Leading By Example
Friday, June 20, 2008 at 7:51AM
Jeff Smith in Church Life

Jesus Christ set the standard for authority and leadership in becoming the Chief Shepherd of his flock – what we usually call the church.

The Holy Spirit says that he “loved the church and gave himself up for her,” even though he was her head and master (see Ephesians 5:25, 1:22). Authority, especially in the home and the church of Christ, is not a matter of selfish ambition, self-promotion or self-service, but one of selflessness and service to others. So many generations of men abused their scriptural headship in the home so that they could domineer their wives and intimidate their children, but a closer reading of the text reveals a much more emotional attachment. Headship was not to be about power, but about promoting the spiritual and physical welfare of those in one’s charge. Husbands were admonished to love and cherish their wives, to nurture and admonish their children, being careful not to alienate their affections or provoke them to wrath (see Ephesians 5:22-6:4).

The same principle holds true as it concerns the oversight of local congregations. Men are appointed as pastors of the flock according to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit so that they might shepherd the congregation, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (First Peter 5:3). 

Clinton Hamilton comments upon the verse: “Elders in the discharge of their duties in relation to the brethren are not to be autocratic or ‘bossy.’ There could well be the tendency of elders to want to dominate or control with ‘an iron hand’” (Truth Commentaries: First Peter, 294).

In his seminal work on the office, Scriptural Elders and Deacons, H.E. Phillips wrote, “A shepherd sets the example for the sheep to follow. He goes before them and leads rather than drives” (193). He references the words of Jesus in John 10:4: “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Phillips continues, “The elders are not to be ‘lords’ in their rule, as a dictator or pope” and later writes, “The most effective way of leading people is to be an example to them. That was the course that Christ and his apostles took. Example has a powerful drawing element” (194). 

Surely the same is true in the home, especially when parents are heard to command one of their children while personally exhibiting the opposite behavior. A parent who counsels against smoking, drinking, gossiping, laziness and anything else will find his teaching severely muted if he should practice those very things himself. Children, though in subjection, are too smart to be fooled for very long by parents who do not practice what they preach. Hypocrisy is the white noise that drowns out the pious sounds of an insincere teacher. 

Fathers who rule the roost with an iron fist sometimes are rewarded with compliance, but later discover that it is only temporary and far from genuine. When their charges gain enough maturity or independence to rebel, their rebellion is thorough and dramatic. That is why the New Testament solemnly warns “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” When discipline is arbitrary, self-serving or vindictive, a child is discouraged by an apparent lack of paternal love and reason.

Lording it over the flock at home is no more effective than lording oneself over a local church. The apostle John rebuked one Diotrephes who loved to have preeminence among the church, and so refused the authority of the apostles with malicious words and a refusal to accept anyone who might prove to be a rival for power (see Third John 9-11).

The qualities enumerated twice by Paul in his discussion of the eldership are not only minimum requirements for the job, but they are prominent areas in which officeholders must already be examples to others. As preacher, Timothy had a leadership role in the church at Ephesus, especially before bishops were ordained. Paul told him to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (First Timothy 4:12). Titus, also charged with appointing elders on Crete, was reminded to “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned” (2:7-8).

Christians occasionally find themselves in other positions of authority as well – in the military, on the job, in school clubs or organizations like the football team and band. The principles of leadership embodied in First Peter 5 and John 10 are equally useful outside the home and church as well. Leadership that is dictatorial or appears to exist for the sole purpose of consolidating power will only produce shallow and temporary loyalty. Even slave masters were told to “stop your threatening” (Ephesians 6:9) and to treat those in subjection “justly and fairly” (Colossians 4:1). If such was true of first century slaves and masters, how much more should it be true of twenty-first century heads and subjects in whatever their setting?

Fathers, elders, governors and supervisors must all seek to exercise their authority as good stewards of that blessing from God (see Romans 13:1). God intends for leaders to promote the well-being of the led, not their own ambition, pride or sensation of power. It is very wise to consult the led rather than to rely on the false notion that perfect maturity and insight rest only in the few. Just as King Rehoboam could have averted division and disaster in Israel by heeding the sage advice of his counselors, so today’s leaders are well-served by hearing out the thoughts, ideas and concerns of the people they lead – their children, the congregation, the team. 

Leadership succeeds when it engenders trust, cooperative participation  and loyalty. As Phillips suggested, people are more likely to follow if they feel they are being led rather than driven.

Article originally appeared on ElectronicGospel (http://electronicgospel.com/).
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