Perhaps one of the best ways of gaining perspective, to step back from the trees so that we can see the woods, is not to consider how a Christian should lead another Christian but how a Christian should lead a non-Christian.
How can we lead anyone to Christ? By exercising authority over them, by ruling over them? Of course not. A Christian leading a non-Christian to find Christ for themselves is not calling them to submit to the Christian’s authority but to the authority of Christ, to acknowledge Jesus is Lord over all they are and have. So why should anything change after they come to Christ? After they have become Christians, does it now become necessary to exercise authority or rule over them? Surely if anything, if they are now under His authority, any authority we could have is even more unnecessary. When John the Baptist’s disciples complained at John’s decreasing influence over the people he had led, his response was:
“He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase but I must decrease.”1
Any Christian leader should likewise “rejoice greatly” when any new member of the bride of Christ is able to hear the Bridegroom’s voice for him or herself – that hearing should be nurtured and encouraged so they become less and less dependent on us. As we saw in the study on elders,2 in the section on “Counselling A New Testament King”, the goal of all leaders should be to aid every believer to personally hear Jesus, to recognise His voice and obey Him.
We will examine this more closely in the later study on “Prophets” but, in the meantime, we need to know that God has good reason for allowing false leaders – false apostles, false prophets, false teachers, false pastors, false counsellors – of all kinds to come amongst us:
“…for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the LORD your God…, listen to His voice, serve Him and cling to Him.”3
False leaders test our love for God and our obedience to His voice. Does God have too high an expectation of His people that He requires them to hear Him? Is He unaware of our limitations and failings? I don’t think so. And remember, the Deuteronomic test was under the Old Covenant; we are supposed to be in the better one.4
Every leader of the people of God has the same three ways to help the people to recognise the voice of God as any Christian has to help non-Christians:
(i) to be a witness to the truth
(ii) to persuade people of the truth
(iii) to be an example of the truth
Of course, any leader of the saints should hold at least two advantages over a leader of non-Christians. Firstly, he or she can always refer to the Scriptures as an objective standard of truth. Secondly, the saints should be more accustomed to listening for God’s voice. Accordingly, we should be more devoted to these ways.
(i) TO BE A WITNESS TO THE TRUTH
As familiar as ‘witnessing’ may sound, may I encourage you to resist the urge to skip through this section. It is such an integral and important feature of the Early Church’s way of working that I have devoted another complete study to it: Peacemaking – Only For the Mature. That study contains some of the most productive and helpful understanding of the ways of God that I have found for church discipline, i.e. in dealing with sin among the saints, as well as for reaching non-believers. Also, more details in Appendix C.
First, a definition: a ‘witness’ is a person who can state what he has seen, heard or knows and so serves to establish or prove something.5 What is definitive is their perception and expression of reality. A reliable witness is one who truly perceives reality and expresses it faithfully, whereas an unreliable witness either does not truly perceive reality or misrepresents it. Witnesses can be assessed by an objective standard.
So we see that just as leaders are defined by ‘the way’, so witnesses are defined by something that is outside of their control too: ‘the truth’. Accordingly, a witness has no need of authority as ‘the right to enforce obedience’.
As always, the prime example is Jesus Himself, ‘the faithful and true witness’. Just prior to the crucifixion, there is a very revealing dialogue between Pilate and Jesus6 in which we can clearly see the mind of Jesus, and not only His way of working but also the way in which He refused to work. Pilate asks Him:
“Are You the King of the Jews?”
Jesus, instead of answering him, asks Pilate why he is asking – is Pilate asking on his own behalf or is he merely repeating what others have wondered? Pilate denies any personal interest, and then asks Jesus why His own people are rejecting Him. Jesus replies
“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom was of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
What exactly is Jesus saying? Whereas natural kingdoms have to fight to enforce obedience, His kingdom is not of this kind but of a whole different order, so it requires that He works a different way. So Pilate asks again:
“So You are a king?”
