We believe God changes hearts, and behavior. He gives his Spirit. He works in and through us to progressively conform us to the image of his Son. We expect more of officers in the church, and we should. And as officers in the church, we not only take up the mantle of leadership with sobriety, but with the ambition to show the church, and the world, that Christ calls for a different kind of leader.
Leadership has fallen on hard times. As a society, we are suspicious of our leaders, often assuming they will use their power for selfish gain, rather than our good. That makes these fearful days for taking and holding office, not just in business and politics, but also in the church.
Some of our suspicion is well-founded. Stories of use and abuse travel faster and further than ever on the rails of modern media. And Christians, of all people, know that, apart from Christ, “none is righteous; no, not one.” How surprised should we be to have it confirmed over and over again?
Yet it is right for us to have and hold higher standards in the church. We believe God changes hearts, and behavior. He gives his Spirit. He works in and through us to progressively conform us to the image of his Son. We expect more of officers in the church, and we should. And as officers in the church, we not only take up the mantle of leadership with sobriety, but with the ambition to show the church, and the world, that Christ calls for a different kind of leader.
Several New Testament texts give us snapshots of Christian leadership that are plainly distinct from prevailing paradigms in the world (among them Mark 10:42–45; Acts 20:18–35; 1 Timothy 3:1–13; 2 Timothy 2:22–26; Titus 1:5–9), but the place I turn most often, and enjoy inviting others into, is 1 Peter 5:1–5. Oh, may God be pleased in our day to raise up and sustain pastors like this, the kind of pastor we all want.
1. Men Who Are Present and Accessible
Peter begins, “I exhort the elders among you . . . : shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:1–2). He says it twice in just one sentence. The pastor-elders (two terms for the same office in the New Testament) are among the people, and the people are among the elders. Together they form one church, one flock.
Good pastors are first and foremost sheep, and they know it and embrace it. Pastors do not comprise a fundamentally different category of Christian. They need not be world-class in their intellect, oratory, and executive skills. They are average, normal, healthy Christians, serving as examples for the flock, while among the flock, as they lead through teaching of God’s word and making wise collective decisions. Their hearts swell to Jesus’s charge in Luke 10:20: “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Their first and most fundamental joy is not what God does through them as pastors but what Christ has done (and does) for them as Christians.
Good pastors, therefore, are secure in soul and not blown left and right by the need to impress or to prove themselves. They are happy to be as normal a Christian as possible, modeling mature, healthy Christianity, not a cut above the congregation.
Another way to say it is that such pastors are manifestly humble. After all, Peter charges “all of you” — elders and congregants — “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5). Healthy churches are eager to clothe themselves in humility toward pastors who have led the way in dressing with humility.
Such pastors are not just humble in theory but practice. They are present in the life of the church and accessible. They invite and welcome and receive the flock. They don’t pretend to shepherd God’s flock in all the world, but focus on the one “that is among you” — those assigned to their charge — and they delight to be among that flock, not removed or distant.
2. Men Who Work Together
One of the most important truths to rehearse about pastoral ministry is that Christ means for it to be teamwork, not a one-man show. As in 1 Peter 5, so in every context in which local-church pastor-elders are mentioned in the New Testament, the title is plural. Christ alone sits atop the church as Lord. He means for his undershepherds to labor, and thrive, as a team.
Mature congregations don’t want an untouchable leader, perched high atop the church in his pulpit, safely removed from accountability and the rough-and-tumble exchanges of opinion that make for wisdom. The kind of pastors we long for in this age are good men with good friends — friends who love them enough to challenge their preferences, hold them to the fire, and make life both harder and better, both more uncomfortable and more fruitful.