Presented Uganda and Kenya, July 2006
“If any man aspires to the office of an overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.”
We have noticed that, while most books and seminars on leadership focus on techniques, the most serious problems in the church do not come from people using poor techniques of leadership but from the wrong kind of people being in leadership, or from people being in leadership for the wrong reasons. In “Character in Christian Leadership,” we looked at the kind of people that should be in Christian leadership: people who have been called by God. And we saw that we can recognize that calling through the desire to serve God gives them and the character traits that are required as qualifications for church office: to be above reproach, the husband of one wife, able to teach, hospitable, temperate, gentle, uncontentious, not addicted to wine, not a new convert, etc. (1 Tim. 3). Today we want to examine the reasons people have for getting involved in leadership. As we go through the New Testament looking at what Christ’s Apostles themselves said about their own motives for serving the Lord, we will find certain motivations conspicuous by their absence. There is nothing about being a big man, nothing about financial gain, nothing about receiving the praise and admiration of men.
Paul said, “If any man aspires to the office of an overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” As we look at him and the other Apostles, let us ask, “What is the nature of that desire? What is the shape of the desire to serve that God puts into our hearts? What are its characteristics? What are its components? And is this the desire to serve that we have in our hearts?” And let us examine our own hearts seriously as we do so.
In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter says that “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Peter here is speaking not of leaders but of all Christians, of the church. All Christians have been called by God and given a purpose, and that purpose is to proclaim the excellencies of the One who called them. This is what we might term the “general call” which comes to all believers. Then we each have a “particular” or “special calling” as well, a specific role that we are to play in the church’s mission of proclaiming those excellencies. If your calling is leadership, it means that you are to lead the church by both precept and example in fulfilling its general calling of proclaiming the excellencies of God. The leader’s role according to Ephesians 4:12 is to equip the saints for the work of service. So if you are called to leadership, then you have a double calling on your life: first, to proclaim the excellencies of God yourself, and then, second, to help the rest of the church learn to do it well and to lead them in doing so, to the end that others are also called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.
Now, all this is very exciting in itself, but I want to ask you, how does this concept of “calling” function as a motivation for Christian service? Well, I want you to imagine that your cell phone has just rung. You slip out of the session to answer it, and you hear a very familiar voice on the other end, one that you have heard on the news many times. If you are a Ugandan, it is President Museveni; if you are from Kenya, it is President Kibaki. And he says to you, “I have been watching you, and I have seen your faithfulness in many areas of life. There is a very important job that needs to be done here in the government, and out of all the citizens of Uganda (or Kenya) I have chosen you as the right person to do it. There is a helicopter on the way to your village to pick you up, and it will be there in an hour. Will you join me, will you come to my side here in Kampala (or Nairobi) to serve our people?”
Now, you have just received a call. How does it make you feel? How many of you would be running back to your house to pack? [Many heads nod enthusiastically.] How many of you would be telling all your friends? You would be thrilled. You would be excited. You would be powerfully motivated to respond to this call, to show the president that his trust in you has not been misplaced, would you not? [The heads nod affirmatively again.] Why? Because you have been called by your president, a very important man, to do a very important job that will benefit all the people of your nation. Well! That is nothing to the calling that you have received from your heavenly Father. The high King of heaven has called you. He has picked you out of all the children of men to proclaim his excellencies and to train his people to do so and lead them in doing so. The legitimate and proper motives for being in Christian leadership begin with this, with the fact that we have been called.
The second motive for Christian service that we see in the Apostles is the goodness and desirability for its own sake of the task to which we are called. Paul says in 1 Tim. 3:1 that if any man aspires to the office of an overseer, it is a fine thing he desires to do, a good work. He tells us in 1 Corinthians 14:1 that we should earnestly desire spiritual gifts. Why? Because they allow us to serve God’s people and to edify and build up his church. And what are we called to do? In what are we called to lead the church? For what are we called to equip the saints? As Peter put it in 1 Peter 2:9, it is to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light! What could be more joyful than that? What could be more worth doing for its own sake than that? What could we desire to do for its own sake more than that?
