If someone came to you and asked how to become a Christian, what would you say to them?
That’s a question every Christian leader needs to be able to answer with confidence. If you’re not sure how you would answer, you need to study and learn to respond.
I was in La Grange, Texas, this past weekend for a Church Inside Out seminar. I really enjoyed my time with that congregation; they are already actively engaging their community and are anxious to do more. Yesterday, I got to eat lunch with their leadership team (minister, elders, deacons) and talk a bit about leadership. As always, studying and talking through some of these things helps me learn.
We focused on Ephesians 4:7-16. Paul opens that discussion (which follows a section on the unity of the Spirit) by noting that Christ has given different “grace” to each of us. Verse 8 and following make clear that when he says “grace,” he’s talking about gifts/ministries. He seems to specifically have leadership in mind, from what he says in verse 11:
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11)
So what follows should be read as a description of what leaders do to help the body grow.
- Leaders help others discover their own ministry. Verse 12 states that explicitly:
“to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12)
Paul’s focus isn’t on leaders doing the work of ministry; his focus is on leaders preparing God’s people as a whole for ministry. That’s brought out in verse 16 as well:
“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16)
As each part does its work… that’s how the body grows. Not just as the leaders do their work, but as each part of the body is performing its proper function.
- Leaders help the body grow in unity. Look at what Paul says in this passage:
“to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:12–13)
Leaders prepare others for service; that service leads to unity. (Too often we want to achieve unity through navel gazing and group hugs; unity is built by working together!) Look at verse 16 that I quoted above. The body grows and builds itself up in love (speaking the truth in love, according to verse 15).
- Leaders help other Christians become more like Jesus. That’s the goal.
“until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13)
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
As Jay Guin once noted, a church that is focused on rule keeping will produce members that are fixated on fault-finding and criticizing others. A church that is focused on being like Jesus will produce members that become more loving and forgiving over time. And Christians that are trying to be like Jesus will “keep the rules” by imitating Him!
Skipping down a bit in chapter 4 we read:
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22–24)
That’s what it’s about. Not just following rules. Becoming like God.
So leaders are helping their members grow in three ways:
- Growing in service
- Increasing in unity
- Becoming like God
I want to expand on that a bit more in my next post. Any observations?
I want to go just a bit further with the discussion about what constitutes leadership and leadership training in the church. What if instead of public speaking skills, the church emphasized athleticism? To be considered a leader, you would have to be fast and strong and agile. And a whole different group of people would be frustrated at what was expected of them at church. “Anyone can develop themselves athletically” would be the mantra; yet most church members could never hope to compete with the talented among us.
I’m one of those who thrives on getting up in front of people. I love it. It comes easily for me. That doesn’t make me any more spiritual than anyone else. And it doesn’t make me more of a Christian leader, despite what our terminology often says.
Leadership is about service. Leadership is about edifying the body. Leadership is about helping others carry out their ministries.
Until we grasp that, we’ll stay building-focused, assembly-focused, and Sunday-focused.
What is leadership? What is leadership training?
For too long in the church, we’ve focused on leadership training as learning to do “church” stuff: teach Bible class, lead singing, preach, lead public prayer. Boys growing up being told that they need to do these things to be mature Christians; if they can’t do these well, they haven’t really matured in Christ.
Our understanding of gender roles exacerbates the problem. If these things make up leadership and we teach that women aren’t to do them, then how is a woman supposed to reach maturity in Christ? As one sister said, if you aren’t good at hosting showers or baking casseroles, there doesn’t seem to be much you can do.
We need to:
- Define ministry as something that happens primarily outside of church “business hours,” outside of the Sunday assembly and Bible classes.
- Allow people to explore and create their own ministries, rather than forcing them cookie-cutter style into pre-established roles.
- Emphasize that leadership is service. Really. Seriously. The world will define it as getting up in front and telling others what to do. The church needs to turn that definition on its head.
- Measure maturity by Christlikeness not public speaking ability.
If you want to try and impress me, don’t try and impress me. The person who comes to me and tells me how rich they are, how educated they are, what amazing insights they have into a given situation, or any other sort of boasting… that person will have to work hard to gain my respect.
A boss can gain my obedience; he’ll not get my loyalty. The self-proclaimed expert may get my attention; he’ll never capture my imagination. Someone who tells me how rich and powerful they are will only make me see how insecure they are.
Doesn’t that line up with things Jesus said? The first shall be last. The servant will be greatest. “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Show me that you are a learner. That you are a servant. That you are secure enough in yourself that you don’t have to tell me how wonderful you are. That you’re willing to wait for others to recognize what you have to offer.
Then I’ll be much more likely to respect and admire you.