CHARACTERISTICS of SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP
These are the biblical characteristics of spiritual leaders; they are also the biblical characteristics of all mature Christians--who should be leaders. No one has perfectly met all these standards, but those who lead the household of faith should be close on most of them, and constantly growing in all of them, thereby being able to pull others along the line toward Christian maturity. In the process of ordination or the examination of candidates for ministry positions, these are the areas that are looked at most carefully. The Ared flags@ are serious problems that must be given attention before any position of leadership is assumed.
THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
Spiritual leaders should have a strong and active faith, sold out to the reality of the truth and the power of God, committed to the faith; they must be devoted to prayer; people should find encouragement, comfort and hope in them.
(Red flags: they do not pray for themselves or for others, or they do it very nominally or only officially; they are overly tolerant of other religions or false teachings; they are uncertain in their faith, or have no vision).
Spiritual leaders must know enough to minister to people; they must know the contents of the Bible, theology, its ramifications, how others understand it, and how it is to be used; they must know the traditions of the Church, the heresies, and the current issues the Church faces.
(Red flags: they are ignorant of the contents of the Bible; unable to think theologically or to use the Scriptures in theological discussion; indifferent to spiritual growth for their faith).
Spiritual leaders must exhibit a growth into Christ-likeness, be properly related to the Holy Spirit (=spiritual), and show the fruit of the Spirit; they must not live in bondage to sin, but be filled with the Spirit, seeking to live in obedience to God's Word; when they fail, they must confess and seek correction with the help of God's people, so that all may learn what it means to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord.
(Red flags: they show no concern for spiritual growth but actually may be living a worldly existence, if not with unconfessed and uncorrected sin; they show no evidence whatsoever of the sanctifying affect of the Holy Spirit in their lives).
Spiritual leaders with a strong faith that is growing in the Word will be devout worshipers; they are responsible for leading corporate worship and inspiring family worship; they must understand worship, its liturgy, music, ritual, the piety, and certainly what fellowship is all about; they must be leaders of the body of confessing believers.
(Red flags: they may have no sense whatever of how all of it works together and what it means; they may be more interested in other phases of the work than worship, which may be seen as a drudgery; they may be more given to programs than to developing spiritual gifts in a worshiping community).
Spiritual leaders must demonstrate that they are mature and maturing; they should be developing in wisdom, self-control, gentleness, and a well-balanced temperament; they should be respected by the Church and the community (even if not agreed with), and trustworthy; personality problems such as quarrelsomeness, quick-temper, bitterness, or the like must be given serious attention.
(Red flags: they exhibit frequent immature reactions and attitudes; they refuse to get help when counseled to do so; they have little respect).
6. HEALTHY FAMILY LIFE
Spiritual leaders must have cultivated proper marriage relationships; family life should be healthy, or at least clearly moving towards a solid standing; problems from extended family must be handled effectively for personal health; children should respond to authority with respect.
(Red flags: they may have a cavalier attitude to marriage-- whether or not it works put; they may show no remorse over past failures; they may refuse counseling and responsibility; they show no effort to train their children in the faith).
7. EFFECTIVE INTER-PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS
Spiritual leaders must be able to work with other people with patience and long-suffering; they must have administrative skills or see that such are present; they must be able to inspire or enable others to develop their gifts; they must be hospitable, personable, and gracious (social graces too); they must be good listeners, aware of life, and have a good sense of humor.
(Red flags: they do not like people, lack social grace, not very hospitable, unwilling to take time with people, or only want to preach to people).
SPIRITUAL SERVICE IN MINISTRY
8. SACRIFICIAL LOVE
Spiritual leaders are to be servants, submissive to those in authority, to one another, and to those in need; they must be willing to lay aside pride and prestige, and with genuine humility serve others rather than seek to be served; they must be forgiving and giving and passionate; people should be able to look to them for guidance in loving service.
(Red flags: they are arrogant; have a condescending attitude; want to be served; are hardly ever willing to put themselves out for others, or for lesser tasks; are too preoccupied with money and benefits).
