thrive.”
Christ rules through His Word, and thru fallible, sinful people. Timmis notes the numerous failures of biblical leaders. They all anticipated Christ in what they did right and in their failures. We will also fail at times. The gospel enables us to receive forgiveness, get back up again and keep leading. It keeps us humble regarding our skills and abilities, and confident in God’s love and provision to us in Christ. While he recognizes that all Christians should minister to others, he does hold that the office of elder is restricted to men.
Being a man is not enough to make a person an elder. He spends time talking about the qualifications for elder: primarily character. Gifts do matter, but not at the expense of character.
“Leaders influence the people of God as they teach God’s word and as they model obedience to God’s word in their lives.”
He sometimes errs, as we all do. For instance, “notice the use of the pronouns we, not I. Paul was not pointing to himself because he was one of the elite; he was drawing attention to all the apostles, and how they corporately modeled gospel living to those around them.” He is speaking about a quote from 2 Thessalonians. If we read who wrote that letter we see that it was Paul, Silas and Timothy. Usually he handles the Scripture well, but I think he missed the boat here.
Leaders should also have an aptitude for leadership. You should notice whom people follow, who takes initiative and who is already discipling others. They should also be growing and displaying wisdom. Future leaders should be serving. Often churches err by making men leaders in the hopes they will then be involved. This happens often in smaller churches. Likewise some see it was a way to mature people instead of identifying maturing people. We must see these traits in people before we make them leaders. Otherwise we should not expect to see them display them after becoming leaders.
There is also the question of style. This is tied to culture of both the community and the congregation. Autocratic leadership will not be welcome in some congregations, but others require it. I know the church I serve seems to be a very good fit for my style of leadership. We work together, and there have been no power struggles like I experienced in a previous pastorate. Leaders must lead, not just respond to criticism. There is a necessary proactivity that is important to good leadership. Pastors and elders should anticipate some problems and prepare for them. Some can not be anticipated, like when our facility flooded after a freeze in ’11. But our leaders displayed good reactive leadership as we quickly identified a new place to worship and worked toward restoring our facility quickly in addition to fixing some problems we had been living with.
“Consensus decision-making is to be adopted as an intentional strategy because it exposes heart issues to the light of the gospel in a way that no other decision-making process does.”
Timmis then moves into practical questions. One is decision making. He argues for consensus building. Leaders often lead not only by pointing out the best way, but also by winning people to their side. We aren’t talking about manipulation or coercion. Buy in is very helpful long term, and this builds the leaders reliance upon God to do what he cannot do himself.
“Leadership that lacks intentionality lacks purpose, direction and influence. It’s leadership that leads nowhere.”
He also returns to the theme of leadership helping people grow. This harkens back to the book The Trellis and the Vine. Elders need to focus on the vine more than the trellis. Too often we focus on the trellis: programs, facilities. Those are important in that they help people grow. But the vine must have more of our attention as we prune it, nourish it and water it. The goal is not a great looking trellis (I’ve seen plenty of those), but a thriving vine. It can be easy to confuse to two.
All in all, this is a helpful little book. I have purchased copies for my elders, present and future. I plan on us going through it as a Session after we finish Dangerous Calling. Perhaps you should bless your leaders with a copy.