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THE BIBLICAL QUALIFICATIONS OF

 SPIRITUAL LEADERS

 

  

Part One: The Training of the Twelve

 

 

Introduction

 

Although the teachings of Jesus are at the heart of the biblical instruction on preparing disciples for Christian leadership, there is a great deal of material in the rest of the Bible on spiritual leaders, their qualifications, their duties, and their limitations.  A close analysis of the relevant passages reveals the same predominant themes that appear in the Gospels.  This discussion, then, will correlate the most important texts to show how they clarify the fundamental qualifications for spiritual leadership.  Without sufficient correlation with the whole counsel of God, the criteria for spiritual leadership may be susceptible to arbitrary application.  But as the details emerge from all of Scripture, there remains no uncertainty about how the principles that our Lord taught must be applied.

What also becomes painfully clear in such a survey is the realization that truly biblical spiritual leaders are rare.  To be more precise, we must acknowledge that no one has ever completely measured up to all the biblical qualifications of leadership, except our Lord Jesus Christ, who thus remains the standard for spiritual leadership.  In view of this, it is absolutely imperative that all who seek to serve as leaders in the Church become just like Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth.  Because of this we may conclude that there can be no spiritual leadership without spiritual growth--indeed, the process of discipleship was designed to produce spiritual leaders.[1]  Moreover, those who are in positions of leadership must be vigilant to maintain their own  qualifications.

This discussion will begin with a brief review of Jesus= training of His disciples, draw in the relevant Old Testament passages to show the Scriptural basis for the teachings, and then trace the ideas through the writings of the apostles to show how the qualifications were finally formulated for the Church today.

 

Jesus= Training of His Disciples

Against the confusing background of the Jewish sects and their leaders, but with the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures as the standard, Jesus taught and trained His disciples to serve on His behalf throughout the world.[2]  The following ideas come immediately to one's attention when reading the narratives.

 

Calling

Jesus called His disciples to leave everything and follow Him.  The stories are familiar ones--He came to each of them and drew them to Himself to learn from Him.[3]  As He trained them He sent them out with instructions to preach the message of the kingdom (Mark 3:14,15), giving them the power to do His mighty works and proclaim reconciliation through the forgiveness of sins (John 20:23; Luke 24:47; Matt. 18:18). As He called them to follow Him, however, He cautioned them that the cost of discipleship would be great, as subsequent teachings were to explain (Luke 9:57-62; Luke 14:27).

 

Faith

The disciples responded to Jesus= call because they believed that He was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  That, of course, is the absolute essential of the Christian faith. But beyond that Jesus taught His disciples to believe, to have faith. Frequently when Jesus did something marvelous He used it to instruct them in faith, as with the incident with the fig tree in Mark 11:22.  And He tested their faith on frequent occasions, such as when He calmed the storm and asked them, AWhy are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?@ (Mark 4:34-41). Some of their early attempts at ministry met with failure because their faith was weak (Mark 9:29).  But in the end their faith grew, and it was commended by Jesus--although He added that those who would believe without seeing what they had seen would be more blessed (John 20:29). It was clear from beginning to end that doing the Lord's work demanded great faith.

Prayer was the divinely instituted means of turning faith into performance. The ministry of Christ Himself required much prayer: He often spent the night in prayer or arose a great while before dawn to pray (Luke 6:12); He prayed also for Peter (Luke 22:31); and in His last hours He agonized in prayer in the garden. But the most striking example of His ministerial prayer life is the high priestly prayer found in John 17.[4]

Not only did Jesus demonstrate the importance of prayer by praying, He taught His disciples how to pray (Matt. 6:9-15; Luke 11:2-4), and those prayers were to include their enemies (Luke 6:27). If the disciples were to be successful in their spiritual service, they would have to pray with great faith.  After all, spiritual service is a supernatural work.

 

Authority

The emphasis throughout the Gospels is that Jesus alone is and has the authority; not only must His disciples learn from Him, they must follow Him in obedience.  According to Matthew 23 there is only one authoritative teacher--the Christ.  His teachings were immediately recognized as authoritative, over and above the scribes (Matt. 7:29).  Of course, His authority was in His divine nature and mission: AI have authority to lay it [my life] down and to take it up again@ (John 10:18).  His ministry on earth showed that He had power over nature, over demons, over the nation=s leaders; and His miracles showed that He had the authority to forgive sins. The fact that His death and resurrection form the basis of the Christian faith clearly requires that He be given first place (Matt. 10:37-39). Consequently, those who minister today must minister in the name of Christ.[5]

 

Ministry

When the Lord called the disciples He called them to minister. He promised to make them fishers of men (Mark 4:19), telling them to go to the needy rather than to the self-righteous (Mark 9:12), and calling for them to pray for additional laborers for the harvest (Mark 9:38).  As they went they were to take no material possessions, but to depend on the Lord=s provisions (Mark 6:6-11). At the heart of their message was the Lord=s warning, ARepent . . . or perish@ (Mark 6:8-11; Luke 13:15). So with the Great Commission the Lord sent them into all the world to preach the Gospel, to teach people to observe all things, and to baptize them into the faith (Matt. 28:19-20).  Of course, they were to wait for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit to give them the power to be His witnesses (Acts 1:4).

