Leaders are often selected because of who their father was, or because of who they or their family is connected with in the organization, financial contributions, or outside political connections. These are the criteria or qualifications organizations frequently use when selecting trans-local leaders.
But the major criteria that is usually ignored is spiritual maturity. The marks of spiritual maturity are often minimized or even ignored. The concept of real, vital, spiritually mature leaders to oversee the church is foreign in some cases. "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and consider the result of their conduct, imitate their faith . . ." (NASB) Heb.13:7.
The scripture is very specific. The Holy Spirit says that we are to imitate the faith of our leaders. It does not give us an option. But, it tells us to look for three things before we follow anyone’s spiritual example. First, he must have sufficient experience in proven leadership in the church (not just a couple of years here or there). Second, the leader must have been a teacher of the Word of God. That means the leader was an effective teacher. Third, we must evaluate “the result of the leader’s spiritual life before imitating him.” What does it mean to evaluate a leader’s spiritual life? It means to look at the spiritual character or spiritual maturity and ask, “Are they spiritually mature?” If so, then imitate them; if not, look for someone else.
What does spiritual maturity look like? The depth of a man’s spiritual maturity is a mark of the depth of his love-walk with Jesus, and his service to people.
The church must be biblically organized; our leaders must fulfill the responsibilities that God has given them out of the overflow of their relationship with Him, and they must be spiritually mature, or it is all meaningless. True Godly leaders are committed to these principles. This is why it is safe for the writer of Hebrews to say, "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith . . ." Heb. 13:7. Spiritual leadership is “followable.” You will not have to be made or forced to follow a leader who has spiritual maturity and a heart for God (remembering that God is love). It will not be a dynamic, spiritually growing church unless there is servant leadership.
The presbuteroi and episkopoi are of most importance. Any organization rises or falls based upon its leadership. The former name simply means “elders,” that is, older ones, and the latter, “overseers.” The term presbuteroi is used in Scripture to denote old men, and to designate a class of officers somewhat similar to those who functioned in the synagogue. Elders (presbuterous) are synonymous with overseers or bishops. The former connotes their dignity, and the latter their function.
Leaders in the church are to be different from the world’s concept of leadership. (Jesus states that biblical leadership is contrary to that practiced in the world). Jesus tells us that leaders are to be servant-leaders. In Matthew 23:10-12 He said, “And do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be called your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
Again in Mark 10:42-45, “ . . . You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them, But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.”
Our Lord uses two very important words in this last passage. They are the Greek words for servant and slave. Lenski summarizes the meaning of the passage wonderfully, “A [servant] is one who is intent on the service he is rendering to others. Greatness in the kingdom is measured by the readiness and the amount of blessed ministrations rendered to Christ’s people. Whether they reward and exalt us for this service or not makes no difference. The idea is carried to its climax. One may will with a holy will to be 'first,' above even those who are 'great' in the kingdom. The way to attain this height is to be your slave . . . the humblest and lowest of all servants who actually slaves for others for Christ’s sake, and who despite all his slaving is ready to be left without reward of honor.”
God is looking for spiritually qualified leaders to lead. He is looking for Daniels and Jeremiahs who are standing for Him today and will remain committed to Him when everyone else has abandoned Him. He wants leaders who know the truth and stand for truth, and He seeks leaders whose hearts long for Him (Ps. 42:1-2) - hearts that want to know Him deeper and love Him more. God is not interested in leaders who administrate well and are great teachers and preachers if there is no passion for Him! That is the message of Revelation 2:4. Joseph is a great example of a Godly leader who ran from sin and remained true to Jehovah God even when honored by a pharaoh. The great saints of old were men of holiness, men committed to God. They were not men who did clever things, or ruled with an iron fist. They loved God and wanted a closer relationship with Him than they had yesterday. God is looking for David; not his older brothers. He is looking at the hearts of men, not the outward appearances, as man does. When a man longs and seeks after God day-after-day, Godly, spiritual maturity follows over time. It is the passion for God that develops a leader. It is a passion that grows with time and turns the man back to God. It is the mark of actual maturity, and the marks are evident in his walk among the people. It takes years to develop, but the passion must start somewhere in his life.
God’s leadership qualifications are outlined in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These are actually marks of spiritual maturity. They define the type of leader God wants. These qualifications or marks of spiritual maturity were true of the Abrahams, Moseses and the Davids of our times as well as the more ordinary Stephens, Aquilas, Timothys and Marks. God is not looking for perfect men, but men whose pattern of life evidences the marks of Godly, spiritual maturity. Unfortunately, many good Christian brothers and sisters are selected for leadership for the wrong reasons. They do not evidence the marks of spiritual maturity required in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These wonderful brethren may be selected because they are wealthy, politically connected or influential in the church. They may be professionals, the social elite, charismatic, educated, church founding fathers or significant donors. But if the lives of leaders do not have the marks of spiritual maturity as outlined in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1, then the church has selected those whom God has rejected as leaders.
