60. Church Leadership (1)

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  60.  Church Leadership (1)

Heb 13:7   Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

We now backtrack to pick up on the subject of church leadership which comes up twice in chapter 13, here and then later in verse 17 onwards. Because there is a different thrust in the two parts on leadership, we will consider them separately. In this study we will just consider the things that flow out of this verse.  Our verse above has three instructions within it.

Remember your leaders: Now this seems so simple as being beyond need for comment, but in reality I wonder how often we, the church members, actually think about the lives of those in leadership in the church. Having been a church leader for over twenty five years I cannot remember any time when someone has said to me, “Tell me what it is like being a church leader?” I suggest we take for granted those in leadership, whether the one-man minister or the team of elders. This is a call to be aware of them and to think about them – and not merely for the purpose of gossiping about them; this is to understand them and what they have to go through.

Consider the outcome of their way of life: Now within these few words there are two things. First there is, “their way of life”, then there is the call to consider the outcome of that way of life. Let’s consider them both. (I hope each of these things are realities – they may not be always – they were for me). First, this way of life is a calling from God. You are a church leader because God calls you to it, and you are answerable to Him.

Second, you are called to look after, protect and care for the people of God and that is a twenty four hour occupation. The church is on your heart and with you in your thoughts every moment of every day. With a secular job you can perhaps leave it behind at the end of the day; that doesn’t happen when you are a church leader with a calling.

In his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul spells out the sort of people, they are to be, these leaders, these elders, these overseers, their personal characteristics. They “must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” (1 Tim 3:2-7) In general terms, within those verses, the leader has to be a mature Christian, a family man who cares for his wife and trains his children (and that comes before his role as a leader!) We could suggest that most of these requirements are the same for any Christian husband and father, but the point is that this leader should be an example to the rest of the flock. How can he teach these things if he doesn’t do them himself?

Imitate their faith: There it is, what we’ve just said, the flock are to be able to see the lives of their leaders and see that they are worth following. Here is a man still happily married after twenty five years, say, who has three children (say) who appear to thoroughly enjoy being part of this family. This is a different experience from so much of modern life.  I think there is something in the power of testimony that sets vision for others – I could do that, our family could be like that.

This word ‘imitate’ comes up a number of times in the New Testament and the truth is that each of us is supposed to be ‘a copy-cat’! “Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ.” (1 Cor 4:16,17)  When Jesus said, ‘Follow me’ it wasn’t just come and be where I am, and where I go, but also, become like me. The apostle Paul was saying the same thing. He had the confidence about his life that he wasn’t afraid to say, ‘Be like me, copy me, imitate me,’ and he was sending Timothy to the Corinthians to remind them what Paul was like. It is always easier to have a model before you rather than merely words.

More on Imitating: But Paul went further than that because he knew the ultimate goal: “Be imitators of God.” (Eph 5:1) But then it is not only imitate God and imitate the apostles but also imitate successful churches: “For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess 2:14) And yet it goes further than that because as we imitate the good role models, so we ourselves become role models for others: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” (1 Thess 1:6,7) The apostle John said it in its most basic form: “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good.” (3 Jn 1:11) See what is good and copy it.

A Warning – family first: Now there are dangers with these things and the first one is about putting ministry before family. After many years of watching the Church, I am absolutely sure that if we put ministry before family, we put our wife under unfair pressures and our children feeling rejected. How many times are there where wives and children of leaders are left feeling second-rate. This is wrong and leaders should get their priorities right.

A Warning – no secondhand Christians: There is a second danger here and it is that we become second-hand Christians. Yes, we are to copy God, copy the apostles, copy successful churches, copy what is good, but we are called first to be those who respond to the Holy Spirit. Yes, we can learn from all these others – and the teaching of the New Testament is vital in providing a basis for the nature of our lives – but I believe there is a danger with the number of Christian books on the bookshelves that we never have an original thought and try and replicate what happened to another famous Christian.

You are unique: That may have been how God dealt with that man or woman, or that particular church, but He was responding to and using the particular characteristics and experiences of that person, or that church, or that area. But the question is, what does God want to do with you as an individual, how does He want to use your church in its unique locality? Yes, all the general characteristics may be true for all of us – love, goodness, revelation, wisdom, power of the Spirit etc. – and we may have general common aims – to glorify God, be obedient, draw others to Him etc. – but how does He want those things to be used in us as individuals or us as a church?

