The hardest part of church leadership …
Some would say maintaining humility is the hardest part of leadership. At least several articles have been written making that argument.
Others would toss out different challenges of being a leader in Christ’s church.
But when you closely analyze the responsibility of being an under-shepherd to a congregation, the hardest part of church leadership is the very real need to be “right” as much as possible.
I know, I know, just from that sentence alone many would disagree, especially in today’s church. But let me explain first before you dismiss that statement.
We live in times when many church leaders vocally speak against their need to be right, meaning to be accurate regarding the truth of a matter. Many pastors today want to be the buddy of those sitting in the pews (or stackable chairs) rather than a living example of following Christ as a holy man of God. Gone are the days when pastors were, at the least, partial Bible scholars. Too many of today’s pastors have “dummied down” their preaching not just in an attempt to be more relevant or better understood, but also because they aren’t putting in the work of biblical scholarship. They also aren’t spending an adequate amount of time in prayer for both themselves, the church, and others.
But let me ask you this: how often do you want your spiritual leaders to be right about what they teach, what they preach, the biblical counsel they offer, and their example of how to live as a follower of Christ?
How many times, when your preacher delivers a sermon, do you want him to get his message right?
How many times, when your preacher teaches a lesson, do you want him to get his lesson right?
How many times, when you seek spiritual counsel for personal matters in your life, do you want your pastor to get right his biblical counsel to you?
Don’t we want them to get it right all the time?
Yes, of course!
And because every church leader is an imperfect human being, they will have their times when they get things wrong. But as a leader, it really is important to “get it right” as often as we can for the simple reason that getting it wrong can be just as influential in the lives of those we lead as getting it right is.
In 2005, The Washington Post reported the following story headlined as “450 Sheep Jump to Their Deaths”:
It all started with one self-destructive leap.
Shepherds eating breakfast outside the town of Gevis, Turkey, were surprised to see a lone sheep jump off a nearby cliff and fall to its death. They were stunned, however, when the rest of the nearly 1,500 sheep in the herd followed, each leaping off of the same cliff.
When it was all over, the local Aksam newspaper reported that “450 of the sheep perished in a billowy, white pile” (those that jumped from the middle and the end of the herd were saved as the pile became higher and the fall more cushioned). The estimated loss to the families of Gevas tops $100,000 — an extremely significant amount of money in a country where the average person earns about $2,700 annually.”
That story gives new meaning to how as kids we would argue with our parents and say, “All my friends are doing it” and our parents would counter, “If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do that, too?”
Sometimes the answer is, “Yes!”
Followers follow leaders, and when leaders “get it wrong,” followers may follow them off a theological cliff and “get it wrong” also. The result could be a spiritual disaster. That’s why leaders need to “get it right” as often as possible, and that’s the kind of example the Bible upholds for leaders in the church …
“This is a trustworthy saying: ‘If anyone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.’ So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach …” 1 Timothy 3:1-2a.
A life lived “above reproach” is one where we get it right more than we get it wrong as we rely on the power of Christ in us, and live for His glory. It’s also a life where a leader works hard in his studies to make sure he can get it right …
“Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth,” 2 Timothy 2:15.
The need to deliver sermons, lessons, counsel, and an example that “correctly explains the word of truth” requires significant time in prayer, in studying the Bible, and in relying on the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and leadership in the lives of leaders. Not only do authentic Christian leaders deeply desire to rightly shepherd Christ’s sheep, but they understand the sobering reality that they will be held accountable for their influence in the lives of their followers (and because of that, scripture admonishes Christians to obey their leaders!) …
“Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. that would certainly not be for your benefit,” Hebrews 13:17.
“Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly,” James 3:1.
The first sentence of James 3:2 is important for all us to remember: “Indeed, we all make many mistakes …”
Church leader, as long as you’re alive, you won’t always get it right. But do your best! As scripture says, work hard to be a good worker so that you don’t have to be ashamed about your leadership and so that you can correctly explain (and model!) the word of truth.
And Christians, remember that we ALL make mistakes. Express grace to your leaders when they make a mistake, just as they are gracious with you. PRAY FOR THEM, because it’s a tough thing to need to be right consistently so that they can consistently lead you rightly. Watch that you don’t place so many demands on them that take away from their time in prayer, study of the Bible, and their personal walk with God.