Churches and the Missionary Task–Leadership Development

Importance of Leadership

Influential speaker John Maxwell says that everything rises and falls on leadership. Whether one agrees with Maxwell or not, no leader would deny the importance of leadership.  The Bible speaks about the importance of leadership through many examples.  However, what is most striking about biblical leadership is not competence, but character.  Much of what is discussed concerning leadership these days seems to revolve around one’s competence or ability.  While ability is not unimportant, it is certainly not most important.  The character of a leader, especially one leading the Lord’s church, is of first importance. 

As I have discussed the missionary task over the last four months, I come to the fifth task of a missionary—leadership development.  As missionaries enter a new location in need of the gospel, they evangelize unbelievers.  When unbelievers become believers, the missionary is tasked with discipling those believers and then forming new believers into healthy churches.  From those healthy churches, leadership development becomes necessary for that local church to thrive. 

“Biblical leadership is essential to the well-being of every local church, and God calls different people to lead in different ways” (IMB Foundations).  As missiologist D. Ray Davis explains, “In the experience of IMB missionaries, leadership development has proven to be a pivotal element in the survival of new churches.  Churches simply need faithful, well-trained pastors in order to thrive and advance Great Commission work” (Davis, “The Missionary Task: Training Faithful Leaders”).

The qualifications of biblical leadership for pastors/elders/overseers (as these words are used interchangeably in the New Testament) are most clearly seen in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.  Of these verses only one qualification speaks of ability—able to teach (1 Tim 3:2) and able to exhort and refute with sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).  The rest of these qualities highlight the character of the pastor.  Thus, character matters. 

IMB Foundations helpfully breaks down pastoral qualifications into three categories: what the leader must be, what the leader must know, and what the leader must do.

Be

Aptly summarized from both passages, Paul says that the pastor must be “above reproach” as God’s leader in the church (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6).  Education makes not a pastor.  Position in the community makes not a pastor.  Popularity makes not a pastor.  First and foremost, the requirement for pastoral leadership is character.  Pastors must be men of God who walk daily with Jesus.  His life must exemplify an unwavering commitment to God and His Word.  Before he can serve as a pastor, he must be a pastor in his character. 

Know

Paul tells Titus that a pastor must hold “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).  In order for pastors to fulfill Paul’s words here, knowing the Word is essential.  Pastors are to have a “high level of biblical and theological knowledge.  Theological training of church leaders should be geared to the educational levels of those being trained” (IMB Foundations).  Whether formal or informal, theological training of church leaders helps ensure right doctrine is being taught and wrong doctrine is being refuted. 

Do

The task of the pastor can be summarized as feed, lead, and protect.  The term “pastor” simply means shepherd.  Interestingly, Peter exhorts the elders to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2).  Shepherds have many tasks, not least of which is to feed the flock.  Pastors do this through the solid exposition of God’s Word week in and week out. 

Pastors are also to lead.  As Paul explains to young pastor Timothy, just as a pastor must manage his own house well, he must also manage (lead) the church entrusted to his care (1 Tim 3:4-5).  Leadership in the home and in the church is one of example through humility.  As the ultimate example of humble leadership, Jesus demonstrated this by serving his disciples (washing their dirty feet) rather than by domineering over them (John 13:1-20).  Pastors were never meant to be superstars, but super servants.

Pastors, lastly, protect.  Paul’s words to the elders of the church of Ephesus provide clarity on the role of pastors protecting the church (Acts 20:28-31).  In a similar way that a father is tasked with protecting his family from danger, pastors protect the flock entrusted to their care.  They protect the teaching of the church, the morale of the church, and the unity of the church. 

The Missionary Task Continues

As missionaries reach new peoples and places with the gospel and churches are planted, biblical leaders are necessary for those churches to thrive.  For the missionary task to progress, developing leaders is critical for the multiplying of churches and reaching of unreached peoples.