The lesson from the parable of the talents certamly applies to developing effective leaders. Christ is teaching us about accountability for developing our talents individually and, in principle, the elders' responsibility for developing effective leaders in their congregations. In an article titled, "Something Better,' Russ Burcham provides an excellent introduction to this chapter on the vital task of developing future leaders in the Lord's church. He wrote of great men of faith in Hebrews who endured afflictions without receiving the Promised Messiah (Hebrews 11:39). We now have a better covenant with its abundant blessings, however along with those blessings comes a responsibility to respect the efforts of those ancient men by developing leaders better than ourselves (Hebrews 11:40).
Commitment — "A Pledge or promise to do something." Sounds simple enough, but when it comes to serving God, it is a lifetime obligation that must be taken seriously. Peter instructs newborn Christians to desire the sincere milk of the Word in order to grow spiritually (1 Peter 2:2). This is a continuous process that should lead each man to ever higher levels of spiritual maturity throughout his life if he is committed to faithfully serving God on a daily basis. It is imperative that we instill and continually reinforce in our young men the importance of commitment. The world's carnal enticements are pulling many of our children away from the church. We must teach them that a Christian cannot serve two masters by keeping one foot in the world and the other in the church (Matthew 6:24 & Luke 14:30). They must have their priorities right before they leave home. This task is the primary responsibility of the parents, but the church also has a role in nurturing their spiritual growth.
This commitment involves a love for God's Word that includes obedience to His commands (John 14:15). He expects us to grow spiritually in order to reach the potential that God has instilled in each of us (Hebrews 5: 12, 13). Each man must perform a continual self-examination (Galatians 6:4). He should consider the following questions: "What is my vision for our congregation over the next one to ten years (Galatians 6:4)?" "What part will I play in reaching our goals?" Am I satisfied with my level of service?" "Am I satisfied with my rate of spiritual growth?" "Do I truly believe Philippians 4:13?' People often lose eye contact with you when they are asked a question they don't want to truthfully answer. Can you pass the "look in the mirror" test when asking yourself the above questions?
Involvement — Commitment leads to involvement when Christians overcome inactivity (Christians at rest tend to stay at rest) and become more productive in meaningful ministries. The excuse for lack of involvement by many members is that the church is a "volunteer organization" and it is a foregone conclusion that eighty percent of the work will be done by twenty percent of the members. The Bible does not support that contention. In contrast to the 1204 references to service, the word volunteer is found once and it does not relate to congregational membership. God created man with free will, but do we as faithful Christians have the option not be involved in the work of the church? As always, Christ provides the perfect example of a life of service to God (Mark 10:42, 45, John 13:12-17). James 1:22-25 tells us that spiritual blessings flow to those who are doers of the Word and not hearers only.
Growth — Commitment will lead to involvement and involvement will naturally lead to spiritual growth. In Luke 2:46-49, we read of young Jesus spending three days in the temple listening and asking questions of religious leaders. This desire for knowledge led to an increase in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and men. We see in Philippians 3 : 12-14, that the Apostle Paul was committed to spiritual growth as a lifelong pursuit. Peter exhorts us in 1 Peter 2:1-5 to lay aside evil thoughts and actions to seek maturity through continual study of God's Word. He compares this to building a house with Christ as the foundation (1 Peter 2:4, 5; Matthew 21:42).
There are numerous tools available to aid us in our spiritual gro%th They all have one drawback; they must be used to provide any benefit. It all starts with Bible study on a continual basis. If we just read the Book without taking the time to meditate upon it, we barely scratch the surface of the mind of God (Philippians 4:8). One of the pleasures I've found in retirement is the extra time to study God's Word and to meditate on the richness of His inspirational teachings. Books, magazines, websites, lectureships, seminars, and other edifying resources will expand on Bible teaching. Daily prayer will bring us closer to God as we deal with the constant struggles of living in the world but not becoming part of the world. Social fellowship with other Christians will influence and edify us. Consider short-term mission trips locally or overseas. I always come back spiritually refreshed and uplifted after a mission trip.
Desire — Commitment leads to involvement, which leads to grovvrth, which should lead to a desire to be all we can be for the Lord. For those men with the talent and opportunity, this desire should also include leadership. Professional trips and travels have given me the opportunity to visit many congregations throughout the United States. Although each group is unique in its own way, at least one common thread runs through most of them — a lack of qualified leaders. More often than not, the one lacking qualification is that of desire. I often heard this frustrated comment from current elders, "We have qualified men but they just do not have the desire to be elders. " Is this a valid reason or an excuse? Will the Lord accept this response on Judgment Day?
When I asked these leaders why otherwise qualified men do not desire the office of elder, their responses were remarkably similar: "I don't want the stress." "I'm not willing to give up that much of my personal time." "I don't want to be responsible for other people's souls." "I don't want to lose my friends. " As you probably noticed, these responses are self-centered not Christ-centered.
Meeting the qualifications to become an elder is directly related to spiritual growth. Since the power to impart spiritual gifts ended long ago, no one today is qualified to be an elder immediately after baptism (1 Corinthians 13:8-11; 1 Timothy 3:6). Men must grow into the job. The Bible is filled with teaching about our individual responsibilities to grow spiritually throughout our physical lives (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Peter 2:2). Paul strove for spiritual perfection his entire life (Philippians 3:13, 14). would this teaching apply to other areas and not to our desire to serve God at the highest possible level?
Do we not understand the application of the parable of the talents as it applies to the qualifications for elders? Most men understand their responsibilities as related to other qualifications, such as becoming temperate, sober minded, hospitable and able to teach, but they often overlook the bedrock qualification — developing a desire to serve.
The generic definition of desire is to "crave or long for. " Vines Expository Dictionary tells us in the case of 1 Timothy 3:1, that the meaning here is significantly different. It is to "desire earnestly" as Paul desired to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23). It stresses the inward impulse rather than the object being desired.