An essential aspect of pastoral ministry is raising up leaders for the expansion of kingdom work and the next generation of church leaders. Writing to Timothy from prison as he senses he is about to depart from the world, Paul admonishes Timothy to hold fast to what he had been taught and to teach it to others. Speaking of the state of the times that are to come, he urges Timothy to persevere in teaching the message with which he had been entrusted and to raise up faithful men who would be able to do the same. Remember that word: faithful. (2 Tim. 2:2, 1:12-14, 4:1-6)
As I read blogs and see books and seminars advertised for the church, there seems to be an appropriate desire to raise up leaders, a recognition that this is a vital responsibility of the church. But I wonder as we identify and raise up leaders if what we’re aiming for is what we should be aiming for. I wonder if there are leaders who shouldn’t be leading, and some who are leading who shouldn’t be.
I say this because I see lots of material on raising up “effective” leaders who will make an impact; leaders who will bring about the desired results. I see classes, books, and seminars that focus on how to raise up this brand of effective leaders; when filling jobs, churches are looking for effective leaders.
A POTENTIAL PROBLEM
But there’s a potential problem with this: It’s possible to be effective and not be faithful and it’s possible to be faithful and not be apparently effective. What the Bible portrays as faithfulness does not always lead to what is often called “effectiveness.”
So in light of that, what is the first thing we look for in leaders? As we train leaders, what is the goal?
A BETTER SOLUTION
The Scriptures abound with examples, like Isaiah, of men who were faithful but not always effective in a quantifiable sense. If you consider Jesus’ training of his disciples and relevant texts in the Pastoral Epistles, the aim always seems to be faithfulness. Jesus did not choose guys with stellar corporate leadership qualities, but simple and unimpressive men who would follow him. In fact, the ministry that Jesus modeled for them was often counterintuitive, and it didn’t look very effective at times. Yet in every sense it was, and at every moment Jesus was the epitome of faithfulness (John 6:66, 8:29).
Or what about Paul? In his ministry, he knew that it is God who gives the increase. He knew that “if our gospel is veiled it is veiled only to those who are perishing” and that the only hope of what might be called “effectiveness” is God’s life-giving decree (1 Corinthians 3:6, 4:1-6). This is theological understanding of his duty to be faithful is perhaps why Paul was able to move on so confidently when his message was persistently rejected! (Acts 18:6) Writing to Timothy, Paul instructed him to be faithful to answer his opponents with gentleness. He does not guarantee they will come around if he does this, but recognizes that through his faithfulness, perhaps God will grant them repentance (2 Tim. 2:25).
FAITHFULNESS, THEN EFFECTIVENESS
Here’s the point: if we pay attention to Scripture, raising up faithful leaders is our unavoidable priority. At the same time, we need to recognize that faithfulness does not always guarantee “effectiveness.”
Many faithful men are overlooked because they don’t have the walk, talk, and swagger of an “effective” leader. They don’t have the numbers to show or the stories to tell. They aren’t charismatic, they don’t impress, but they are faithful! I’ve written before about the danger of elevating quantity over quality when sending people into ministry, especially overseas. Here I’m simply generalizing the point: the quality we should look for more than anything else is not eagerness or even impressive and apparent fruitfulness, but faithfulness.
But what do we mean by “faithfulness”?
Faithfulness is ordering your life according to God’s revealed ways and means for bringing about his ends—regardless of what the immediate results may be.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FAITHFUL?
Faithful men are those who in every sphere of life show they believe God’s way is best, even when it doesn’t appear to be working. They are those who are willing to labor according to God’s design all of their life, even if they are labeled irrelevant and ineffective, because they rest their head on the pillow of God’s sovereignty, the promise that his Word will accomplish its purpose (Isaiah 55:11).
In that sense, faithful leaders will indeed always be effective leaders, but they will be effective because God’s ways and means always accomplish their intended purpose. Effectiveness is important, but if we are going to think about this theologically, we must admit that to a large degree what defines effectiveness is somewhat hidden in God’s sovereign decree. As I mentioned earlier, we are compelled to believe that Jesus was an effective leader, though that was not always apparent by our standard of measure. His effectiveness was that he did what the Father had given him to do (John 6:37-39). What does that leave us to do then? Embrace the truth that God will bring about his ends through his ordained means, therefore we are to be faithful to what he has revealed (Deut. 29:29).
Faithful leaders are men whose faith is not in what is seen, what is measurable, what can be boasted about in a newsletter, but in what is unseen, in the words that God has said.
Perhaps I’m just a small church pastor trying to justify my often unexciting and slow-moving ministry. I hope that’s not the case. I want results as badly as the next guy, and I pray for an effective ministry. But more than that, my ultimate aim is faithfulness and I pray my desire to be effective always takes a backseat. One practical way this shows itself is that as I raise up leaders, I don’t pass over unimpressive, yet faithful men.