We are created so that we naturally desire to praise any thing that presents itself to us as excellent. If it is really good and if it affects us directly, we just can’t stop talking about it. Now, one of the things that we Americans and you Africans have in common is that our football teams were both eliminated from the World Cup very early. But what if your national team had been in the finals last week? What if they had driven through those powerful teams from Germany, England, Brazil, swept them aside like leaves, and were now there in the final match instead of Italy or France? I guarantee that every man woman and child would be filling my ear with the praises of that national soccer team. You would not be able to stop yourself. You would be discussing the intricate details of their strategy, the lightning reflexes of the goalkeeper, the powerful foot of the striker. I know you would because you were not even represented in that match, and yet everyone in the village where I was staying was crowded into the home of my host to watch it on a television set powered by a generator. I can only imagine the excitement if your team had been in the game. We are created so that we naturally desire to praise any thing that presents itself to us as excellent. If it is really good and if it affects us directly, we just can’t stop talking about it.
Do you hear what I am saying? God has called us to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light! What could be more joyful than that? What could be more worth doing for its own sake than that? What could we desire to do for its own sake more than that? The second legitimate and proper motive for Christian service is an appreciation of the goodness and desirability for its own sake of the task to which we are called.
The third legitimate motivation for being in Christian leadership is the desire to please God. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:4, “Just as we have been approved by god to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God, who examines our hearts.” And in 1 Peter 5, Peter exhorts us to shepherd the flock of God, not under compulsion but voluntarily, and not for sordid gain but with eagerness. Why? Because “when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). Since I have been in Africa, many people have been telling me how much they have appreciated my teaching. I rather like that! But please don’t stop. We need to be encouraging one another, and I do appreciate those words of encouragement. But if pleasing you becomes my reason for doing this, I will no longer be truly serving either the Lord or you. We need leaders who are motivated to please God, not men. And when we faithfully pursue our calling in dependence on his grace, Scripture tells us that he is pleased. We please him now, and we will please him on the Last Day, when we will hear him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” That is a very powerful motive for Christian service: to believe He says that now, and to hear Him say it then. If we love Him, how can we not want above all things to please Him? The third legitimate and proper motivation for being in Christian leadership is the desire to please God.
The fourth legitimate and proper motive for being in Christian leadership is gratitude for the grace of God in your own life. What was Paul’s reason for being in the ministry? “I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me by God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles” (Romans 15:15-16). Paul has more to say about this than any other Apostle; indeed, he cannot say enough about it. “To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me because he considered me faithful, putting me into service” (1 Timothy 1:12). Paul looks on his ministry as a gift from God, a gift he could not have deserved, the greatest of privileges, a manifestation of God’s grace, his unmerited favor, which was almost as great as Paul’s salvation itself. Why does he call himself the least of all the saints? Why does he call himself the chief of sinners? We know him as the greatest Apostle, missionary, and theologian who ever lived. But he could never forget the manner of his own salvation. He was a persecutor of Christ’s church. Well, Christ took that very personally, as persecution of Christ himself. And Paul was not seeking God, nor did he have a repentant bone in his body when he was knocked off his horse by a light brighter than the sun on his way to Damascus and made the Apostle to the Gentiles. He knew down in the very marrow of his bones, in a way that no other man has ever known, that if he was to have been saved at all, his own works and his own merit could have had nothing to do with it. If he was to be saved at all, it had to be by grace, by grace supremely, and by grace alone. But God had not stopped with saving him, which would have been wonder enough. He had put him into service! How can you not be powerfully motivated to serve, and to serve with all your mind, heart, and strength, a Lord like that? And how can you proclaim the Gospel of salvation by grace alone with any credibility unless you feel this? Let us spend much time meditating on the teaching of Paul, the great theologian of grace!
