What God Expects from His Leaders
1. God Expects His Leaders to Obey the Rules Like Everyone Else
Nadab and Abihu: These were sons of Aaron who were priests in the early history of Israel. They were privileged to ascend Sinai with Moses where “they saw the God of Israel” (Ex 24:1, 9ff). This should have humbled them, but in the course of time they became lax in their obedience. When they “offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them … fire went out from the Lord and devoured them” (Lev 10:1-2). God’s explanation: “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified” (10:3). So strict was God in this matter that He forbade Aaron to openly mourn the death of his sons (10:6-7).
We might also cite Moses striking the rock for water, Saul’s preservation of Agag, David’s adultery with Bathsheba, Uzziah’s offering of incense, etc.
2. God Expects His Leaders to Be Corrected When They Sin
Uzziah: When Uzziah became proud and entered the temple to offer sacrifice, “Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him were eighty priests of the Lord, who were valiant men. And they withstood King Uzziah …” (2 Chr 26:16-20). Leaders among God’s people are not impervious to weakness and sin, and they are not “untouchable” because of their spiritual stature. Paul directs Timothy: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” (1 Tim 5:19-20). Like so many times in the Old Testament, the prophet or messenger of God may be attacked or faulted for opposing a man in his sin. But God directs that we should not be respecters of persons and excuse in some what would be rebuked in others (1 Tim 5:21).
3. God Expects His Leaders Not to Be a Cause for Blasphemy
David: Not only was David’s crime against Uriah wrong on its own merits, “by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme” (2 Sam 12:14). The same type of charge is leveled against the Jews as a whole by Paul (Rom 2:17-24), who saw his people as those who should have been leaders among all nations because of their peculiar relationship with God. The truth is, there is a double standard for leaders, not a double standard that makes them a puppet of every person’s whim and fancy, but a higher standard of God-approved behavior. When any Christian sins, it harms the influence of Christ as a whole. But when an elder, deacon or preacher sins it does even further damage. The world will point to such breakdowns as justification for their rejection of the truth that we urge upon them.
4. God Expects His Leaders to Be Servants
God has never appointed certain tasks or functions merely for the benefit of the person who engages in them. God understands the harm that comes from men exalting themselves and receiving undue honor. He knows how it breeds jealousy, fosters arrogance and undermines the goal He is trying to achieve: the overall good of His people. James and John didn’t understand this principle at first. They thought that leadership among the disciples meant prominent places at Jesus’ right and left hands. Thus, Jesus says to them, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of” (Lk 9:55). He contrasted leadership among His people with the Gentile model: “You know that the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant” (Mt 20:25-26). The eldership is a “service institution”; it exists to provide a much needed service to a local church. Men who so serve deserve respect, honor and support, but even that is an outgrowth of appreciation for what God provides to all through them, not a response to their personal attributes. If a man is spiritually mature and full of good judgment, it is because God has provided for such growth.
5. God Expects His Leaders to Know His Law
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6), and this ignorance directly came from the failure of leaders to instill such knowledge in them. Josiah’s desire for reformation was aimless until a copy of the Law was found (2 Kgs 22:8-20). David’s attempt to bring the ark to Jerusalem was a disaster until he consulted the law and discovered the approved way of moving it (2 Sam 6:6ff). Ezra and Nehemiah reinstituted public instruction in the Law of Moses (Ezra 7:6, 10; Neh 8:1-9:4). Elders are to be mature in Bible knowledge and able to strengthen the weak, refute those who contradict and comfort the troubled. They must not be merely “keepers of the orthodoxy” but students of the law of Christ. They must understand the historical framework of redemption, the proper application of Scriptural authority, evidence refuting atheism, basic philosophies of false doctrines and other foundational matters that pertain to advancing and defending the truth. They must also understand how God’s law operates in the lives of real people and how to advise people wisely relative to that law.
6. God Expects His Leaders to Sacrifice Themselves for His People
Jesus is the prime example of self-sacrificial love and concern for the people of God.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But he who is a hireling … sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them” (Jn 10:11-12).
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).
While death is the ultimate sacrifice and demonstration of love, elders in American culture are called upon to show their devotion in other sacrificial ways. It takes a substantial amount of time to get to know brethren, to learn their lifestyles, job obligations, spiritual weaknesses, personality quirks and other subtle characteristics that challenge people’s spiritual well-being. Studies must be conducted; congregational threats must be considered; planning sessions must be held for future work, etc. The work of elders is comprehensive and taxing; it requires self-sacrifice to do the job well.
7. God Expects His Leaders to Continue Growing
The Apostles: While the apostles possessed enough character to be selected by the Lord for special service, that selection was merely the commencement of their education in leadership. They grew tremendously under the tutelage of Jesus, but even at His death there were many things lacking in their spiritual completeness. We continue to witness their growth and development as we consider the history of Acts and then examine their epistles written in later years.
Elders: Likewise, while elders are to possess certain minimum qualifications before being appointed, and while elders are to direct others in the process of spiritual growth, they have not personally reached a terminus in their own development. No man will reach such a state in this life, for though maturity in faith and knowledge may be realized, there will always be room for improvement. Elders must study the Scriptures, explore new avenues of learning, pray, examine their attitudes, seek counsel in their own struggle to faithfully serve the Lord. Preachers often fail in their personal growth even while attempting to direct others in the same. The demands of service can be so taxing that one may neglect himself for the sake of others. Leaders must learn to take time for themselves and invest in their own growth and spiritual health. Otherwise, they will gradually weaken and lose their effectiveness as leaders.