Leadership: Aspiration & Preparation
As I read about the rigorous road of academia that was Edward’s path to the pulpit, I was struck with the amount of preparation that was expected of those that would take the noble office of pastor and teacher. There was no Sunday morning pep talk about how everyone is a leader that was followed by a sign-up sheet and a weekend long crash course on biblical leadership; there was only a long road of becoming grounded in the word and skilled in how to exposit scripture that eventually led to the right to stand at the lectern and magnify the glory of God to his elect.
In the 21st Century American church it seems that we have perhaps taken the ideology of empowering everyone to be a leader too far or not far enough.
By too far I mean that we have swung the door open wide, regardless of qualification, for people to exercise spiritual, ecclesiastical leadership in the context of small groups. In the effort to mass produce leaders, especially in the context of mega-churches that are trying to manage their exponential growth, leaders are commissioned in an assembly line fashion with little penetration into whether they meet biblical criterion (i.e. 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). Many fail to exhibit spiritual maturity or have situations that would historically disqualify them from leadership (i.e. divorce & remarriage is the most common in America). This loose and easy approach to leadership, especially in the absence of mature accountability, can have manifold damaging effects.
The other side of the coin is that perhaps we just don’t go far enough with our empowerment of leaders. It cannot be denied that there is a shortage of leaders and that problem must be addressed, but I don’t believe we should feel compelled to lower the threshold, but to make the biblical threshold for leadership more accessible through training and rigorous accountability. If I were the lead pastor of a church I would want to know that I was leaving my sheep in able hands and not just willing hands. The fact that currently many leaders are unqualified does not mean that they must always be unqualified. Knowledge and grounding in the scriptures can be obtained, sin can be repented of, and accountability can be reality. In this way we should seek to empower all believers to aspire to leadership and then set the bar for what that looks like. In 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul says that “Anyone who aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” We seldom aspire to things that are easily obtained. I have long aspired to be an airline pilot, but the long and expensive road of training makes it just that… an aspiration. I would not like the medical board to decide one day that anyone can be a doctor, give a couple of weekend classes to those interested and then set them lose to prescribe medication, perform appendectomies, etc! Imagine the absurdity! It should be our longing that many would aspire to church/spiritual leadership and that many would become qualified but it doesn’t come easy.
It is a “noble” things to aspire to a position of leadership, but I think we can learn a lot about how that desire is fulfilled by examining the lives of past church leaders and what was expected of them. Even on a small group level we are not dealing with cold and flu patients, airplane passengers, or social club members; we are dealing with eternal souls. I think the realization of that magnifies that importance of being trained, grounded, and qualified. I was immensely challenged as I considered the path that Edwards took to the pulpit, despite the advantage he had coming from a rich, godly heritage. I hope that I may with sobriety and tireless equipping serve the office I have been entrusted with well.