Some goals for today? May I be presumptuous and suggest, to finish this study, three characteristics that I believe all church leaders need today – vision, faith and wisdom.  Vision is about catching sight of the sort of people God calls us to be through the New Testament (and not relying on ‘what is’). Faith is the capacity to hear God and rise up in anticipation of being able do His will that He reveals to us. Wisdom is the knowing how to ‘do the stuff’ and combat the tactics of the enemy, the practicalities of everyday warfare and Christian living.  If you are part of a church where these things are obvious, that is wonderful, but if not, then prayer and grace and humility are the first three ingredients to be used in bringing those things into being in our leaders.

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Sins of the Past

WALKING WITH GOD. No.36

1 Kings 15:26 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD , walking in the ways of his father and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit.”

There is a saying, ‘like father, like son’ with the implication that a son will follow his father. There may have been something of that thought behind the Lord’s words at Sinai, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Ex 20:5). The reality was that there could be three or even four generations alive at any one time, and if that was so it implied two things. The first, was that the father (who became a grandfather or even great-great grandfather) was the patriarch who was the authority over the family and who was thus responsible for the family before God. The second thing was, that the likelihood would have been that children followed their father’s example and so went the same wrong way as their father, and thus incurred the Lord’s anger. The balance was the verse that followed, “but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (v.6). Where the example was the love for God and that was passed from generation to generation, every generation could guarantee to know God’s love. That was the simple promise.

Now our verse above applies to Nadab, Jeroboam’s son, but it also applied to a number of other subsequent kings of Israel. In fact most of them! It tells us that Nadab followed in the footsteps of his father, doing the same wrong things, specifically allowing or encouraging Israel to worship idols and not the Lord. Now when we did the meditation on Jeroboam being given the ten tribes of the north, we noted the potential that was there for him, to live out a life of blessing as he followed the Lord having been given a throne at God’s instigation. It was a completely new chapter opening up before him that invited him to walk the walk with God and be blessed. Instead he walked his own walk and received censure. Now when it comes to his son, he doesn’t HAVE to walk the same walk. Every son has the potential to walk a fresh walk with God. He doesn’t HAVE to go the same way his father went. This is another aspect of the whole thing about free will. Because we have free will we do not HAVE to walk the same walk as our parents. There is a very important lesson here for many of us.

Now the truth is that we do have the same genes as our parents but all that means is that in a variety of ways we will have a tendency to be like them, but please note it is purely a tendency. You don’t HAVE to be the same. We each have the ability, and especially when we walk with the Lord, to walk a new path. We can learn from the weaknesses or failures of our parents, and with God’s help we can ensure we don’t go the same way as they went. Where there are good things to follow, then of course we will want to imitate them, but the bad or negative things we want to reject.

One of the things about parents, is that because we were so close to them (geographically if not emotionally) they are there as an object lesson for us and we can never say, “Well I never knew.” We did; they were there, right in front of us. Their weaknesses or failures were obvious to see and we should have learnt from them, so that we don’t go the same way. Where they were a good example to us, we have an even bigger responsibility to follow their example because we can see the goodness of the way they walked. We can never say to God, “I didn’t see,” because that only shows our foolishness that was blind to the goodness before us which we obviously took for granted!

That is what lies behind the verse above. It is a terrible indictment, upon Jeroboam but also upon Nadab. It says that Jeroboam was foolish but Nadab was doubly so because he had had the opportunity to watch his father and ponder on what he was doing. A son is, if you like, on the sidelines watching his father, and because he is on the sidelines, he has the opportunity to think about what his father is doing and come to a right assessment about it.

So how about our own situations? When we look at the lives of our parents, are we able to be grateful for the goodness of their lives and do we follow the example of their goodness, or do we take it for granted and even reject it? Or is the opposite true? Do we look at the lives of our parents and feel sad for the sort of people that they were, perhaps struggling with the pain they inflicted on us. It happens. But if it did happen, have we learnt from it, so that we avoid going down the same path? It is sometimes said that someone who has been abused in childhood finds an abuser partner. It doesn’t have to be! If we are Christians the power of God is there so that we are released from our past history and can live out new lives with Him – but we have to believe it! What is the lesson that is coming out of this verse? You don’t have to be bound by your past. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!(2 Cor 5:17). Believe it!