9. ABILITY TO TEACH
Spiritual leaders must have developed exegetical abilities so that the Bible is interpreted correctly and applied accurately; they must demonstrate clear thinking and logical argumentation; they must have developed their communicative skills so that they are clear, interesting, relevant, and powerful; they must be good listeners and know their audiences.
(Red flags: their interpretations are often unfounded in the text; unable to explain the text; are ineffective in communication in writing or speaking).
7. MISSION AND EVANGELISM
Spiritual leaders must have an interest and active participation in the spread of the Gospel, especially through the task of preaching the Word, so that they might see people come to a saving faith in Christ and be discipled.
(Red flags: they cannot explain the Gospel in simple, clear terms; show no interest in the mission of the Church to the world; are unable to proclaim a message of reconciliation).
An additional brief word might be offered at this point concerning the need and procedure for corrective measures as part of the spiritual development process. It was one thing to lay out the biblical qualifications and deceptions, but it is another thing entirely to develop them with corrective measures.
The Need for Corrective Measures
There are four major areas that require such attention, and they may be encountered at any stage in the process towards ministry or in ministry itself. The four do not receive equal attention; in fact, in some groups none of them receive much attention.
1. Heresy. The boundaries of sound doctrine will have to be drawn very carefully in order to make this an operative concern. Nevertheless, if someone turns from the basic teachings of the Christian faith and begins teaching things contrary to the Word of God, then the Apostles are very clear that action must be taken to prevent it.
2. Violation of Holiness. This is a broad category for ethical and moral violations of the teachings of Scripture. Church readily focus on the moral difficulties; but there are many other issues in ethics and integrity that also must be addressed. Substance abuse would also belong in this range.
3. Personal Problems. Serious emotional, physical, or spiritual problems that hinder ministry must be addressed, whether it be anger, control, criticism, quarrelsomeness, depression, or the like. Marriage difficulties would fit under this heading, unless there was a problem of sin that led to it.
4. Incompetence. It would be hard to address this issue without close study and surveillance. But if someone is simply not producing, or if the work is dwindling and splitting, then remedial action must be taken. This difficulty may indicate another problem. Amazingly, almost no one is ever removed for this problem.
The Procedure for Correctives
Every situation will, of course, be different. However, there are several steps that should be followed to determine what action should be taken. The goal is certainly for correction and either continuation or restoration to ministry if at all possible. These steps provide a suggested order:
1. Confrontation. The issue must be met head on by the spiritual leaders, who must determine if the matter is a private or a public concern. Always the interest of the Church and all the people involved must be given top priority. The elders or overseers who bring the case to the person are seeking confession, compliance, and correction. We are just not good at this--we do everything to avoid it, as if confrontation is some sort of evil. We may even deal with the problem in another way, rather than a healthy way.
2. Cooperation. Much will be determined by the response to the issues brought to the person. If there is confession or compliance, a genuine concern for change, and a concerted effort to cooperate, then the whole process will take on a healing or renewal tone. But if their is denial, disagreement, or disputation, then something of a more stern approach will be needed, which may then require that the issue be brought up to the whole Church.
3. Correction. If the issue is a major issue, the correction may require the suspension of activities until the matter is taken care of; if it is a problematic issue, it may require a change of ministry once the process has been followed. However, if the person is unwilling to acknowledge the problem or to cooperate to make changes, then a suspension might be required which may amount to dismissal. But the point of the correction should be correction, not just punishment and removal (as if that will make the problem go away).
These are general statements, of course. However, I should think that a few observations might be helpful here to guide in further thinking. One, no one in ministry is free of the need for correction. The issues may not be threatening to ministry or major problems for the Church; but everyone needs such accountability so that errors and difficulties can be addressed and changed. Two, it is necessary for the spiritual life of the Church that everyone be growing spiritually through changes of attitudes and actions. Such assessments, however, must be done in love and humility. Three, the purpose is always for restoration, healing, or correction. People should work towards that end through prayer and counsel even if the persons involved do not seem at the time to cooperate.
