Written by R. Scott Pace and Jim Shaddix |
Tuesday, January 16, 2024
Leadership is not an end in and of itself; it naturally implies a destination. It’s kind of like application and illustration in a sermon—these elements serve as means to other ends. We don’t just do application in our sermons; we apply something. We use application to demonstrate how the truth is to be lived out. We don’t just put illustrations in our sermons as rhetorical eye (or ear) candy; we put them in to illustrate something. We use them to either help us explain or apply the truth of the text. Neither application nor illustration stands alone in the sermon. We use them to accomplish greater purposes. Christian leadership is often misunderstood in a similar way. It is not a stand-alone quality or characteristic in a pastor’s life and ministry; it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Rather, it always involves a destination—we don’t just lead, we lead somewhere.
The Pastor’s Motive Is the Master
The reason many pastors fail at being leaders is that they want to be leaders. While that may sound strange, we must understand that leadership is not the ultimate goal or standard of success when it comes to gospel ministry. The plethora of books, conferences, seminars, and courses on the subject of leadership feeds a misguided passion in many pastors simply because the world has touted it as a quality and skill of the highest order that’s worthy of our greatest effort. Gospel leadership, however, is quite different. The Bible is clear that the way to be a good leader is not by developing skills to influence people and command organizations. Rather, the way to be a good leader is to be a good servant (Matt. 20:25–28; Mark 9:35).
Living according to this curious economy of leadership doesn’t start with a focus on serving others—it begins with serving the Master who established that economy, the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul expects that his young protégé desires to be such a servant: “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 4:6). Here, being a servant isn’t described with the term that emphasizes submission and subjection as a slave (doulos), but the one used more generally for someone who serves another in some useful way (diakonos; see 1 Cor. 4:1–2; 2 Cor. 3:6; 6:4). Paul assumes that Timothy aspires to such a role in his relationship with Jesus. Thus, it must be the motive of every pastor not first to be a leader of people, but to be a useful servant of the Master. Leading people well will follow serving Jesus well.
But how does a pastor offer such useful service to our Lord? Though there are numerous ways this work plays out in gospel ministry, Paul lays out specific qualifications for being a “good servant” of the Master. And this is where pastoral leadership and biblical exposition begin to intersect in this passage. He first says that such servanthood will be realized “if you put these things before the brothers” (1 Tim. 4:6). Paul uses the term “these things” eight times in this letter to summarize the practical and doctrinal issues he’s been addressing, things like prayer, modesty, authority and submission, qualifications of pastors and deacons, and destructive legalism.
Like Timothy, every pastor must lead his people to believe rightly and live obediently when it comes to all the aforementioned issues and more. That begins with “put[ting them] before” the congregation through preaching and teaching. The language Paul uses here conveys the idea of gentle persuasion through humble reminders—the pastor lovingly explains and applies God’s word to his people so that they think rightly and live accordingly. Like a waiter, we serve our people nourishing meals; like a jeweler, we display before them treasured gems.1 We are good servants of our Master if we lead well by preaching well.
Not only is the pastor a good servant when he preaches well but he preaches well because he learns well. Paul says Timothy’s service for Christ and leadership of God’s people intersect in his preaching ministry because he’s been “trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that [he has] followed” (1 Tim. 4:6). The idea of being trained is a metaphor for nurturing and tutoring children. Paul’s use of the present participle suggests that his concern is for Timothy to continue feeding himself spiritually so that he can be a good servant of Jesus by training his congregation in the faith.2
So often we hear of pastors who neglect the study of God’s word because of the many other pastoral responsibilities that demand their leadership.