Are you sick of the Presidential debates yet? Oh, just wait until we get closer to the general election!
As a pastor, I don’t feel that it’s appropriate for me to tell you which candidate or which party to support. Non-Profit status concerns aside, I simply do not believe that’s what the sacred desk is for. I realize that not all of my brothers and sisters agree with this notion but I would much rather talk about what the Bible says makes a good leaders as opposed to whom I believe is God’s man/woman.
During the last Presidential election in 2012, I was made aware of a movement of clergy called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” where they would spend a Sunday sermon telling their flocks which candidates and parties they believe should be supported. Preachers are typically discouraged from making such statements from the pulpit because such would endanger the congregation’s non-profit status with the IRS. The rationale is that the IRS should not hamstring clergy from campaigning from the pulpit. Again, I do not agree with this because I simply do not believe a pastor should use the pulpit to stump for a particular candidate or party (that does not mean that I am opposed to talking about issues as they relate to scripture – quite the opposite). When I was asked to participate by a parishioner at the congregation I was appointed to at the time, I explained that I would much rather preach about what scripture says about leadership.
And that’s what I did.
Below is that sermon (more or less). Keep in mind that this is one of the first sermons I ever wrote so it’s not stellar (not that the ones I write now are great!). However, I feel that the overall message is very timely as we approach election time. How do the candidates stack up base do what God’s word says about what makes a good leader? I pray this helps you gain some insight as you decide which candidates to support.
As we approach this election season, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been bombarded with messages and some might even say propaganda from all sides of the political spectrum. Largely it seems like it’s all rhetoric, sound bytes and “vote for me because I’m not the other guy.” What we as Christians should take in to account more than what the media tells us is what the Bible says about leadership. What Biblical standards should we be looking for in a candidate for any kind of office or any kind of leader for that matter? Today I want to look at what the Bible says we should be looking for in our leaders and give some examples of Biblical leadership. Of course, this message is for all of us but I especially want the youth to pay attention as they are the future leaders of our church and our world. I’d like to ask them to come forward at this time so that we can say a blessing over them.
The Bible gives us several things we should look for in our leaders. In preparing for this week’s message, I took to Facebook to ask some of my friends what they look for in a leader. Some of the responses I got included:
• Seeks wise counsel
• Willing to serve
• Willing to listen, not just order
Indeed, the Bible shares these qualities in what we should look for in our leaders. Let’s look at the broad spectrum of all qualifications. In 1 Timothy, Paul lays out what should be sought after in looking for elders – or pastors – of the church. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:1-5: This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position. So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?
Paul pretty plainly lays it out on the line: A leader must be honorable, have integrity, be hospitable, be able to control his/her temper, not be greedy.
• By the way, this applies equally to men and women. Women can certainly be leaders and they should be no less wise.
• Leadership involves being willing to pass along ones’ knowledge to the next generation in order to help raise up quality leaders for the future.
• Being humble – not boastful, not greedy, willing to help others – is one of the most important leadership qualities there is. What kind of leader is someone who isn’t humble and who demands respect instead of commanding respect by their actions?
• You can attract more flies with honey than you can vinegar – a good leader knows this.
Have you ever looked at the perks that online companies offer their employees? It’s not uncommon for websites such as Google and Amazon to offer their employees things such as free lunches in an on-campus cafeteria (not like our school cafeterias thankfully!), pool tables, free massages, unlimited vacation time, and even allowing employees to bring their pets with them to work. There was a CEO of one online retail website that started offering these things to his employees when it wasn’t common to do so. Traditional CEOs told him that it was a waste, productivity would suffer and he would end up losing his shirt if he offered his employees such cool things and gave them so much freedom. It was not uncommon for this CEO to even do things like grill hamburgers for all of his employees and he even took groups of employees to amusement parks – on the clock and all expenses paid too! Today his company is well known and is enjoying success beyond what he even imagined. Because he had the vision to be a servant to his employees and to treat them exceptionally well, his company has been successful, productivity has been great and many of those who said he would fail by doing these things have gone out of business themselves.
