It is not necessary to name names in order to observe that every little while, in this church or that, there arises credible accusations about financial impropriety, immorality, or other wrong-doings on the part of those who were deemed to be spiritual leaders. When one examines the worst of these, one often wonders why so many red flags were ignored by the members of the institute in question, and that the leader in question was given carte blanche for so long. Whether it’s the opulent lifestyle said individuals often seem to enjoy, or years of morally questionable behavior, there are frequently some good indications that things are not being done in a manner that is exactly Christian.
But perhaps many simply do not know what the Bible really teaches about leadership in the church. What should one expect from a follower of Christ who is also an elder, pastor, minister, or deacon? Is it true, as some suppose, that since we are all human, we should not hold Christian leaders to a higher standard? What does the Bible say?
From the beginning, it was clear that Jesus expected more out of His followers than what was common in the world at large.
He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,… (Matthew 20:25b-28; ESV)”
We can see two things clearly from the quote… Jesus taught that Christian leadership is about service, and it is distinct and different from how the world often operates.
Some years later, writing to elders in the church, the apostle Peter reminded them of this leadership style, expected by Jesus, saying, “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3; ESV).” Leadership in the church was not an opportunity for graft or grift, not a chance to be in charge and tell people what to do, and not about pleasing men, but rather it was an opportunity to serve God.
The apostles followed this pattern. They never got rich. They seldom made demands. And they devoted their lives to the service and good of those they were seeking to teach. Paul writing to the Thessalonians, whom he had recently converted, reminded them of these things, saying, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake and you became imitators of us and of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 1:5b-6a),” and “we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:5-8; ESV)”
Paul points out the simple truth that he was not trying to take money from the ones he preached to; he was not seeking glory, praise, or mindless compliance. His sole goals was the salvation of their souls. And the Thessalonians, who had seen Paul in action, would have been judges of the truth of this statement. How very different the mindset of the apostle was from so many who, in the name of religion, claim wealth and glory for themselves, while demanding their followers comply with their every pronouncement.
As we contrast the Biblical model with what we see too often in the religious world, we should not overlook another element of the Christian model. Let us notice that Christ pointed to Himself as an example for how His followers were to act. We might then notice that Peter told the elders of the church that they were supposed to lead by example, with Christians imitating their behavior. We finally notice that Paul commended the Thessalonian Christians for being “imitators” of his behavior and of Christ’s. Repeatedly, Christian leaders are told they are to be examples for those they seek to lead, even as Christ was an example.
It is not exactly proper to say that God holds Christian leaders to a higher standard. God does not have two sets of standards, and He is no respecter of person or rank. Rather, it seems better to say that God expects Christian leaders to model the kind of behavior expected in all of His people. We should therefore, ourselves, expect spiritual leaders in the church to behave ethically and morally, even as we hold ourselves to the exact same standards, at all times looking ultimately to the example of Christ regarding how we should be behaving. And leaders in the church should do the same, living in such a way as to be able to say, with the Scriptures, “imitate me, even as I imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).”
The church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us as we seek to be more like Christ. We meet at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have any questions or comments please share them with us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.