Be What You Want to See
God forbids pastoral domineering but commands instead “being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3). Therefore, pastor, whatever you are, your church will eventually become. If you are a loudmouth boaster, your church will gradually become known for loudmouth boasting. If you are a graceless idiot, your church will gradually become known for graceless idiocy. The leadership will set the tone of the community’s discipleship culture, setting the example of the church body’s “personality.” So whatever you want to see, that is what you must be.
This is another reason why plurality of eldership is so important. The most important reason to have multiple elders leading a church is because that is the biblical model. But a plurality of eldership also provides unity in leadership on the nonnegotiable qualifications but works against uniformity in leadership by establishing a collaboration of wisdom, diversity of gifts, and collection of experiences.
Elders must be qualified elders, so in several key areas they will be quite similar. But through having a plurality of elders, a church receives the example of unity in diversity, which is to be played out among the body as well. Every elder ought to “be able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2), but not every elder must be an intellectual sort (if you follow my meaning). Every elder must be “self-controlled,” but some may be extroverts and some introverts, some may be analytical types and others creative. Every elder must be “respectable” and “a husband of one wife,” but some may be older and some may be younger. The more diversity one can manage on an elder board while still maintaining a unity on the biblical qualifications, the fellowship’s doctrinal affirmations, and the church’s mission, the better.
A plurality of elders can be an example to the congregation of unity of mind and heart despite differences. Pastors are not appointed to a church primarily to lead in the instruction of skills and the dissemination of information; they are appointed to a church primarily to lead in Christ-following.
A different set of traits is needed for pastors than for the business world’s management culture. Paul writes, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7). This is not exactly the pastoral image that is most popular today. In an age when machismo and “catalytic, visionary” life-coaching dominate the evangelical leadership ranks, the ministerial model of a breastfeeding mom is alien. There is a patience, a parental affection, a tender giving of one’s self that Scripture envisions for the pastor’s role in leadership. In 2 Corinthians 12:15, Paul announces, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” That is the pastor’s heart.
Leading the Way
If we want our churches to be of one mind, to be of one heart, to assassinate their idols and feast on Christ, to be wise and winsome with the world they have forsaken, to be gentle of spirit but full of confidence and boldness, to be blossoming with the fruit of the Spirit, we must lead the way.
A pastor goes first. In groups where transparency is expected, a pastor goes first. In the humility of service, a pastor goes first. In the sharing of the gospel with the lost, a pastor goes first. In the discipleship of new believers, a pastor goes first. In the singing of spiritual songs with joy and exuberance, a pastor goes first. In living generously, a pastor goes first. In the following of Christ by the taking up of one’s cross, a pastor goes first. All I am saying is that one who talks the talk ought to walk the walk. Don’t lead your flock through domineering; lead by example.
The pastor ought to be able to say with integrity to others, as Paul says to Timothy, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13). It is not arrogant to instruct others to follow you, so long as you are following Christ and showing them Christ and giving them Christ. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” Paul says again (1 Cor. 11:1).
Younger pastors especially are as eager to find role models as they are eager to be role models. But we are not about trying to create fan clubs and clone armies. We are about seeding Christlikeness through the Spirit’s power. “Let no one despise you for your youth,” Paul instructs his young protégé (1 Tim. 4:12), but he provides the way to do this: “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” The way you prevent others from looking down on your youth is by growing up.
Growing up. That is what God wants for his church.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ . . . (Eph. 4:11-13)
He is making us fit for the habitation he has already promised us and given us in our mystical union with Christ. He is making us holy as he is holy.
Jared C. Wilson (@jaredcwilson) is Becky’s husband and Macy and Grace’s daddy, and also the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont and the author of the books Gospel Wakefulness, Your Jesus is Too Safe, Abide, Seven Daily Sins, and Gospel Deeps. He blogs almost daily at The Gospel-Driven Church.