Christian Living, Ministry

When the Leader Speaks

After a recent meeting with our leadership team, one of them mentioned how he thought we had a good group. He had heard about church board meetings that involved a lot of yelling and screaming and said with confidence that we should not have to worry about that.

Another team member told a couple of stories from his experiences in those meetings, and agreed with the first’s assessment that we currently have a great group. He also mentioned how one of those big boardroom fights led to innocent families being pushed out of the church.

That’s when I gave the same two-cents I usually share in a discussion like this. It’s the pastor’s job to make sure those situations are as close to non-existent as possible. One way to do that is to be a strong leader, willing to put your foot down. Some things just aren’t up for debate. The senior leader, whether it’s a pastor in a church board or the chairman of a business organization, has to be willing to say so.

Jesus reminded us how we are different from the world.

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44 NIV).

Worldly leaders tend to feel like task-masters. They make demands. They micro-manage. From their perspective, everything you say and do had better benefit them and make them look good.

But leaders in the Church should remember Jesus’ words. Those at the front must be servants. The trick is to find a way to lead by serving, but still maintain the authority required to lead. Because without authority, there is no such thing as leadership.

[tweetthis]#Christian #leadership has to lead by serving but maintain the #authority required to lead.[/tweetthis]

One huge attack on the authority of church leadership is the democracy we champion in our nations. We have learned over time to allow the path of the whole to be determined by a majority vote. To allow one person or even a small group to direct the fate of all is considered tyranny.

The same concept found its way into the Church and brought in the congregational style of leadership. A formal business meeting must be called to make decisions that affect the entire church, and those decisions are made by a vote of church membership.

While this has proven beneficial in some regards, it has stripped away the power of leadership. Should one person be able to make every decision? Of course not. But there are those moments when a debate or a vote aren’t necessary. They might even cause more harm than good.

When to take a stand

Any leader without authority cannot lead. When decision making, programming, and routine items have to be ratified by popular vote, the followers become the leader. The person who thinks they are leading is just a figurehead who brainstorms and draws attention for the organization. But the voting body is in charge.

What about those times when something comes up that is flat-out right or wrong? Does it have to be debated? Is a majority vote required? In these cases it is the leader’s responsibility to point out the right path and toss out any other options.

[tweetthis]It is #leadership’s responsibility to point out the right path and toss out any other options.[/tweetthis]

Here is where we do well to remember Jesus’ words. A worldly leader will play this card so frequently it will become the status quo. The leader wants what he wants and you’re going to give it to him or he will take it himself. He isn’t just the pastor, the team leader, or the manager. Now he is king, your lord, and you will do his bidding.

A good leader, though, knows that taking a stand for what is right at all costs is to be used only when necessary. Some reasons for taking this stand are:

  • To be biblical. First and foremost we must be people who live according to the Bible. It sounds easy, but it can get complicated. Yet when a situation comes into clear conflict with the Word of God, debate is not an option.
  • To defend our witness. Jesus said we are His witness, but the world pays far more attention to our actions than our words. One of the few times in recent years I took this step was to take advantage of open doors for our church to be a witness to the community.
  • To protect the flock. Our congregations are made up of both sheep and goats. The sheep are listening for Jesus and trying to get closer to Him. The goats are worried about themselves and use the church to build themselves up. Unfortunately, the goats tend to have more power in a church than is healthy, and they usually maintain it by slaughtering sheep. The senior leader has to be willing to stand up to the goats to protect the sheep.

Exercising spiritual authority

Believe it or not, this is how it worked in the Early Church. Though many were called together to discuss an issue, it sometimes came down to the senior leader making a personal judgment call for all to follow.

In Acts 15, the Apostles and other church leaders gathered in Jerusalem to discuss a divisive teaching. Some were telling non-Jewish believers they had to be circumcised, to become Jews, before they could really be followers of Jesus. Scripture says they debated with “much discussion”.

Each side was given their chance to speak. Former Pharisees gave argument for why it should be done. Peter and Paul talked about how God had already touched the non-Jewish people, so why did it matter? Finally, James gave his opinion.

“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19).

Did you catch those first few words? “It is my judgment.” He didn’t call for a vote. He didn’t let the debate get out of hand. Instead, he gave support from Scripture for his unilateral decision. We aren’t even told how many agreed or disagreed. The leader of the church had spoken, and it was the job of all to fall in line.

* * *

Spiritual authority has become so foreign to the Church today that we cringe at the concept of it. To take such action sounds strange in our world. But the authority of leadership doesn’t come with an iron fist. Such leadership, even if it is in the church, is still tyranny. Godly authority means recognizing the responsibility God has given one to lead, and choosing to lead the whole in the way that is right.