A Bar Too High: Unrealistic Expectations of Church Leaders

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Recently, in my search for high quality resources for leadership development I stumbled across a disturbing graphic. It was a triangle entitled "Theology of Leadership Development and Mentorship: Intimacy with the Triune God and Biblical Leadership". Inside were listed 4 phrases, from bottom to top with decreasing font size: Heart of a Servant, Soul of a Teacher, Mind of a Manager, and Strength of a Leader. And around its three sides were the phrases: The Energy of the Comforter, The Creativity of the Creator, The Peace of the Christ. For me, in that moment, I saw a bar too high. 

I think the most important word in that lofty title is 'development'. These phrases speak to character traits that we should be seeking to develop. They are not attributes that must be present before we can be called to positions of leadership. That is seen easily in Jesus' choice of disciples. But as I sat through a recent ordination service for a new elder, I wasn't, and am still not, sure we are bold enough in stating it- neither in our forms or conversations. God can't call only those who've spiritually disciplined themselves into leadership perfection because there aren't any of us! 

So I am left with a burning set of rambling questions...
 
When letters go out to church members informing them of their nomination for office, or staff members approach individuals regarding stepping into ministry leadership roles, are they presenting the 'qualifications' in the context of a journey of growth into greater fullness? Are we intentional in those contexts to speak of the reality that none of us can measure up, but that we are here to offer grace, forgiveness and support along the way? 

Do we leave space for imperfect people to feel 'called' into leadership positions in the way we talk about leadership within the church? Do the lists of character traits we seek in our pastors, elders, deacons and ministry team leaders get presented alongside hefty doses of grace that reflect God's grace as He filled up the gap that we could never make up?

Do we allow our ministry leaders space to be imperfect once they don their super hero capes? How do church members' attitudes towards imperfect leaders impact the decisions of others to serve when asked?

How can we more effectively highlight the development piece of leadership development for those who are considering a 'yes'? And how would that impact the willingness of those we approach?

More questions than answers in this piece. Probably the way it should be. All thoughts welcome.

P.S. If you have a burning desire to see the graphic mentioned above, click here.

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It would be interesting to see an explanation of what it means that elders should have the ability to teach others.  As scripture indicates is a required characteristic for elders.  Do we agree with scripture on this?

Contributor

As you rightly say, John, its hard to escape the scriptural importance of 'teaching' as part of leadership. Titus 2 uses the term over and over when describing the leadership role Titus is to play within his context. Being a teacher by nature and nurture I have often heard, "I could never do what you do," from parent volunteers in my classroom, VBS crew leaders, church members after a Children's Message, etc.. And it is true that that I have experienced individuals shying away from leadership opportunities because they felt they weren't 'good enough' at the teaching thing. I could go on and on about how the skills of being a good teacher can be taught and developed among our leaders, but I am more interested in hearing from you about your question. 

I would love you to unpack your question, "Do we agree with Scripture on this?". What has caused you to question our (CRC's?) agreement with this aspect of being a leader, specifically in elders? What have you experienced (or not experienced) with regards to the role of elders as teachers? 

I agree that the ability to teach should be a requirement of an elder. I do think we have to be careful that we don't translate what we think of as "teacher" as what it means to be an elder. We tend to think of "teacher" in the same way that we think of our pastor teaching in a catechism class or Bible study. Or we think of a high school, college or university professor teaching a group of students. Being able to teach others in the role of elder is the capacity to make disciples who make disciples. This is more organic but still teaching.  An elder should be able to walk alongside someone in a discipling relationship where they are then capable of walking along someone else and discipling them in a discipling relationship? That's what it means to teach. There are organic structures and there are organized structures for teaching. The organized capacity to teach looks different.  I think it's appropriate to ask the question of someone nominated to be an elder, "Are you discipling someone now or have you discipled someone in the last year?" as evidence of the ability to teach. I think that this gets at what the article is trying to highlight. 

I agree that there are all kinds of ways to teach.  And I agree that teaching does not mean being an expert science teacher, nor a theology prof.  Teaching should mean sharing the gospel with anyone, whether it is in a discipling relationship, an evangelism relationship, or simply defending faith, or contending for the gospel.  Every christian should be able to disciple another, and every parent to a child, but it seems the ability to teach means that they can explain and are eager to explain the gospel to others, whether friendly or foe.  

Participant

I agree that the "bar is somewhat high for leadership staff in any church, but I see that as a goal rather than a qualification. 

However, I have seen many persons who served faithfully their terms in council/consistory then leave to attend other churches, not because of the high expectations, but I wonder if it has more to do with Denominational Chauvinism that comes into sharp focus when serving in these esteemed positions. Do they flee mostly to the larger mega churches where denomination focus is not as pronounced? How can the CRC address that?

Contributor

Thanks for your comments, Alex. I agree entirely, as I tried to express in the posting, that these are traits all leaders are in various stages of developing, rather than a benchmark that must be met before being eligible to lead. I would love to see that kind of language seep into the way we talk about leadership opportunities in the church. Eligible candidates for leadership are not perfect, they will make mistakes, and we as a congregation commit to offering them the same grace we have received from our Heavenly Father. We are each on a journey of development as the Spirit forms us into who we were created to be and He uses the Body to support us in that process.

As to the the issue of leaders exiting a church, or even the denomination, and why they do that...That sounds like a great Discussion Topic to start here on The Network :-). I know that I have heard both praise of our strong 'denominational focus' from those who only have experience leading in other contexts, as well as hearing the burden of that 'interference' from those from inside and outside. At least two sides to every coin. Ah, what will it take to be one big happy family of God? Sigh.

 

Some thoughts

I've been working on a definition of the word Leadership and have settled on this summary.

"Leadership is the surrender, allegiance and subservience to the Lord Jesus Christ, whereby every activity of operation is to be a doxology to Him and an intentional representation of Him in the lives of others, as an example, for the glory of God."

It seems many frustrations that surround leadership concern what I term "result oriented leadership." Paul did say, "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me" (Colossians 1:28, 29). However, Paul knew that while we disciple (water) only "God can grow" (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7).

The Word establishes qualifications, so God requires elders to be able to teach-The great news; when we present the Word of God the Holy Spirit is the power source not my awesome presentation. God himself has promised that "his word will accomplish his purposes" (Isaiah 55:11). My responsibility is to study to show myself approved (2 Timothy 2:15) and then to apply the truth to my own living. One of the most profound teaching moments I experienced

was when a former Wheaton College President said, "One thing I have learned and that is when you sin, repent quickly." It seems the threshold for the ability to teach is meet when the persons life bears fruit and it is demonstrated in tangible ways in ones household and personal character. The body of knowledge threshold should be tested but if no fruit is evident then memorizing words is not adequate.

As for standard, "be Holy, as I am Holy" it will never be lowered for anyone, in fact we are assured to arrive (1 John 3:2; Philippians 1:6; 1 Peter 1:16)

Test Standard: Believer, "In Christ" then examining ones life under a microscope does a particular sin or sins have a sway or hold on your life.