We think of church leadership as mature, godly and self-starters. They read the Bible for themselves and do not need to be spoon-fed. They know how to pray, have the confidence of the membership, and are able to counsel others.
However, church leaders need something that only the pulpit can give, and that is a regular diet of the staples of ministry. Those staples—the essentials—include the following:
1. The holiness of the church. The church is the body of Christ, the bride of Jesus, and the one institution on earth to which He has committed His gospel.
“I will build my church,” Jesus said in Matthew 16:18. It is His, He owns it, and He is its chief operator.
Anyone called into a leadership position in the Lord’s church would do well to seek His will concerning every decision. “What will you have us do?” is the only prayer that matters.
What we do for the church, we are doing for Jesus. If we bless the people of the Lord, we are blessing Him, and that is good. And if we mess with the church—its unity, its harmony, its mission—we are messing with the Lord Jesus Himself, and that is not good.
Those who work in the church regularly for years sometimes lose the sacred nature of their labors and are tempted to see the church as theirs and the work as a daily grind. The pastor’s sermons can focus on the way the Lord Jesus is honored when people do for His body—His people—ministries that honor and bless. Hebrews 6:10 and Matthew 10:40-42 speak to this.
2. The strategic role of prayer. The church goes forward on its knees. The leadership must live by faith, seeking His will for this work and asking for His resources and strength in order to accomplish it.
Prayer is the greatest expression of faith any believer will ever demonstrate. “He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1). “At all times”—that is the imperative of prayer. “Not to lose heart” is the alternative to prayer.
Activists for the Lord—and church leaders are nothing if not that—sometimes get so involved in the busy daily aspects of this work that prayer becomes secondary and eventually optional. From that point on, their ministry loses something vital and steadily declines in effectiveness.
Pastors should demonstrate effective prayer as a vital element in their own ministry and preach it to the membership.
3. The importance of staying in the Word of God. God’s Word is profitable for doctrine—what we believe as Christ-followers; profitable for correction—how we constantly tweak our life direction to please the Father; profitable for rebuke—addressing the errors we find in teachings of others; and profitable for equipping the saints for ministry—guidance in what to do and how to do it (2 Tim. 3:14-17).
A church member who was active in a mid-echelon leadership role in a church I was serving said to me, “I don’t know what the Bible teaches, but I know what I believe.” I could not mask my horror at such an immature statement. One wonders how many others in the Lord’s work would say the same thing if they were honest.
Leaders must never teach their convictions or opinions, but the Word of the Lord. To do this, they must live in it: “Blessed is the man ... who meditates in [that Word] day and night. He shall be like a tree” (Ps. 1).
Church leaders face the same temptations to neglect daily Bible study as the rest of the congregation. The world tells you it’s out of date, the flesh tells you it’s boring, and the devil says you have read it and already know what it says. Those three—the world, the flesh and the devil—are all liars, dead-set on stopping your growth in Christ and your effectiveness among His people. Don’t let that happen!
4. Leaders need regular challenges to go deeper into study and growth. I’m haunted by Jeremiah’s statement that the prophets “prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it so” (Jer. 5:31). The members of the congregation may grow too complacent with shallowness and platitudes, and need challenge. However, the leaders deal with the same temptation. They may find a level of biblical understanding that satisfies their needs and find no reason to go deeper. Not good, and it’s the pastor’s job to keep encouraging them to dig down deeper. As the wonderful old hymn puts it, “There’s more, so much more.”
The apostle Paul warned Timothy that in the last days, church people will want their ears tickled and “will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Tim. 4:3).
We who teach and preach enjoy hearing a “well done” and even “you’re the best ever” from those who receive what we have to offer. But we must beware of growing addicted to that stuff. Eyes on the Lord, my friends!
5. You are called to do actual work. Scripture calls us laborers (Matt. 9:38). The church member was waiting in ambush for his new pastor (me). He pointed out his framed seminary degree and the various certificates that he’d been given for attending training for this or that. “They won’t let me serve, pastor,” he said. “I’m available, but no one will let me do anything in the church.”
I was determined to correct this injustice. The next morning, however, the associate pastor gave me the other side of this story. That gentleman had been given various positions in the church over the years: “He killed the bus ministry. And when we put him in charge of the senior adults, he ruined that.” What that gentleman wanted, I learned, was an office with a title so he could feel like he was somebody, could throw his weight around and issue orders. The church wisely did not let him serve.
Scripture nowhere calls God’s people who lead the churches by titles such as executives, advisers, consultants or experts. Plenty identify us as laborers and servants—bondservants, even, which is akin to a slave.
6. We are servants of Jesus and must not look to one another for appreciation, recognition or reward. “To his own master a servant stands or falls,” Paul said in Romans 14:4. “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col. 3:24).
No parable the Lord told speaks to this desire for recognition more than Luke 17:7-10. We pastors should meditate on this often for our own souls and keep its lesson before our people. “When you have done everything which I commanded you, say [to yourselves], ‘I am only an unworthy servant.’” He did not say God feels this way about us or that we should treat each other as unworthy servants (see 1 Cor. 16:16, 18).
The surest recipe for frustration and disappointment is to expect others to appreciate what we are doing for Jesus. (Do not miss the irony in that. We do it “for Jesus” and then expect thanks from others!)
“Whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23).
Ever heard of a teacher or church worker resigning because they say, “I put in 25 years and no one ever thanked me”? Ask any pastor.
We must keep the standard before them. I will go so far as to say being overlooked at recognition time is a great discipline for any of us. We learn in a heartbeat the motives for our labors.
7. Leaders must always be training their successors. Paul told Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
One temptation that a successful Bible teacher must deal with is the thrill of having a large class filled with eager students. On the surface, this looks great. The problem is a teacher can become territorial (“That’s my class!”) and refuse to allow the class to be divided in order to continue its growth. Such a teacher may be threatened by bright class members who show signs that God is calling them to become teachers in their own right.
The only thing a pastor (and by this we mean all the ministers of the church!) can do is to keep this teaching before leaders from the first. If a new teacher goes into a class knowing that his/her responsibility includes finding potential teachers and discipling them, many problems can be stopped in their tracks.
How does one recognize a “faithful class member”? I suspect it’s a little like the advice we give people about being in love: “You’ll know it when it happens.” They are like the cream of a rich harvest, rising to the top. Teachers should constantly pray the Holy Spirit will make them sensitive to whatever is going on in the lives of their members, good or bad.
Have we covered the entire gamut of things church leaders need to have kept before them? Not even close. But these seven are a good starting place. The Holy Spirit will nudge the faithful pastor/teacher about other areas which pertain to the local situation.
I keep thinking of additional points to add! (Sorry. But, let’s do this one final one.)
We must keep reminding leaders that they set the pattern for all who look to them and must not fall prey to the temptation that says, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Leaders should participate in the activities of the entire church, faithfully give their tithes and offerings (with the understanding that no one but themselves, the Lord and the financial secretary will know!) and keep themselves pure in their personal lives from anything that would taint their souls and dilute their effectiveness if it were known.
“Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
Keep thanking the leaders, pastor. Everything—literally, everything—depends on them doing their work well. No quarterback wins a game alone.
You knew that, but I’m a preacher. My spiritual gift is saying the obvious (smiley face goes here).
Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.
For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.