One man can only effectively lead a small number of people.
This was the lesson Moses learned from his father-n-law, Jethro.
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“Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people and they stood around him from morning till evening.” But Jethro asked him, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” (Exodus 18).
Moses explained the situation:
“… the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws.” Jethro wisely warned Moses, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”
What should Moses do?
The people need guidance so Jethro came up with a plan for sharing the leadership.
“… select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves.”
Don’t miss the emphasis on qualified leadership. Moses must choose capable and trustworthy men. They must have a reputation for integrity and be known as men who fear God. Sadly, these men are not in great supply today. Male leadership deficits are pervasive to our culture and to the Church.
Imagine what would have happened if Moses compromised on the qualifications. What if he said of certain individuals, “He seems like a God-fearing man.” “I think he’ll be an honest leader.” “He runs a good business so I guess he’ll be a good leader in the Church.” Seems like and I guess should never be the basis for leadership appointment in Christ’s Church!
Perhaps the only thing worse for a pastor than an inadequate number of leaders is working with unqualified leadership.
Jethro’s idea is wise and one could argue that it’s the plan advocated for NT Church leadership. It also looks good as a nameless flow chart. But when you have to start putting names in the spots, it’s a different story.
I understand that there are no perfect people to appoint as leaders. I also realize that our expectations must be realistic. I often tell our leadership team that we know leaders struggle. We face temptations, become discouraged and fight against sinful pride.
James wrote, “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). The important part is how one responds to these things and works through them. What is the primary pattern in a person’s life. Is he mature and secure?
Of course, he must be grounded in sound teaching and be able to apply the truth to himself and others. I think you should spend at least a year studying through the qualifications for leadership found in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (see: Calling to Ministry and Leadership training).
I also know what it’s like to work with unqualified men. If a man is self-serving and fears man more than God, his leadership will lack wisdom and hurt others. If he is interested in dishonest gain, he will not be true to the leadership team or the Church. He will serve his own interests. He will seek his own following and divide people from any higher structure of leadership. If he lacks wisdom, he will apply the wrong solutions to problems.
Leadership training in the Church
All of this means that church leaders must find a way to train new leaders. But how are they to focus on this when faced with so many consuming issues?
I suggested that the absence of qualified leadership and the presence of unqualified leadership are two of the main contributors behind pastoral burnout.
We need a renewed discussion about how to train leaders. We don’t need more nameless flow charts! Early in my current ministry our growth became overwhelming. I prayed for God to send me more low-maintenance high-givers (and I didn’t mean financial givers). I needed people to share the spiritual oversight.
God graciously answered this prayer. We then became active in leadership training.
As exciting as numerical growth can be, it’s also time-consuming. We have consistently tried to operate on the principle of staffing ahead of growth. It has helped to do this but it has not always been easy.
Furthermore, ministry is complicated due to the pervasive dysfunctional conditions of homes and society.
Since we practice biblical eldership, we are guarded about allowing men to be elders until proven on many levels. Our team functions smoothly and we know that an immature, or worse, an antagonistic individual could hinder the leadership team.
Disciplining a leader can be especially disruptive to the life of the Church. Currently we are discussing a two-tiered approach to leadership to provide an arena for testing potential new leaders.
If you want to play church or compromise the nature of the Church (as they were doing in Corinth), you won’t sense the urgency of these matters. And if you really don’t care about the local Church beyond your personal tenure, I don’t expect you to understand the challenges. But if you honor Jesus words, “I will build my Church,” (Matthew 16), I believe you will be very serious about the matter of leadership.
Ten Questions for discussion:
- Have you experienced biblically faithful team leadership?
- Have you experienced the challenge of working with unqualified leaders?
- What are some of the important qualities necessary for being on a leadership team?
- What kinds of dangerous assumptions do people make about qualifications for leadership?
- What abilities and qualities are necessary for settling disputes between believers?
- Is it wise to have too many younger leaders in the Church?
- How much life experience should be prerequisite for a leadership position in the Church (on the elder team)?
- How can one know if a potential leader is a capable and trustworthy man of integrity who fears God?
- What methods and materials do you use for leadership development?
- What general lessons have you learned about leadership development in the Church?