Tuesday, February 14, 2012

When leadership fails

I preached – or tried to – on Exodus 32 this last Sunday evening – the incident of the golden calf.  What struck me most was the failure of Aaron’s leadership: how quick he is to respond to the people’s request to make them gods; it is not the job of the true leader to follow the (wrong) demands of the people. 
Jim Hacker - the ultimate leader?

And how quick he was to blame God, or providence, or fate: ‘Out came this calf!’ (verse 24).

How much weakened he was, too, by his failure to make use of the plural leadership that Moses had provided: ‘Wait here for us until we come back to you.  Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them…’(24:14).

I have never regarded myself as a natural leader; any abilities I exercise in that direction are gifts of grace and part of God’s call.  It has been a great relief, over the years, to come to an increasing understanding of what leadership is in the church, and in particular to surround myself with other leaders who can take the blame make up for my faults.  My understanding is still growing – at this rate, by the time I retire, I may be ready to start (!)  This much, it seems to me, is clear from the Scriptures:

  1. Christ is the head of the church, and he, alone, has authority in it.  No other ruler – pope, priest, queen, council – is to be tolerated at all.  To tolerate such ‘rulers’ is effectively to turn the church of Christ into a human organisation.
  2. Christ rules in his church only by his word: ‘Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’  As the risen Christ walks among the lampstands, he does so to assert his rule (both making promises and issuing warnings/threats) as well as to speak by his word.
  3. Chaos would ensue if every church member ‘did their own thing’ based on their (mis-)understandings of the Word.  Babes in Christ need help to see its meaning; the rebellious need to be challenged, rebuked and corrected – and so on.  Therefore, Christ has ordained under-shepherds in each church.  Since they are to rule in Christ’s name, they must be able to show the relevance of the Word.  This explains the one qualification elders need beyond being ‘godly men’: they must be ‘apt to teach.’  Seeing it this way helps clear away misconceptions.  They do not need to be able to preach – they need to be able to apply the Word to church situations.
  4. British people, and British pastors, are uncomfortable with the Scriptural vocabulary of ‘rule’.  We are used to singing ‘Rule Britannia with its assertion ‘Britain never never never shall be slaves’; being ‘ruled’ sounds like ‘slavery’ – so we want democracy in our churches.  It is part of our psyche.  The predominantly congregational ecclesiology of the last century or so makes us uneasy about the idea of elders ruling.
  5. Nevertheless, the Scriptures won’t allow us to escape the concept of rule.  Elders must therefore rule:
    1. By the Word, not their preferences.  And it must be seen as such – hence, again, ‘apt to teach’.
    2. From a life-style that shows their own commitment to Scriptural (not man-made) holiness.
    3. Not with any view to financial gain – ‘not for filthy lucre’ – a phrase that’s used three times in the AV about elders, not once – and then once about deacons, too.  (See 1 Timothy 3.3, Titus 1.7, 1 Peter 5.2 and 1 Tim. 3.8)  The church’s affairs are not to be manipulated for the financial benefit of the elders.
    4. Not for power, lording it over the flock (1 Peter 5.3).  Like their Master, elders are to be servant rulers.
    5. With a view to the expansion of Christ’s kingdom.  The way the church organised in the first century led to a world turned upside down.  Congregational democracy can prevent anything being done; elders must not tolerate this, nor initiate it.
    6. With eagerness: ‘eager to serve’ (1 Peter 5.2).

Thus, it is wise:

  • To teach the churches the headship of Jesus; this is one truth that may be self-evident to pastor/preachers, but almost certainly isn’t to most of the flock.  Its implications must be spelt out. 
  • To show the churches how elder-government expresses that.
  • To encourage the elders to have a vision for growth, not maintenance.  Growth will not be restricted to numerical growth, but it will certainly include it.

(Conrad Mbewe’s chapter on eldership, in ‘Foundations for the Flock’, has helped me order and express some of the above.)

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