Paul’s unique experience of grace simply allowed him to see with unmatched clarity what is true for all sinners that Christ has saved by his blood. Do you see what a privilege, what a gift it is, for God not only to save us but to let us serve Him? The fourth legitimate and proper motive for being in Christian leadership is gratitude for the grace of God in your own life.
The fifth motive which Scripture gives us as a good reason for being in Christian leadership is love for God’s people and compassion for their needs. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14 that “the love of Christ constrains us.” What love? The love he showed when he died for his people: “having concluded this, that one died for all.” And the conclusion of this argument comes in verse 20: “Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ.” It is the love of Christ for his people that constrains us into the service of his church. In Philippians 2:19-20, Paul sends his disciple Timothy to Philippi. Why does he entrust Timothy with this mission? “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” This love can be very intense. Paul calls the Galatians “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). He tells the Thessalonians that “We proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). And finally he tells the Jews in Romans 9:1-3 that he would even be willing to be cursed, separated from Christ, himself, if that would bring the Jews to salvation. None of us can make that ultimate sacrifice. Only the death of Christ can pay for our sins. But the fact that Paul would have been willing shows the depths of his love for his people.
Now, one of the things that surprised me as I was preparing this material is the prominence of this motive, love for God’s people. You would think love for God, expressed as the desire to please Him, would be the most important motive. And yet it is love for the church, love for the sheep, which not only receives the most references, but also the most emotionally intense ones. Paul compares his love for the people of God to that of a mother nursing, even to that of a mother giving birth. So this is very important. But why is there so much emphasis here? I think it is because we all know that loving God is of course the greatest thing. But how do we know if we love Him? It is easy to say we love the Lord. But He is invisible. Who loves Him the most? Is it the person who claps the hardest, sings the loudest, and jumps the highest when we are praising Him? Maybe it is—but not necessarily. The place where love for God becomes visible, the place where it becomes meaningful, is the way we treat his children. What if I were always telling you how much I love you, but then your little five year old son comes running up and I just kick him out of the way? How credible would my protestations of love be? If you say you love me, you had better love my children! Every parent in this room knows what I am talking about. The fifth motive which Scripture gives us as a good reason for being in Christian leadership—and an indispensable one--is love for God’s people and compassion for their needs.
The last motivation that I want to talk about today is the glory of God. We must be filled with love for God’s people and compassion for their needs. Otherwise we cannot say that we love God. But true love for God will also manifest itself in a zeal for the glory of His name. And so we return to the place where we began, 1 Peter 2:9. What is our calling? It is to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Peter goes on to exhort us in 4:11, “whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies.” Why then does he say that we are to do this? “So that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs all glory and dominion forever.” If we learn to pray like Jesus, the very first petition out of our mouths will be “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” God Himself is central to each one of these motivations. It is He who has called us; the task to which we are called is excellent because it is the proclamation of His excellencies; we want to please Him, not men; we are motivated by our gratitude for His grace in our lives; we love His people for His sake; and we seek His glory, not our own. The final reason for us to be in Christian leadership is because our love for God fills us with zeal for the honor of His name.
If any man aspires to the office of an overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. Our calling to the ministry begins with desire. But what is that true desire that God places in our hearts? It is the desire to respond to His calling, because we have an appreciation for the goodness of the task to which we are called for its own sake, because we want to please Him, because we are so profoundly grateful for His grace, because we love His people and are filled with compassion for their needs, because we love Him and are filled with zeal for the honor of his name. Is this the desire of your heart? Is this why you are a leader of Christ’s flock? If so, it is a confirmation of your calling. If not, you may have impressive success in the eyes of men, but the kingdom of God will not be built. You will lead everything to ruin. May God enable us to be men who are qualified to be His leaders, and to be men who are motivated by those responses to His love that beat in the hearts of His Apostles. If we are such leaders, then people will want to follow us and God will be able to bless our ministries. May it be so. Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams