We all know that the Bible emphasizes the need for leaders to exhibit character. Yes, elders are to be able to teach but the rest of the list of criteria found in Timothy and Titus are about their godly character. If you read the letter of 1 Timothy from Paul to one of his young pastoral proteges, or ministry mentees, so much of it is taken up with the absolutely need for Timothy to be godly. The churches greatest need is not for greater giftedness of its leaders but for greater godliness in its leaders.
And yet, despite knowing that, despite hearing sermons on it, despite reading books on leadership that stress it, we’re so easily seduced by the siren song of the age and seek giftedness. Our society prizes the quick and the impressive looking and we’re lulled into wanting the same thing. Maybe that explains so many of the leadership crises that we have seen in recent years. Quite simply those leaders who fall, or wander off, do not have the character, the godliness that a leader needs to face the pressures and temptations that come with leadership. Or churches don’t set up structures to grow those leaders in godliness as they grow in gifting.
So how do we find the leaders we need? How do we find men of character and godliness. It’s no surprise that we look to God’s word to find the answer:
- The leader needs to desire to lead (1 Tim 3v1), he has to want to do it, longing to serve Jesus and the church for his glory
- He must be examined over a long period of time. All of the character traits in Timothy and Titus aren’t seen over a few visiting Sunday’s, or even a weeks mission or someone joining you for your church weekend away. Later on in chapter 4 Paul tells Timothy not to appoint leaders too quickly (4v22) because while some sins are blatant and obvious immediately others surface later, or trail behind them. Do we give enough time for those sins to bob to the surface?
- Look at his home life. Where are we at our most consistent? At home. We can’t keep up the act all the time so home is where the reality of our character is seen, so it is a vital indicator of whether someone has the character to lead. If that’s where he or she is at their worst, then that’s who he or she really is. Again this takes time to become visible.
- Look at his devotional life. Honestly examine it, ask questions about it. Godliness is a matter of training, it’s about rhythms and routines. It’s about a commitment day in day out. It’s about a humble life of steady dependence on God displayed in a hunger to hear his word and a seeking after his wisdom and tasting again and again his goodness and grace. And you can’t minister to others out of an empty heart. A cracked cistern doesn’t hold water and so has nothing to often those thirsty for the water of life.
Those things can’t be seen quickly, you don’t see them in a reference, they aren’t a given when someone leaves bible college. They are the results of long term discipleship. And they have nothing to do with giftedness. And yet we are so easily bewitched and dazzled by a TED talk style delivery, or by a confidence that is actually a small glimmer of arrogance or pridefulness.
And the thing that has struck me in Timothy is that character and godliness aren’t something you either have or don’t. They are developed, the result of training, effort and ingrained habits repeated over and over and over that are a result of an awareness of our need of the nearness and grace and wisdom of Father, Son and Spirit. They can be lost, subsumed by ministry tasks or pride or sin. As churches we need to seek character not be seduced by charisma. And we also need think carefully about how we help those in leadership positions grow in their character, pursuing godliness over the long term if we want them to minister healthily for the long term.