WHEN IT COMES TO LEADERSHIP YOUR AGE IS NOT JUST A NUMBER

WHEN IT COMES TO LEADERSHIP YOUR AGE IS NOT JUST A NUMBER

I can remember studying the Constitution of the United States of America when I was in junior high and learning that there was an age requirement for the highest office in the land. “No person… shall be eligible to the office of President… who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years…”. Now, at the time, I was about 12, and so thirty-five sounded fairly old.  Now that I am more than 5 times older myself, and have three children in their late thirties and early 40’s, thirty-five sounds really young to me!  The reason for the age requirement is that there is a certain maturity that normally comes with the accumulation of years.  All things being equal, wisdom should be one of the primary compensations of the aging process.  There is no substitute for life experience and life experience is only possible in the process of aging.

That is undoubtedly why there are clear indicators in the New Testament that the church of Jesus is to be led by those who have the benefit of the wisdom of years.  Although there is no specific qualifying age/number, the very fact that the leaders are called ‘elders’ is indicative of an expected standard of chronological maturity. Perhaps the reason no specific number is prescribed for church leadership in the New Testament is that some men are more emotionally and spiritually mature at 30 than others are at age 50.  A committed Christian man in his 30’s may have finished a course of higher education, married, raised children and established himself vocationally and financially.  The greater consideration is how long the elder candidate has been a Christ-follower.  Paul makes it clear to Timothy that an elder “must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.”  There are shortcomings that tend to show themselves in younger men who are prematurely advanced into positions of honor and deference.

It’s why younger leaders are admonished in I Timothy 4:12, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” 

Looking back at my own life, at 17, I began preaching occasionally at a house church in Allerton, IL. At 18, I was a full time summer youth minister in Medaryville, IN. At 20, I began serving as a student preaching minister in Broadwell, IL. At 22, I had a full time preaching ministry in Mt. Pulaski, IL. At 25, I began teaching at Ozark Christian College. At 29, I became the President-elect. At 31, I became President of the college.  I can honestly tell you, I was too young and inexperienced for every single one of these assignments!  I survived and even thrived [at times]!  It is because I imperfectly, but consistently, tried to obey I Timothy 4:12 and one other verse in Colossians 1:28-29, “We proclaim Him [Christ], admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect [mature] in Christ.  To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.”

THE ANATOMY OF A CHRISTIAN LEADER

THE ANATOMY OF A CHRISTIAN LEADER

 Author Jim Collins has written several popular books related to leadership in the business world.  The first of his oft-referenced works was published in 1994 and entitled, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.  Well, just as companies should be “built to last”, Christian leaders must be built to last!  Long-haul Christian leaders are a vital need in the 21st century church.  So, what does it take to do more than just survive in ministry leadership?  What does it take to thrive long term in this spiritual calling?

Anatomy is the branch of science concerned with bodily structure.  So, what does the anatomy of a resilient and productive Christian leader who is “built to last” look like?

You have to have the heart for it— Just as the physical heart is unarguably the most indispensable organ in the body, likewise, for a Christian leader, a personal and demonstrable love for Jesus, His Church and a lost world is the core and cornerstone of being built to last.  The first and greatest commandment is often quoted and too seldom obeyed.  It is not enough to be ambitious and goal-oriented. Unfeigned and heartfelt love is the “heart of the matter.”

You have to have the head for it… There is both an objective and a subjective aspect to this.  The subjective side is reflected in the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “… we take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.”  The objective side is reflected in Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show yourself approved… rightly dividing the Word of Truth.”  A Bible education, whether formal or devotional, is critically important.  Both would be most helpful for longevity.

You have to have the hands for it– Skills for ministry leadership are best learned initially by an internship and then, as you mature, by maintaining the humility to be perpetually mentored as a leader.  Being a lifelong learner of ministry skills through books, workshops, conferences, podcasts or personal coaching is a priority commitment for the leader who is built to last.

You have to have the backbone for it– Paul charged timid Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7, “God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power…” He is not talking about natural power; he is talking about supernatural power.  He is not talking about self-confidence; he is talking about God-confidence.  The long-haul Christian leader must be confrontational, while balancing grace and truth, speaking the truth in love, whether standing in front of a large group or one-on-one.