When Jesus commanded His followers to Amake disciples@ (Matt. 28:19), He was calling them to extend the work that He had been doing. To train disciples required a knowledge of the Scriptures, and so He spent a good deal of time explaining the Word of God.  At times He rebuked them for not knowing the Scriptures. But in the final analysis He would be able to commission them to feed His sheep (John 21:15-17).  Teaching the truth would be necessary because there would be false prophets (Matt. 7:15).  And although the disciples would be like sheep among wolves (Matt. 10:16), if they faithfully sowed the seed they would see spiritual growth (Matt. 13). Moreover, Jesus would send them the Holy Spirit who would guide them into all truth and ensure that their teachings about the person and work of Jesus were not only the truth but the central focus of their ministry.  Ultimately their preaching and teaching would bring people to faith in Him and then build them up in the faith so that they might be devout worshipers and witnesses of the Lord (John 4:23; Matt. 28:19).

 

Sanctification

In His high priestly prayer Jesus prayed that His disciples would be sanctified through the Word of God (John 17:17).  In His ministry He taught them that they had to abide in Him for fruitfulness, i.e., to produce righteousness (John 15). And, if they were going to call Him ALord,@ they would have to obey His commandments (Luke 4:26). Jesus modeled the life of righteousness for His disciples, a life of holiness, wisdom, maturity, and confidence--so to be righteous was to be like Jesus Christ. He associated with sinners and self-righteous people alike, but He never sank to their level--He always maintained His integrity. Often He warned His disciples against the many forms of corruption and hypocrisy and immaturity in the religious leaders (Matt. 23:13-39).[6] 

 

Christ-likeness

What discipleship essentially boils down to is being like the Master.  Two themes best capture what this would be like.  The first is servanthood.  Jesus set the pattern by declaring that He had not come to be served but to serve (Matt. 20:26-28).  He taught the disciples not to lord it over others as the pagans did (Luke 22:26), but to be willing to serve (John 13:13,14) without worrying who would be the greatest in the kingdom (Matt. 18:1-5).  He warned against making an ostentatious show of giving, praying, and fasting (Matt. 6:1-8); rather than seeking acclaim (Matt. 23:5-7), or seeking titles and respect (Matt. 23:8-10), the disciples were to seek a life of humility (Matt. 23:11) as recipients of grace.  They were not to rejoice over any power they enjoyed, but over their salvation (Luke 10:20). John the Baptist exemplified the attitude of a servant effectively: AI am not a prophet . . . [but] a voice@ (John 1:23); and AHe must increase, but I must decrease@ (John 3:30).  Clearly, those who minister for Christ must be servants, characterized by sincere humility.

Christlikeness not only would lead to servanthood, but to sacrificial love.  The life of Jesus demonstrated to the disciples that the ministry would be a costly one of sacrifice.  It was driven by deep compassion for the lost, the poor and the needy; and it found its fullest expression in the crucifixion--the greatest demonstration of divine love.  Peter explained that in His death Jesus left His followers an example of how to suffer in the service of God (1 Pet. 2:21).  Jesus= life was perfectly balanced in its temperament: with the disciples He was longsuffering, gentle, gracious, rebuking in love; but with the leaders who exhibited self-righteousness and wickedness He was often filled with righteous indignation (John 2:12-25).

In training the twelve, then, Jesus made it clear that those who were to become spiritual leaders had to have been called by God, were not only to be believers in Him but to have a living faith, had to know wherein the authority lay and be obedient to it, were to maintain the proper focus in ministry of doing evangelism and training disciples in the Word of God, must follow after righteousness, wisdom, and holiness as true worshipers of God, and were to pattern their lives after His life as servants of the Lord who would be characterized by self-sacrificing love.


 

     [1]Jesus made disciples in order to send them out to make disciples (Matt. 28); and Paul instructed Timothy that he might in turn instruct others.  This is the pattern that the faith follows.

     [2]In a short work like this it is not possible to develop adequately all the relevant ideas; works like Bruce's The Training of the Twelve (Grand Rapids: 1971 Kregal reprint of the 1984 edition) would be a good place to start in the reading on the subject.

     [3]The Hebrew word for "disciples" is talmidim, literally, "learners."  The task of making disciples is that of finding and training those who will learn the teachings of the Master and be able to teach others.

     [4]See Marcus Rainsford, Our Lord Prays for His Own (Chicago: Moody Press, n.d.).

     [5]The significance of "name" in the Bible is great. In the Old Testament "name" (shem) represents the nature, or with God, the divine attributes (see Ex. 34:5-7).  To speak in the name of the LORD would include the ideas of speaking on His behalf, speaking what He would speak were He here, and speaking by faith in the full power of the LORD.  To minister in the name of Christ, then, would be to acknowledge that the work is His, that any success derived is due to His power, and that we are accountable for our part to Him.

     [6]The points that Jesus made in announcing the woes on the Pharisees were: (1) religious activity not based on Christ was worthless (Mt. 23:13); (2) making proselytes to the traditions of men was hypocritical (v. 15); (3) manipulative handling of Scripture was wrong (vv. 16-22); (4) to be more concerned with the letter of the Law than the spirit was to miss the point (vv. 23-24); (5) external ritual without internal cleansing was hypocritical (vv. 25-26); (6) to prevent development in others while harboring sin in oneself was foolish (vv. 27-28); and (7) to honor the righteous while hating them was hypocritical (vv. 29-32).