Obviously Pilate wants to know. Jesus agrees He is, but adds:
“For this reason I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness of the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice”
What exactly is at issue here? As far as Pilate is concerned, it’s the authority of Jesus, because his own position as governor of Judea is affected. As far as Jesus is concerned, the truth itself is more important, since He is not about to enforce obedience.
His coming was not to take up His kingdom by force, since His kingdom does not work that way, but to bear witness to the truth, speaking to any willing to discern it. Pilate’s cynical response as he ends this interview shows that he does not even want to look:
“What is truth?”
Instead of looking for the truth and acting on it, Pilate’s concern is primarily to maintain his role as procurator by pleasing the populace, so although he knows Jesus to be innocent, he orders Him scourged. Later, he becomes fearful and asks Jesus yet again:
“Where are You from?”
Jesus, knowing that Pilate is unwilling to act on what he already knows, ‘gives him no answer’, but the Jewish authorities finally force him to act:
“If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar!”
Pilate knows that Jesus is their king, even ordering that inscription put on the cross. Why then did Jesus act this way towards him? Because He was living out the kingdom of God; He wanted Pilate to judge the truth and act accordingly, putting aside all considerations of position and popularity. Jesus could have taken up His rightful authority and enforced obedience but He refused to, being willing only to act as a witness thereby ensuring that Pilate had to judge for himself.
Jesus, the Leader of all leaders, actively avoided using His authority and was instead only ‘a witness’. A little later we will see how this applies to church discipline as this is usually the area that troubles leadership.
(ii) TO PERSUADE OF THE TRUTH
As already looked at in Hebrews 13:17, believers are urged to ‘be persuaded by your leaders’. This of course means that leaders are to persuade rather than command their hearers, but merely being persuasive is not enough. It must be the truth they are speaking persuasively, and it must be the truth to which the hearers are persuaded. Paul rebuked the Galatians for believing those who wanted them to be circumcised:
You were running well; who hindered you from obeying [lit. being persuaded by] the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.7
The writer of Hebrews tells us:
Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you.8
Leaders lead by ‘speaking the word of God’ and those not speaking the truth or the word of God should not be followed. The determining of whether what is being said is really the word of God cannot be by dogmatic assertion or decree, but requires a mutual cooperation:
(i) The leader, having found the way ahead or the required truth, must be willing to communicate it as accurately as possible, using all means to persuade his or her hearers
(ii) The hearers must be listening with a willingness to fully accept whatever they hear to be true.
This is perfectly exemplified by the Jews to whom Paul spoke at Berea:
Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether thesethings were so. Many of them therefore believed… 9
They were obeying the word of God through Isaiah:
To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn!10
God requires us to test everything we hear so that no false ‘light’ is accepted.
And now consider this: was it only noble-minded for the Berean Jews to listen this way before they actually put their trust in what they had heard? Having become Christians, were they then to have stopped listening and testing and simply become obedient to whatever any leader said to them? Of course not. How then can any Christian leader insist on having authority, the right to enforce obedience to themselves?
(iii) TO BE AN EXAMPLE OF THE TRUTH
After urging us to ‘remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you’, Hebrews 13:7 goes on to say:
… and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
This means leaders must be not only speaking the truth persuasively but also living out the truth so that it can be imitated. This is, after all, how God Himself gave us a perfect communication:
the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth… and He explained… 11
Paul wrote that persuasion is necessary but so is an open life:
Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are manifest to God, and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.12
‘Manifest’ here means ‘clear or obvious to the eye or mind’. The passage is taken from the NASB; the NEB translates it as: ‘to God our lives lie open, as I hope they also lie open to you in your heart of hearts’.
Peter also wrote plainly to those shepherding the flock of God that they should be ‘proving to be examples to the flock’.13 Much has been well taught on the ‘incarnational approach to mission’, to convince unbelievers in every nation on the earth, but we do not seem to have applied these truths at home in our churches, to believers. To live out the truth requires more than just a perception of truth or a head knowledge; it requires an attitude of heart and this attitude is perfectly exemplified in Jesus’ life.
