The Church has leaders, whether formal or informal, who need to act wisely for the good of all. This article is borne out of concern that we might appoint the wrong leaders for the future. I have heard some say that we will have the right leaders for the time in God’s provision, but I suspect that in this, as well as many things, God will do this work through us.
It is not at all that God could not step in and ensure that we have the leaders we need, but God has given us the means to discern and to let go and let God does not appear to be consistent with the responsibilities we should take when it comes to deciding on leaders in the church.
A deep consideration
When we look for our future leaders, we should not look to the superficial aspects, instead looking to that which will guide them well. As such, merely fitting well with the church’s current culture is probably not enough. Being steeped in our current church cultures is not the same as being steeped in the scriptures, and similarly being loyal to the current stances of the church is not necessarily being loyal to the right stances (unless you hold that the church is somehow unerring).
Additionally, the ability to follow an orthodox position does not necessarily indicate the ability to see what should be done in cases that have not been clearly defined. Our leaders will need to be shaped by the scriptures far more than by our society so that they can challenge that society and criticise it appropriately.
A good portion of our leaders will need to be able to critically engage with the broader culture around us. Leaders will have to be able to see where the church needs to counter social wrongs so that we form a community that is more caring than the society around us. God calls us to show his glory and his love and justice are greater than that of the world we are used to. Blindly following the course of society would be very dangerous.
Most of us have probably already become too individualistic, too biased by social honour, and insensitive to the needs of people who are considered lesser by wider society. For most of our churches, excessive individualism and over-valuing the same markers of social value as the broader culture have already caused some damage to what the church could be. Many of these challenges will continue into the future, though there will probably be some that we have not foreseen.
Being able to stand apart
Our leaders will also need to be able to stick up for what is right even when the society around us disagrees, and this must be done carefully. As society around us continues to remap, and redefine, what they consider proper, there will be times when the church should probably say that we do not agree.
For instance, I hope we will not have a society which accepts racism as much as many previous regimes, but the church often did right in combatting these views, even if more could have been done. Our current society continues to have problems in this space, and our future society may yet have the same.
There will probably be other issues that we do not see as strongly yet, at least in Australia I hear that the gap between the wealthy and poor is increasing. There will likely need to be a strong stance from the church against treating people wrongly because of lack of wealth (indeed, this is still needed today). In line with the forgiveness won by Jesus, the Church has to emulate God’s acceptance of people while recognising evil. God’s reforming of broken humanity is both loving and just. While we will fall short, it is important that we model our stances in line with the God we are bound to.
Character is key
Our leaders will also need good character so that they can inspire others to act. It is not enough for most of our leaders to work only on their own efforts. The ability to bring out the strengths of others will continue to be crucial. The church doesn’t tend to flourish where only a few individuals are working well, but rather where many people are engaged. I think this is part of why sometimes small churches appear to be making a bigger impact than churches with far larger congregations. Leaders who can inspire and equip will be needed.
However, again the need for good character will be strong for people in these roles. A leader who inspires, but falls short in their character is likely to weaken the effects of their other good works. People often feel discouraged when someone who inspired them does something bad, and it brings forth questions about whether one really should have followed their example.
While there is a wide range of damage from such things, I think in most cases it is still better when people do not have to face the failing of their mentors. Better that we seek to care for our leaders, and select wisely, so that they do not stumble into moral failures.
Faith above all
To be able to select good leaders, one of the most critical things that needs to be done is to continue to build up the foundations of the faith in the new generations of believers. As people come to the faith we need to teach them to be able to think about what scripture says. If we train up the whole congregation well, we will not only have more people who could lead, but more people who can see when a leader needs to be supported or brought back out of that position.
It is not the case that all Christians, and even all leaders, must be able to understand the scriptures well enough to see what they should do in cases that seem new and strange, but we will need at least a fair few of our leaders to be able to do this. A good foundation is probably what will prepare them best, even for seemingly radically different issues.
I hope and pray that we will have good leaders for the future of the church. Their leadership will be needed, both now and in the future for the good of the church. A discerning laity who seek to glorify God in all that they do will be best equipped to support and rebuke these leaders.
Wise leaders, in turn, will help strengthen the church, so all can face the challenges from within the church and our surrounding cultures.
Alexander Gillespie is an Arts Honours graduate of the University of Sydney. Particular fields of interest include Nineteenth-Century migration history, conceptual philosophy, social policy and ecclesiology. He currently lives in Sydney with his wife and enjoys researching and writing.