Today was the first day of my church’s annual residency interviews. Each year we bring in a number of candidates to hire for a year long program which helps identify leaders, sort through pastoral calling, and hone skills in teaching and preaching while the residents seek the Lord above all else. The program works by assigning each of the three residents to rotations with three pastors at a time. This enables the residents to get a taste of each ministry in the church so they may have a well-rounded experience and understanding of pastoral ministry. Sure, as a pastor I could downplay the importance of the residency. I could ignore building into the lives of the residents we bring into our church, but this would be a great tragedy because God wants church leaders to place a high priority on raising up more future leaders for the future.
My favorite New Testament section to show the high premium placed on leadership development is properly labeled, “The pastoral epistles;” these include 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. In these New Testament letters we have an apostle Paul who knows his time on earth is winding to an end. There was increasingly more and more pressure against the great church leader, because he was preaching the message of Christ and Him crucified. The Jews weren’t happy that one of their former leaders had become a Christ-follower and was evangelizing others, but the Romans were equally as unhappy about the “uprising” coming from a small pocket of their southeastern territory. Paul was indeed martyred for his faith, but before that happened he was able to author three letters to define, explain, and hand-off leadership in the church. He writes to the younger Timothy so he can have his mentor’s instruction, and there could be as clean of a hand-off of the baton of faith (the Gospel) as absolutely possible. These letters were not written with the intent of only being replicated in the first hand-off of the Church, but it was written so we can continually know who to identify as leaders in the church, how to nurture their leadership, and then finally hand the reigns over to them as we trust God that He will use Godly leaders to continue the work started in Acts 2. It is thus a necessity that each generation of church leaders are deeply concerned, interested, and willing to trust God as they pour into the next generation of leaders.
Here are 7 important truths from the Pastoral Epistles which help us to see a biblical view of church leadership valuing leadership training.
- Doctrine matters for leadership: Paul writes, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” If there wasn’t the reality of some who were teaching a different doctrine besides the Gospel then Paul wouldn’t have had to write these words. We should not confuse charisma and natural talent with people who are devoted to God’s inerrant word. This means that as we pour into leaders we must emphasize the importance of orthodoxy (right doctrine). We need theologically trained leaders for our local churches, and the local church needs to be a place that teaches deep biblical theology. If we seriously care about future leaders then we must care about their ours and their doctrinal awareness and understanding.
- We need church leaders who have tried and true moral integrity: Paul writes, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money….” and so on and so forth. Later in the same thought he writes, “And let them (deacons) be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless.” The emphasis here is that church leaders observe true moral integrity in a future leader over a period of time before that leader is given a leadership position in the church.
- The most important training for leaders is godliness: Here is 1 Timothy 4:7-8, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” As church leaders raise up other church leaders we must daily push ourselves to help future leaders understand the importance of their own personal holiness. Robert Murray McCheyne famously said, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.” On first glance that may see like a self-focused statement for a pastor to make, but when you examine deeper you will see what McCheyne meant was if he was apportioned to care for the eternal souls of his congregants then he must first focus on his own holiness since “it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
- We must set an example of financial contentment for future leaders: In today’s modern evangelicalism many churches have failed at this key to raising up future leaders. 1 Timothy 6:6 reads, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” I must point out that money is not the problem; love of money is the problem. If we as church leaders can be content with what the Lord has granted to us, and not complain about financial burdens, salaries, stresses, and the like, well then future leaders in our church will learn from and follow our example. On the flip side, if we are lovers of money then how could we ever be surprised when our followers become lovers of money also? A pastor who loves money will inevitably “plunge into ruin and destruction,” and so we must set an example of financial contentment for future leaders.
- We must trust in our sovereign Lord who calls on us to pass the baton: In 2 Timothy 2:1 Paul writes, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” I was on the 4X100 and 4X200 teams when I ran track in High School. I learned a botched hand-off could throw an entire relay team off! Church leaders need be strengthened by the gospel, so we know the handing off of the faith is motivated by Christ’s gospel, and when we are convinced of this we will trust God to handle the hand-off. When we entrust the gospel to faithful church leaders we are enabling others to teach the good news of Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, and return– the Gospel.
- We must teach future leaders that persecution is to be expected: We aren’t doing future leaders any favors by protecting them from the realities of following Christ, and these realities are increased for leaders of Christ’s Church. 2 Timothy 3:12 says point blank, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” If we try to protect leaders from persecution, and act like ministry is all rainbows and unicorns then we are raising naive soldiers who will turn and run for the hills the moment the great battle rages. Jesus himself said, “Know if they hate you they hated me first.” Jesus warned that those who follow him have nowhere to even lay their head down at night; this is even more true of church leaders! We need to raise up church leaders who understand the reality of the persecuted pastor/elder, but help raise them up to be so convinced of the Gospel of Christ that no oppression or persecution can sway them.
- Church leaders must raise up preachers: Paul heavily emphasizes the constant need to preach the gospel. 2 Timothy 4 opens, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Why is it so important for a constant preaching of the word? “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Church leaders must raise up future preachers for the sake of the integrity of the church. Pastors preach; it’s necessary we raise up future pastors to preach, because there will be false-leaders who preach false-gospels, and this will lead to a turning away from the truth and wandering off into myths. A pastor must preach, but a pastor must also raise up others to preach. This is a great necessity in the midst of a church culture that is aching for true gospel centered and biblical preaching. We need expositors, so church leaders must raise up expositors.