There are four examples in the Old Testament that are instructive for this discussion, two of them led to reconciliation and two did not. They are dramatic stories from another time; but they do reveal the mind of God on the matter.
Joseph and His Brothers. The second part of the story of Joseph concerns his process of testing his brothers before being reconciled with them. The last he saw of them they were filled with anger, hatred, envy and murder--but they only sold him into Egypt. Now that he was in power in Egypt, now that the dreams of so many years earlier had come about, Joseph knew that there was a divine purpose behind it all--to preserve the family as the people God chose to bring the blessing to the nations. But if the brothers were still the same as they were, there was no reason to try to bring them together as the people of God. And so Joseph=s task was to test them to see if they were fit to be the leaders of the tribes of Israel. Testing for fitness, especially with a previous record of destructive behavior, was the responsibility of the chosen leader.
The first test was to awaken their consciences (Gen. 42). When the brothers came to Egypt to buy grain, Joseph accused them of being spies--the very thing he had been sent to do by his father. He managed to get the information about Benjamin from them, and so kept Simeon in prison in Egypt until they returned with Benjamin. Their money he put in their sacks. All this worked; on the way home when they found the money they realized something was at work. They remembered Joseph, and they began to accuse one another. It was all too much for them; it was as if years of pent up guilt were beginning to crack. This was a good beginning. They had consciences that were sensitive to what God appeared to be doing.
The second test was to trigger envy (Gen. 43). When the brothers returned to Egypt they brought Benjamin with them. Benjamin was the other son of Rachel, Jacob=s favorite son now that Joseph was gone, the son whom he tried to keep away from the brothers and their trip to Egypt. But Joseph now invited them to eat in the great hall with him and had them seated in the order of their ages--all of which puzzled them immensely. The high point of the test, however, was Joseph=s lavishing of gifts and provisions on Benjamin. They all rejoiced without a note of envy. They appeared to have changed.
The third test was to see if they would abandon another of Rachel=s sons to Egypt (Gen. 44). The cup was put in Benjamin's sack so that when discovered he would be the servant of Joseph. But as it turned out Judah made a passionate appeal based on the pain of their father over the loss of Joseph--Judah offered himself in place of Benjamin. This was enough for Joseph; after he composed himself he revealed who he was to them. They had changed over the years; there was a spiritual side to them that triumphed over the evil. Consequently, they would share in the leadership. And the scepter would rest with Judah, who was willing to lay down his life for his brother.
One cannot build a ministry with people who are filled with anger, envy, malice, strife, and hatred. But if they change, if they exhibit guilt over the past sins, brotherly love, concern for their father, honesty and humility, then there is much to work with. In this story the reconciliation was complete because Joseph acted responsibly and the brothers gave evidence of repentance.
Eli and His Sons. In the book of 1 Samuel we have the rebuke of Eli the priest for his failure to admonish his sons for their wickedness. They were vile; they plundered the sacrificial offerings for their own desires, slept with the women at the doorway of the tent of meeting, and cursed God. Clearly, there was no faith and no righteousness there. 1 Samuel 3:13 says that the family was to be removed from office because Eli did not rebuke his sons. The word Arebuke@ is a rare word; it probably means something more than rebuke, for the man did rebuke his sons, albeeit too little and too late. The Greek translation used Aadmonish@ (noutheteo, to put in mind), a term that includes the positive instruction as well as the rebuke. Eli, like so many of the leaders of Israel, could not pass the faith on to their sons.
But Eli himself seems not to be in tune with God. He seems to have lived in the comfort of the sanctuary, gaining a lot of weight and not retaining his spiritual insight. When Hannah came to pray diligently for a child, he accused her of being one of the worthless daughters of Belial. He was quick to recover from his mistake, however. And later, when Samuel heard the call of God, Eli eventually (on the third time) realized it was the LORD, and would acquiesce to the message. Eli would soon die, his sons would be killed, the priesthood passed to a faithful family, and a new age for Israel would begin with Samuel.
