Thoughts on Christian Leadership

I have little patience with many of the leadership conferences and seminars offered by big, huge, really cool, awesome churches and other Christian ministries. Most of them sound something like, “How to be a super-duper impressively awesome leader.” The largest such event that is hosted by Willow Creek Community Church actually has as its slogan: “The future of the church rests with its leaders.” Yikes! No mention of Jesus’ promise to build HIS church. My friends, if the future of the church rests in my hands then I quit! I can’t build the church. As a four time alumni of this particular conference I believe I can speak with a bit of insight on this event.

Based upon the speakers the event hosts, the copy for the brochure should go something like this:
“Come hear a pastor from Dallas who preaches prosperity and denies the doctrine of the Trinity but he’s on TV a lot and has a really big, huge, awesome church. We also have a retired general in the army who will tell us a lot of really cool awesome things about leadership. There will also be this well known leadership guru who will tell us awesome stuff from his awesome book about how to be an awesome leader. But wait, there’s more! A famous NFL quarterback is going to speak about how awesome it is to be an awesome quarterback in the NFL. We’re pretty sure that some of these speakers aren’t Christians but they are awesome really cool leaders and we’re sure you will learn some awesomely cool stuff about leadership and how the future of the church rests in your hands!”

Okay, so that’s a bit of a raw spot for me. But if you go to enough of those kinds of events (and I have) then you will become 1) a high functioning workaholic who builds an awesomely cool church because you are able to perform at a level that most of humanity cannot or 2) you will become disillusioned and hate yourself and the church because you cannot perform like the guy who “pastors” the ginormous church or 3) you will simply drop off the “consult the expert” treadmill and trust that God’s Word has far more valuable words for Christian leaders than do all the false teachers, military experts, leadership gurus, and professional athletes put together.

One book that continues to challenge, encourage, and rebuke me is D.A. Carson’s The Cross and Christian Leadership. It is an exposition of the key texts in I Corinthians that pertain to Paul’s role as a leader in the church. It is a book that all those who care about the church ought to read. Pastors should read it for obvious reasons. But those who are not involved in “leadership” per se in the church ought to read it to gain a better understanding of what God expects from those who lead His church.

Carson writes:
“The person who daydreams about being a leader in almost any field imagines what it is like to be the best, or at least to be better than most others – to succeed where others fail, to be stalwart where others stumble, to create where others merely perform, to win adulation and applause, perhaps after some initial hardship and rejection. To be a leader may mean fame, money and some freedoms from the responsibilities and humdrum existence of ordinary mortals. To be a leader means to win respect. Only rarely do those who dream of leadership, but who have never experienced it, think through the responsibilities, pressures, and temptations leaders face. Almost never do they focus on accountability, service, and suffering.”

Commenting on I Corinthians 4:1-7 Carson writes:
“Two elements stand out, and both are tied to things Paul has already explained. (1) Christian leaders are ‘servants of Christ’…Christian leaders do not try to be independent gurus, all wise teachers. They see themselves simply as servants and want other Christians to see them that way, too. But they serve one particular Master: they serve Jesus Christ. (2) At the heart of the commission they have received from their Master lies one particular assignment. They have been ‘entrusted with the secret things of God’…The gospel itself is the content of this mystery, God’s wisdom summed up under the burden of Paul’s preaching: Jesus Christ and him crucified…

“What it means to be a servant of Christ is to be obligated to promote the gospel by word and example, the gospel of the crucified Messiah. That is absolutely fundamental. There is no valid Christian leadership that does not throb with this mandate…Moreover, they must beware of politely assuming such a stance, while their real interest lies elsewhere…Those who are servants of Christ, those who are entrusted with the secret things of God, do not see themselves winning popularity contests – not even within the church’s borders. That is what Paul means when he says, ‘I care very little if I am judged by you or by any other human court’ (4:3). There is only one Person whose ‘Well done!’ on the last day means anything. In comparison, the approval or disapproval of the church means nothing.”