You have to have the stomach for it–  In this generation of global terrorism and the persecution of the church, the rise of militant atheism and the cultural shunning of absolute truth, the defection of and disappointment in recognized Christian leaders, the easy-believe-ism and shallowness of professing Christians…it takes a cast-iron stomach to endure.

There may be more, but if you at least have the heart, head, hands, backbone and stomach for Christian leadership, you will thrive! 

THE IMPACT OF A LEADER’S WORDS

THE IMPACT OF A LEADER’S WORDS

I am reflecting today on the one of the big leadership lessons of our presidential campaign back in the fall of 2016.  One of the take-away’s for me has been a fresh conviction about the importance of a leader’s spoken words.  Now, I know there are times when a leader’s words are intentionally taken out of context to unjustly indict him/her… and that is just not right, let alone not fair.  But, at other times, in our off-script, backstage or private conversations, unguarded speech can become self-indicting.  Our words can come back around to haunt us.  How many times have you and I heard actual recordings of thoughtless words, spoken by a leader that would, in the future, undermine his credibility?

As a local church pastor, I remember an incident in which I learned, the hard way, the importance of being “quick to hear” and “slow to speak.”  [James 1:19] In the process of stand-up conversation with a middle-aged man, whose wife was exhibiting some extreme behavioral instability and threatening him with divorce, I sympathized, describing her as ‘occasionally being high maintenance.’  Well, he leveraged that intended supportive comment, using my name, in an attempt to shame and humble her.  Needless to say, it did not produce the desired outcome.  Instead, we were both on the receiving end of her resentment.  As I have reflected, what was far worse from my standpoint, as her pastor, was the loss of my opportunity to lead her spiritually.  She closed up and adopted a defensive posture.  And although the couple did not divorce, when the husband died, just a few months ago, he and his wife were still separated.

There is a sobering truth laced into the words of Jesus in Luke 12:3, “Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!”

Of course, the one thing we can do to protect our speech, insuring that it builds up and does not tear down, is to work upstream; disciplining our inner life.  How or what we think/feel about any subject will be exactly what is reflected in the content of our speech.   Again, Jesus said in Matthew 15:18, “… the words you speak come from the heart – that’s what defiles you.” 

 Our Creator has posted two sentries on either side of your mouth and mine.  They are called ears.  Given the speed of sound, the first person to hear what you say will almost always be you.  So, listen to yourself, especially when you adopt your off-platform persona.  Take careful spiritual inventory as you speak.  If you do, you will have nothing for which to apologize and nothing of which to be ashamed in the days ahead.

PRESIDENTIAL/PASTORAL LEADERSHIP PARALLELS

PRESIDENTIAL/PASTORAL LEADERSHIP PARALLELS

It is not news to anyone that we have recently come through the most vitriolic presidential campaign season ever, with demeaning attacks from both sides that have routinely been mostly personal and unrelated to providing solutions for the formidable problems we are facing as a nation.  I recently went online and reviewed several lists of the primary responsibilities of our official head of state.  I was struck by how the job priorities of the president and a pastoral leader of the church correlate. See if you agree:

Uphold the Constitution: The Constitution is the supreme law of the land in the United States.  Upholding the Constitution is the essential vow embedded in the presidential oath of office.  The pastoral leaders of the church of Jesus are bound to the similar priority of upholding the Bible, the revealed and written Word of God, both in their preaching and practice.  Paul instructed Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” [I Tim. 4:16 NIV] and “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus… I give you this charge: Preach the Word…” [2 Tim. 4:1&2 NIV]

 Unite the People: It has been many years since we have had a president who understood this responsibility to be vital.  Our nation is more divided than ever politically, racially, economically and morally.  Uniting the nation represents a high value, whether it is elevated and embraced, or not.  Likewise, the apostle Paul directed the pastoral leaders of the church in Ephesus, “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.  There is one body…” [Eph. 4:3-4a NLT]

Responsible spiritual shepherds keep the flock of God together and knock themselves out to be an answer to the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane for those who believe in Him, “that all of them may be one.” [John 17:21 NIV]

Defend the Nation: The POTUS is responsible, as commander-in- chief, to lead the world’s most expensive military that also has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.   This trust underlines the importance of defending the nation against our enemies.  In the same way, Paul directed the Ephesian pastors to, “Guard yourselves and God’s people… shepherd God’s flock…” [Acts 20:28 NLT] and Peter’s charge to the ‘pastors among you’ is to, “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you.  Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.”  [I Peter 5:2 NLT]  These words command a militant vigilance by leaders to insure both the protection and pastoral care of the church.