Eli failed to rear his sons properly, grew tolerant of the evil that invaded the sanctuary, and could not discern true spirituality. Even if Eli had had years ahead of him, that is not the kind of High Priest God wanted. And his sons were certainly in no condition to succeed him. The ministry of this family was over. And as a final comment on the whole scene, when the ark was captured by the Philistines, the priest=s daughter named her child Ichabod, saying Athe glory has departed.@ In this case there was no reason for correction and restoration; an irresponsible and weak father with evil sons had forfeited their right to lead. The good of the congregation was at stake here. It was time for a change.
David and Bathsheba. Now we may look at a king who failed, but was retained in office after being forgiven. The story is a familiar one (2 Sam. 11,12). David broke many laws in this brief period of time and under the Law should have been put to death. But because his repentance and contrition were genuine, God forgave him. He would be retained as king, but the fallout of his crimes would haunt him throughout the rest of his administration. Here we may see that even though reconciliation is always possible, and restoration to service with God=s blessing a reality, the effects of sin may linger for years to come (forgiveness does not prevent the fallout).
King Saul had sinned previously, and he was removed from office by Samuel. Yet his sins do not seem as grievous as David=s. What was the difference? The clue seems to be in the heart of David--God looks on the heart, and he chose David, a man after His own heart. There are three indications of David=s spiritual nature that were missing in Saul. First, David had a great faith that would take risks. In the story of David and Goliath we find a prime example of this. Saul was hiding in his tent, this champion of Israel; and David, the youth, went out to meet Goliath Ain the name of the LORD.@ Second, when they sinned, they both confessed, but there was a difference. Saul tried first to blame others, to explain away his sin; but David simply made full confession for sin in deep contrition (Ps. 51). And third, when everything seemed to go against them, the two acted differently. David held steadfastly to the faith; he wrote and sang psalms in which he poured out his heart to God; but Saul went to the witch of Endor, a major violation of the Law. There was in the heart of David great faith, deep contrition, and loyal devotion. Consequently, even with his terrible sins, God would forgive and continue to use this man to His glory. We learn here that it is not the sin, per se, but the attitude and response one has to it. And that attitude and response reflects the whole spiritual life.
The Young Man of God and the Old Prophet. And now a prophet who disobeyed and lost his life. The sad story is in 1 Kings 13. A young man of God from Judah was called to go into the northern kingdom and rebuke the false worship of Jeroboam. This he did triumphantly, even though the king first tried to have him arrested, and then tried to buy him off. But the man had been instructed not to turn aside in the land--get in, deliver the message, and get out. That was the clear word from God.
But on the way home as he was resting he was met by an old prophet. This old man had apparently sold out to Jeroboam, for his sons had been at the sanctuary and witnessed the confrontation, and he himself had not fled from the evil of the king. But he appears to have been longing for fellowship from a true prophet--the good old days when he used to serve faithfully (why did God not call him to confront the king?). He lied to the young man to get him to come home with him, saying the word of the LORD had come to him. But when they got there the word did truly come, and denounce the young man=s disobedience. Later he was killed by a lion, and the old prophet buried him and mourned for him.
Not only was it critical for the prophet of God to obey the LORD, in these times it was most important to have nothing to do with this false worship of Jeroboam, his priests, or his prophets. The punishment was swift, without confrontation or a chance for correction; the failure to discern the lying prophet and the disobedience of God=s clear word cost him his life. It would not have been so swift at other times (for many other prophets did worse); but the nation was on the verge of embracing idolatry, and the message had to be sounded very clearly. God requires obedience from those who speak for Him.
So in these four cases we see a host of circumstances that have to be taken into consideration. God desires forgiveness and restoration, but he will not tolerate unbelief or half-hearted confessions. God desires to be merciful and compassionate, but the good of the believing community must also be taken into consideration. They cannot be given corrupt leaders; they cannot be sent a signal of cooperation with false teachings; but they can be shown that the sinner can be forgiven to serve again.