The Blog: Pastor Parsley's Personal Blog Pastor Rod Parsley

What it Takes to Lead

1/30/2015 3:00:00 PM — For me, the best thing about teaching is that the teacher always learns more than the students. So during my current Influential Leadership 120 lecture series, and in the Effective Leadership 300 series before that, I’ve learned a lot about leadership – especially what the Bible says about it.

Leadership is influence, but not all influence is positive. Our prisons are full of men and women who used their influence to mastermind a criminal enterprise. Because a measure of power generally accrues to leaders, they are continually faced with the choice of serving others or demanding to be served. The former is consistent with the example of Jesus; the latter is, unfortunately, the choice of too many leaders in the home, the church and the community.

Paul was clear about what characteristics should be present in a leader:

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
- 1 Timothy 3:1-7, ESV

In the early church, organizational leaders (“overseers” in the ESV) were chosen by their ability to lead in their personal lives. Paul was particularly concerned with the effectiveness of the leadership in the churches he planted. Remember that people do not normally rise above the level of their leaders. So setting out these qualifications was important to Paul, because he knew he wouldn’t be the pastor of a church he had planted forever.

The phrase “aspires to the office of an overseer” can be confusing, because personal ambition is a negative characteristic of a leader – I would go as far as to say that personal ambition to lead others disqualifies a man or woman for leadership. So the text provides an apparent contradiction, but not an actual one. The Greek word here rendered “aspire” is orego, which means “to reach out after” or “to stretch out oneself to grasp something.” It doesn’t describe personal motives, such as ambition, but rather the external steps required to be an overseer.

Paul obviously valued those who willingly accepted leadership because he wrote that those who did so desired “a noble task.” I’m convinced that the call to Christian leadership must be a driving compulsion. The best full-time ministers, for example, are not exercising one career choice among many, but the only one for them.

Leaders, Paul notes, are to be “above reproach.” This literally means a life without blame rather than a life without sin. Leaders’ lives should not have been marred by a sinful defect in character which would prevent the leader from setting an appropriate standard of conduct. Too often we forgive & immediately restore. This, however, lowers the standard of leadership for both the leader and the church.

Paul required that leaders also be the “husband of one wife,” but I don’t think it’s wise to conclude that only men and women who have never been divorced can be leaders. After all, Jesus set acceptable terms for divorce. I would contend that this means something more along the line of “one-woman man” or “one-man woman.” Paul’s essentially talking about sexual purity, an essential for anyone who is in a place of spiritual influence over others. Failure to uphold this standard puts more leaders out of the ministry than any other sin.

Paul also insists that leaders be sober-minded, literally means “wineless;” respectable (the Greek here means “orderly”); and hospitable, which more literally means “to love strangers.” There were no hotels in New Testament times, and the inns were usually brothels or dangerous for other reasons. The early churches made it safe for Christians to travel by taking in strangers.

Important for the early Church, Paul said leaders must be able to teach. That has as much to do with being a lifelong learner as it has to do with the art or science of teaching. Teachers in the Church in particular need to understand doctrine, have a life marked by humility and holiness, and should be diligent to study Scripture. Also, they need to have the courage to speak his or her convictions. That’s especially important in a culture where the Church is infected with worldviews that challenge the inerrancy of Scripture. Leaders need to declare the Word boldly in the fact of any opposition – and these days, there is bound to be some no matter what the setting.

Paul had had experience with churches that devolved into bickering without him, so it’s no surprise that he says leaders should be “not quarrelsome.” And they should have a proper attitude toward money think and be well thought of by outsiders – because if the leader doesn’t have respect in the community, how can he or she have a spiritual impact on the community?

In sum, this passage points to the need for integrity. A leader must set a good example no matter what type of temptation they face. And leaders are particularly susceptible to temptations because of the positions they hold. Those temptations can include discouragement, indifference, “busy laziness” (taking the path of least resistance instead of doing what needs to be done), and compromise.

This is an excellent passage to use to examine whether you are a leader. I encourage you to do just that on a regular basis.
- January 30, 2015