A leader has to be willing not only to lead and be the boss, he/she must also be willing to serve. In Mark 10, Jesus plainly tells us this when He says in verses 42-45: “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus even exemplified this when in John 13 we read that Jesus – being the very reason we are here and as the leader of His disciples – committed an act that no leader of the day would dare to do and something I doubt very many would be willing to do today. In verses 4 and 5 we read that Jesus got up from the table, wrapped a towel around His waist, poured some water and got down to wash the feet of His disciples. Imagine being there for a moment: The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords – someone we very much should be the ones lowering ourselves down to – lowered Himself to be a servant to those who follow Him. In verses 14-16 He explains to them: “And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message.” This is probably the absolute best example of leading by being a servant that any of us could ever find.
There is a legend that is told of a French Monastery known throughout Europe for the exceptional leadership of a man known only as Brother Leo. Several monks took a pilgrimage to visit this extraordinary leader to learn from him. Starting out on the pilgrimage they almost immediately begin to argue over who should do certain chores.
On the third day of their journey they met another monk also going to the monastery; he joined them. This monk never bickered about doing chores and did them dutifully. And when the others would fight about which chores to do, he would simply volunteer to do them himself. On the last day of their journey, others began to follow his example and the bickering stopped.
When the monks reached the monastery they asked to see Brother Leo. The man who greeted them laughed. “But our brother is among you!” And he pointed to the fellow that had joined them.
Many seek positions in leadership to serve their own interests and not that of others. There are many self serving reasons why a person may want to lead such as power, status, networking and money. But the best leaders lead because they care about people. And those are the types of leaders that lead like Brother Leo. They teach through their actions, not by words alone. They are servants, not commanders.
Is risk-taking something that’s wise? Some might say that taking risks as a leader means that you just go out on a limb no matter what anyone says, do what you want to do anyway and hope for the best. That’s certainly the way a lot of people look at risk taking but it’s not always so haphazard. Taking risks isn’t always wise as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you. However, sometimes risks – with lots of prayer, wise counsel and benefit and consequence analysis – that will have a huge impact on the church, the household or the whole world. If you want an example of that, look no further than the founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley.
• John Wesley was born in 1703 in Epworth, England to Samuel and Susanna Wesley. Samuel was a priest in the Church of England.
• John and his brother Charles were raised in the tradition of the Anglican faith and John and Charles both got the necessary education and experience to become ordained into the Anglican church themselves.
• John went to Savannah, Georgia as a missionary in 1735. During the sea voyage to America, a big storm arose. John found himself scared to death but noticed that some Moravians on board were not only calm but even singing hymns in the midst of this storm that threatened to sink the ship. He wanted to have the peace that they had – the peace and contentment that we can have through Jesus Christ.
• As Wesley learned about salvation through faith, he plugged away until the fateful day on May 24, 1738 when he had what he called his “Aldersgate Experience” where he heard someone reading Martin Luther’s preface to Romans. It was at that time when Wesley wrote that he “felt (his) heart strangely warmed.” The rest, as they say, is history.
• Wesley – in spite of protests from many within the Anglican church – started what would become known as the Methodist movement, which included doctrines such as prevenient grace, sanctification through faith, Christian perfection and the then-unheard of practice of using lay local preachers to spread the gospel.
• Of course, all was not always well with Wesley’s leadership. For example during his initial time in Georgia he denied communion to a former girlfriend and her new husband. Charges were brought against him and eventually Wesley returned to England a beaten, broken man.
• Eventually Wesley persevered and rose above all of the bitterness and shame he experienced. It’s in large part thanks to John Wesley that we’re here today. His vision, wisdom and faith carried him through the storm and he was able to lead a movement that is still ongoing today.
Biblical and Godly leadership qualities are things we should all strive to conduct and certainly something we should look for in our leaders no matter their office. As Christians it’s our duty to discern who these Godly leaders are. People who are first and foremost committed to Christ, people who are wise and seek wise counsel, people willing to not only lead but to serve, to lead by example and who aren’t afraid to make unpopular decisions are who should be our leaders. This certainly goes for our elected officials. As the Presidential debate is a hot topic issue, many in churches are asking their pastors to tell them who they should vote for. Well, I’m not going to do that. What I will tell you is this: Pray and ask God who He wants to be our next President. Consider all of the qualities that the Bible says make good leaders. And when you get into the voting booth, vote your conscience. Trust the Holy Spirit to guide you. He will never fail you in any situation, even in the voting booth.