Sustaining Effective Leaders
1 Timothy 5: 17
aul is teaching us that consistent integrity and courage by elders will result in continual trust and respect for them by their congregation.
I believe the over-arching principle for sustaining effective leadership in a congregation is balance. If you have ever been a parent, teacher or baby-sitter, you have probably used the phrase "color between the lines." If you work or have worked for corporate America, you probably have heard or used the now outmoded phrase "think outside the box." Buzz words and phrases come and go periodically in an effort to keep us all motivated. Having been a parent and now grandparent as well as spending much of my professional career dealing with those inside the Washington Beltway, I have heard both phrases often. As leaders, there are times when we need to color between the lines and times when we need to think outside the box. The key to success in any venture is to know which of these applies in any given situation.
While pondering the current state of the Lord's church, I began to see a correlation between these two phrases. Are we the same strong, vibrant, growing church that we have been in years past? Most would agree we are not, which should cause all of us to reflect on the possible causes of our current dilemma.
I have read many fine articles that went into great detail analysing this problem. These writings remind me of some of the management articles I have read over the years with deep thought, numerous details and weighty conclusions. All these business publications aside, the two that helped the most in my secular career were the "One Minute Manager" and "Management Time: Who's got the Monkey?" These were short, simple, straightforward publications full of common sense. Applying these same Sustaining Effective Leaders principles to the church, we may discover that our problems and potential solutions are not as complicated as some would have us to believe.
It seems today that many of our congregations spend much of their time worrying about members of the church "coloring between the lines"(legalists) while others spend most of their time "thinking outside the box" (progressives/change agents). As with most activities in life, when we get out of balance, we usually fail to achieve success. If we are to be the church God would have us to be, we must search His Word because we know that it contains the answers to our problems (Acts 17:11 & 2 Peter 1:3). If regaining our balance is the solution to our current problems, then we must emulate the perfectly balanced Word of God. Examples throughout the Bible show God's people coloring between the lines and thinking outside the box at appropriate times and with appropriate subjects.
Moses directed Israel not to change God's commands (Deuteronomy 4:2). They were to teach these commands to their children lest they raise up a generation that did not know God (Deuteronomy 4: 10 & Judges 2: 10). Paul warned the elders at Ephesus and the Galatians to watch for those who would rise up from within and without to pervert God's Word (Acts 20:28-31 & Galatians 1:6-10). John warned us at the end of Revelation not to change what had been written by the inspired writers (Revelation 22:18, 19). In other words, color between the lines.
Everywhere the apostles went, they adapted their style and method of teaching and preaching to the culture at hand. They obviously had great success in reaching every person in the world with their message (Colossians 1:23). In writing to the Jews, Matthew often quoted from the Old Testament in his efforts to convince his readers that Jesus was the Messiah predicted by the prophets. He adapted the style and format of his message to his audience. Mark and Luke made few references to the Old Testament because they were writing primarily to the Gentiles who had little knowledge or interest in it. In teaching the Greeks in Athens, Paul used their unknown god to teach about the One true God.
In other words, these men were thinking outside the box, being creative in determining the best way to reach various groups with the same message. Who could have dreamed years ago that our congregations and missionaries would be reaching the lost throughout the world by television, radio, and the internet?
Maturing Congregational Leaders
I had the privilege to know a wonderful man who spent 85 of his 96 years as a Christian and 30 of those years as an elder. He was legally blind for the last years of his life. He was a good friend and I always enjoyed talking with him at services each week. He would tell me what books of the Bible he was studying by listening to audio tapes and exclaim how much more he had to learn about God! I miss his example but he continues to inspire me every day to grow spiritually.
Elders must understand that they have not "arrived" the day they are appointed to this ever challenging work. We all must continue our spiritual growth as long as we are capable of learning (Philippians 3:12- Chapter Three 14). In addition to daily Bible reading make time for reading pertinent books and periodicals (see suggestions in Exhibit 2) as well as attending at least one good lectureship and area workshop each year. Much of a leader's spiritual growth is attained informally on a day-to-day basis and can be compared to the growth of a tree (Psalm 1:1-3). We must first grow down to establish our root system and build a solid foundation upon which to grow (Titus 2:11, 12). This requires continual self-examination to develop motivation and self-discipline. Now we can concentrate on growing up toward God and out toward others (Matthew 22:37-39). We grow closer to God through prayer, meditation and Bible study and closer to others by spending time visiting, attending church related social events and being among the first to arrive for services and the last to leave. Also make yourself available for impromptu meetings as members have need.
Successful elders practice the four M's of leadership:
- Mentor — Make yourself available formally and informally to teach, encourage, and counsel members. Meet people for lunch during the week or invite them to your home. This gives you time to really get to know them and move your relationship beyond the "Hello, how are you?" stage established at worship and Bible study times.
- Motivate — Leaders continually have opportunity to inspire members with both the "shotgun" and "rifle" methods discussed earlier. Show a positive "can do" spirit that will infect others. Always remember that leaders set the bar for commitment and involvement.
- Mingle — As I have mentioned, spend as much time among the congregation as possible. At least one elder should attend every church related social function, as well as ministry meetings. This is especially important to those that are under your direct oversight to demonstrate your active interest in these works. Elders should disperse themselves among the members at social functions in order to develop closer personal relationships with them. Visit members on a regular basis and have them into your home.
- Model — Can you say to your members "Imitate me as I imitate Christ?" (ICorinthians 11:1). Strive to serve as a continual example to others by your integrity, service to God and commitment to living a Christian life of morality.