According to Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. In this regard, Christians are not spared too. Not surprisingly, we find that whenever a church organises herself in such a way where the executive powers and decision-making lie solely in the hands of a charismatic founding leader or within a self-appointed band of leaders, there is always the real danger of spiritual abuse and a lack of accountability. To be sure, our Presbyterian polity where the highest authority is in our plurality of elected leaders also has its share of weaknesses.
Regardless of the form of governance, godly leadership is essential in the life of the church. While Christ is the head of the church (Col 1:18), God has also ordained human leaders such as elders to teach and care for the Christian community as well as to advance the Gospel. Occasionally, we find well-meaning Christians who have mistaken the offices of pastor, elder or deacon to be man-made and conclude that we should either do away with such hierarchy or stay away from serving in such roles. What would be more helpful is that as Christians, we must learn to vigilantly guard our hearts lest we fall prey to the seduction of power.
One of the ways to do so is to be mindful that Christian leadership has to do with giving of ourselves in the service of others rather than being better than the rest and lording over them (Matt 20:25-28, 1 Pet 5:3). As leaders, we are to imitate the example of Jesus in humble servanthood. We do not take pride in our position but are eager to bless people and seeing them being built up in the Lord as we carry out our responsibilities.
Although some today may regard being a leader as a means of self-fulfilment and propping up one’s CV, we can be quite sure that during the early church, this was less likely to be the motivation of the believers. Chances are few Christians would be offering themselves as leaders for the wrong reasons given that there were high risks connected with being one.
After all, the church was in her infancy and there were already signs of persecution against Christians. There was little prestige in the community to be a church leader and identifying yourself as one would possibly place you and your household under greater social pressure and public scrutiny. In addition, the task requires much toil, with little compensation to accompany one’s endeavours.
With this in mind, we can understand why Apostle Paul has such a positive view of Christian leadership and affirming “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim 3:1). Here, Paul reminds us that the call to Christian leadership is a call from God. It is not something forced upon the individual nor does a person agree to out of obligation or because he was cajoled into it. Instead, there is this inner desire, birthed not out of selfish ambition or pursuit of vainglory, but because this man loves God and the church and has been coming before God in prayer.
Indeed, if the starting point of becoming a leader is that one should aspire to serve, then we need to ponder as to why so few today share such aspirations? It also does not help when Christians perhaps out of a mistaken sense of modesty or for fear of giving others the wrong impression would share that God had to “hound” them and overcome their reluctance before they agreed to be leaders. Unwittingly, this paints a contrary picture of what Paul says about a man who desires the noble task of church leadership.
Understandably, some may feel inadequate about being a leader. However, God has shown us that this has never stopped him from using individuals such as Moses, Jeremiah and others for His Kingdom purposes. What is also interesting is that the criteria for an elder -apart from the ability to teach- are character traits which are applicable to every Christian (1 Tim 3:2-13). To some extent, one could say that the reasons why someone does not qualify are if he does not have the desire and that he has not been living like a Christian.
This morning, as True Way goes about to elect leaders during our ACM, we thank God that He has graciously worked in the lives of those who have served faithfully and those who have availed themselves to come onboard. As we pray for them and honour them for their labour in Christ (1 Tim 5:17), we should also pray for others in our midst. Let us pray that nothing will hinder us from aspiring to a noble task – one that calls for willing hearts and zeal for the glory of God.
Rev Edwin Wong
May 17, 2015