Summary: Leadership is no small thing, it’s not to be entered into lightly. But to be a leader is to desire a noble thing. Paul describes he qualifications of Christian leaders.
Sermon from Rev George Hemmings
Yesterday was a very important day for Australia. Yesterday, we exercised our power to elect a new government. Regardless of what you thought about the main candidates and parties, or their policies, voting is a great privilege and a big responsibility. We get to decide who our leaders should be.
Here at St. Thomas’ we regularly face the same question. We’re about to start a new playgroup, and one of the things we’ve got to work out is who should be the leader? Earlier this year we had to ask, who should we appoint as our Mandarin minister? Every year we have to ask ourselves who will be our leaders on vestry? In a few years, when we let Chris retire, we’ll have to work out who should replace him? Who should serve as a warden? And who should lead our bible studies, our music ministry, our kids clubs and Sunday school? But what should we look for in our leaders?
Well, the question of leadership was one that the church in Ephesus was also grappling with. If you remember back to chapter one, the church had been troubled by false teachers, who were promoting things other than the true gospel. They’d been leading people off course. They’d caused all sorts of damage within, and without, the church. As a result two of them, Hymenaeus and Alexander, had been expelled by Paul. The question the church faced was who should replace them? Who in their right mind would want the job?
Leadership he says is no small thing, it’s not to be entered into lightly. But despite the disrepute that the others might’ve brought to the role, desiring to be a leader is to desire a noble thing. Leading God’s church involves the care and nurture of God’s people. It is a good work, a great honour. But just having a desire to lead isn’t enough. Paul goes on to describe what we should look for when appointing leaders.
In doing so, Paul talks about two types of leaders, translated in the NRSV as ‘bishops’ and ‘deacons’. The terms he uses though are literally ‘overseer’ and ‘servant’. He doesn’t go into much detail about the different roles and what they involve. So we have to be careful not to jump to thinking he’s talking about bishops and deacons in a modern, Anglican sense. It’s safer to think of what he has to say as addressing any leaders who oversee or manage a ministry or church, and those who assist in leading, perhaps in doing the hands-on, practical, day to day work. The qualifications Paul describes as being necessary for leadership don’t just apply to bishops, priests and deacons as we have them today, but to all leaders within the church.
As you may have noticed the requirements for overseers and servants is very similar. This isn’t really surprising as you want the same kind of qualities in a leader, no matter what they’re in charge of. So it’s reasonable to look at the two together. Though of course, with the higher responsibility, they’re a higher standard in place.
So what should we be looking for in our leaders? Surprisingly Paul doesn’t talk much about the skills, gifts or experience that are necessary. There’s no mention of the kinds of things we might look for in a resume. About all that’s mentioned is an ability to teach and possession of management skills. This isn’t to say those things aren’t important, more likely they’re just assumed. Instead the focus is on the character of the leader. What’s more important is the kind of person the leader is, rather than what they can do.
Right at the top of the list, Paul says leaders must be above reproach. It’s a pretty broad term, covering all aspects of our behavior, inward and outward. There’s to be no observable grounds for blame, no accusation that can be raised against them. It’s not that they must be perfect, otherwise we’d all be disqualified! To help the church know what that looks like, Paul goes on to describe how to measure it. It’s about checking out the length, depth and width of a potential leader. Actually it’s more about knowing the length, depth and breadth of Christ in them. Paul says we must look at how much Christ has impacted on a person’s life before we consider appointing them to a position of leadership.
The easiest thing on the list to discern, is a leader’s length. That is, how long have they been a Christian? In verse 6, Paul says they mustn’t be a recent convert. The phrase he uses is ‘newly planted.’ It brings to mind the parable of the sower and the seeds. There’s no way of telling, without time passing, whether a new plant will wither and die because it’s fallen in rocky soil. You can’t tell whether it will get chocked out by weeds or produce a harvest, unless you give it time. A person needs to have put down roots and grown in Christ before they’re suitable to be leaders. A similar thing is said of deacons in verse 10, they must first be tested, they must have demonstrated their character over time, before they are appointed. They need to demonstrate commitment and maturity in their faith, before they can be considered.