Among the other scriptural attributes, Godly leaders are to be gentle. No poison-pen threatening letters. No superiority attitude. No intentional intimidation. The Godly leader does not lord over God's kingdom, and does not exercise authority just because he can. The Greek word translated as “gentle” is epiekh and it literally means “forbearing, gentle, and yields his rights.” It has a sense of gentleness and grace, but the key thought is that he is willing to yield his rights. The Godly leader must not insist on having his own way; in fact, he must be willing to yield his rights. He has an eternal focus. This does not mean that he never speaks up, and on occasions may not be able to support a decision. But the pattern of his life is that he yields his rights.
The Godly leader will not be arrogant. Ne never looses sight of the fact that he is not the only person on earth who can hear from God. The Greek word in scripture means that he encourages others at his own expense. He does not promote himself. He does not seek his own honor. Instead, he gives honor to others, not judgement.
The Godly leader is not contentious. The Greek word is amacon. It literally means “not argumentative, non-verbal violence, or peaceable.” It has the idea that the leader does not always express his opinion about everything and every topic. This type of person is usually an arguer or debater. He usually feels strongly about the topics and wants to influence the decision. He usually wants to be the “king of many mountains.”
But, the Godly leader seeks unity of purpose and mind among those he serves. The Apostle Paul gives us direction when he writes, ". . . make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose." (NASB) Phil. 2:2. The goal is to have one mind, and to be intent on one purpose. That does not mean that the “one mind” is the one of the leader. Together with those they serve, they are to seek the direction of the Lord. The same thought is repeated in Romans 12:16.
The Godly leader will not be quick-tempered. He must be longsuffering and slow to anger. He seeks to bring others along. The goal of a trans-local leader is to shepherd the shepherds. The goal is not personal honor, personal wealth, nor personal wishes. The goal is to oversee the church of Jesus Christ and to be a good shepherd.
The Godly leader will not focus on money. It will not always be about money - every meeting, every letter, every discussion. This qualification means that the leader is not a lover of money (which is the root of all evil). His focus in not on money. His life is not centered on money. If it were, he would have a difficult time in making financial decisions, especially when it comes to trusting the Lord to supply all the needs of his office. He will not feel it necessary to pressure churches, ministries, nor people about money.
The Godly leader manages his own house well. Here is the verse, "He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity . . ." (NASB) 1 Tim. 3:4. The Greek word translated as “manages” is proistamenon. It has the same root that "ruling” comes from in 1 Timothy 5;17. In 1 Tim. 5:17 we saw that the leader must be a caring and loving person. That begins at home. He was also to lead by his Godly spiritual character. That is the same idea here. The leader must have demonstrated his ability to lead by having shepherded his family first. There is more to this requirement than just organizational stuff . It looks at the man’s heart for his family. His wife will not be abused nor treated with a lack of respect publicly nor privately. His children will testify of his love, affection, and spiritual maturity. So will his extended family. The family usually reflect the character and life of their parents, because children model mom and dad. The children are barometers of the character of a leader’s walk with Jesus. These are important marks of maturity. They are insights into the man and his life.
A leader’s responsibility in the body of Christ is first and foremost one of servitude. He is a servant-leader. His priority is to serve and then to lead. Leaders dare not view individual ministry responsibilities as acquisition of power or influence! Christ did not intend for eldership to be a position of personal honor, prestige or glory. Jesus’ instruction to His disciples was that their role was one of service (being a servant) and slaving for others. The people should be at the top of the church’s organization chart, with the leaders at the bottom and not the reverse. Jesus speaking of the Gentiles in Matthew 20:25-28 said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you . . . just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve . . ." Any organizational structure is inherently vulnerable to abuse. To reduce the human tendency to acquire power and obtain influence, lines of responsibility and accountability within the leadership team should be clearly outlined and followed, or centralization of responsibility (or authority) will occur, usually to a small group within the leadership, or to one man.
God is not looking for attractive leaders, charismatic leaders, warm leaders, leaders who can develop superb church organization, create multiplied programs, creatively use slick gimmicks, or anything else. He is not interested primarily in excellent oratory, warm worship services, raised hands, “worship songs,” or large offerings. There is nothing wrong with these things, but God is looking for holy, spiritual, committed and responsible leaders who honor Jesus above themselves. He is looking for men who long to know Him and love Him. He is looking for men who are seeking and searching for Him just as Moses, David, and Paul did.
The conclusion is simple, for God the central issue is the elder’s heart-love for Jesus. That love relationship will change him and those to whom he ministers. It is a mark of spiritual maturity. It is the mark of a walk with Jesus. This was the characteristic that Jesus was looking for in Peter. Jesus told Peter, who is every leader’s fellow-elder, that there was only room for one thing in his life - that was loving Jesus - “tend My lambs” - “shepherd My sheep.”