As pastoral leaders, we must personalize the challenge from Paul to Archippus in Colossians 4:17, “See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.”  It is arguably a work more important than the work of the highest office in the land.  I personally resonate with the sentiment in the words of Phillips Brooks, “If you are called to preach, why stoop to be King?”.

 

CONFRONTING: THE AGONY [AND ECSTASY] OF LEADERSHIP

CONFRONTING: THE AGONY [AND ECSTASY] OF LEADERSHIP

Anyone who has been in a positon of leadership responsibility for very long has had to wade into the treacherous waters of confrontation…

In the very first church I pastored, one of the deacons and his wife invited us to Sunday dinner after morning worship.  The wives rode together in their car while the deacon and I followed along in my new 1968 Chevy Impala.  He and I were about a mile into our twelve-mile trip to his house, when he pulled out a package of cigarettes, shook one out and started to light up.  Now, I was only a couple of months into this, my first ministry. Like all my pastoral peers, I have always wanted to be liked; but I have always wanted to be respected more.  (I thought it was bad form for him not to ask if I minded if he smoked.  It would have been easier if he had asked, but the uncomfortable afternoon that followed would probably have been the same.)  So, I said, “Bob, if you don’t mind, I would rather you not smoke in the car.”  His face said it all.  Did I mention that he was a hard-headed farmer, probably in his mid-forties, not used to being corrected?

That first ministry also furnished me with the memory of a conversation with one of the elders who was serving at the Lord’s Table nearly every week with snuff under his lower lip.  Yes, it would have been easier to let it go.  Believe me, I wrestled with that one for a while before tackling it. He actually he had a pretty good attitude about it, but his wife, who also happened to be the church treasurer, stuffed my weekly $65 check in my jacket pocket as she went out the front door (without speaking) for a few months.

While I am purging here, I should also mention the lady who sat in worship and clipped her fingernails [(every week).  You have no idea how loud and distracting that can be when you are preaching in a room that only holds about 125 people.  She actually transferred her membership to the Methodist Church in the next town.  That turned out to be one of those blessed subtractions.

My guess is every seasoned leader reading these accounts could match me story for story.  Loving and patient confrontation is part of the usually unwritten job description of a courageous leader.  Now, to be honest, I am not sure I would choose to die on these same hills today.  However, I might if I thought it might be redemptive for the other person.  The reason is because I have been spiritually shaped and deeply challenged by a select few people who have had the courage to confront me.  I remember when I was second semester freshman in Bible College when one of the administrators pulled me into his office one morning as I was on my way to class and ambushed me with this indictment, “Idleman, I have been watching you.  And I have to tell you… you have everything it takes to be a flash in the pan.”  Ouch!  That comment really stung. In the years that have passed, I now I have thanked him a dozen times for impressing reality on me at a very formative season in my life.  After that, every time I was tempted to be superficial, or cut corners, or trade on charm, I remembered his prophecy.  I wasn’t going to be that guy!

Then I was serving as a student youth minister when the senior minister sat down with me one day and said, “Ken, I have noticed that when the offering plate is passed, you open your wallet and randomly take out a bill or two.  It looks to me like you are not preparing your gift.”  That day my pastor took the time to teach me both the right attitude and the right method for giving.

It was after that I started taking the first $5.00 of my $35.00/weekend salary, putting it in an offering envelope and placing it in the plate each week.  I am sure I have become a more conscientious steward and generous person because of the path on which that thoughtful confrontation set me.

So, bottom line: Godly leaders make friends with confrontation… they receive it and they give it as a gift of grace.  Proverbs 15:31, “Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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