LEADERS MUST BE SERVANTS, NOT WEAKLINGS
Christian leaders have only one option: if we want to lead, we must become and remain servants.
Does this mean then that we are to allow others to think little of us, to ignore or walk all over us? Well, yes and no. Jesus was Himself despised, ignored and crucified for walking this way but that was by unbelieving Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers. On the other hand, when it came to cleansing the Temple of corrupt traders, He drove them and their animals out and overturned their tables of money,14 hardly the actions of one of their servants. In this He was the consummate Servant of God, obeying God rather than man.
Likewise when Peter addressed the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira – they died as he revealed their lying to the Holy Spirit and prophesied God’s judgment as a faithful servant. When Paul and Silas were publicly beaten without trial in Philippi, they refused to leave town until the chief magistrates had acknowledged the injustice they’d done them.15 John the Baptist16 and Stephen17 were executed for serving up more truth than Herod and Herodias or the Sanhedrin wanted to hear.
These servants of God and man were humble and gentle but never weaklings or cowards. Jesus summed up His own attitude:
“I lay down My life… No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down…”18
Notice how He used His authority – He chose to lay it all down as and when the Father directed Him.
Paul offers some practical advice to Timothy on how to combat anyone thinking little of him:
Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe 19
So, to reiterate, if we don’t want to be servants, we cannot be Christian leaders. That’s Jesus’ own standard:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.”20
The words of Jesus to His developing leaders were unambiguous: they were not to rule, exercise authority, or be lords to the people of God, but to be servants. How then have we misread this so badly? Much of what we call ‘being a servant’ is not ‘being’ but merely role-playing, acting the part of a servant while inwardly we harbour the imperious desires of a king.
Consider our earlier example of the ceremony of the Pope washing the feet of the cardinals. Some may seek to justify the ritual because they see in it the history of Jesus – just as the Pope leaves his throne to wash the feet and then returns to the throne, they see that Jesus left His throne in glory in order to serve for a while before resuming His throne. This justification, however, ignores a very different time-span. What the Pope did, as I remember it on the television, lasted only a matter of minutes, though it may have taken longer unedited, whereas Jesus was a servant for all of His life on earth. He left the throne in order to be born as a human being:
Although He existed in the form of God… (He) emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient (to the Father’s will) to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him… that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.21
Jesus did not resume His throne until after the resurrection – He lived as a servant for thirty three years, If we as leaders are truly to walk in His steps, and this includes the Pope, we can not ‘visit’ being a servant for a short time while we sit as kings or lords over each other, both before and after that time of service. We are, as the preceding verse in Philippians says, to ‘have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus’22 for the length of our lives on the earth. We who are leaders are never to sit on thrones in relating to the people of God as thrones are inappropriate for servants; we are to encourage the people to ‘reign over sin and self’, and we are to be servants who enable them to do so.
Leadership in the kingdom – Pt 8 Conclusions
Everyone ‘knows’ that the greatest in the kingdom of God are to be servants yet much in our church structures actively deny and militates against that. Our words reveal the conflict – if leaders are to be servants in any more than name only, how can we have even considered describing their work in terms such as ‘ruling’ or ‘exercising authority? authority’? Read more>>
Judges: By Jeroen Bouman – http://www.icj-cij.org, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=946457
- John 3:29-30, emphasis added
- To be published as soon as we can.
- Deut 13:3-4, emphasis added
- Heb 8:6-13
- 1 John 1:1-4
- John 18:33-19:13
- Gal 5:7-8
- Heb 13:7
- Acts 17:11-12
- Isa 8:20
- John 1:14 & 18
- 2 Cor 5:11
- 1 Pet 5:3
- John 2:14-15
- Acts 16:36-40
- Mark 6:17-27
- Acts 6:12-7:60
- John 10:17-18
- 1 Tim 4:12
- Matt 20:25-26
- Phil 2:6-11
- Phil 2:5