There is a passive element to biblical leadership.
I understand, Mr. Reformed Theologian and Proponent of Biblical Masculinity, if you’re squirming. To be honest, writing this statement is making me double-check for lightning in the sky. For the record, I affirm that, 99.99% of the time, spiritual leadership necessarily implies taking the initiative. That is, after all, the very definition of leadership. I myself have taught that one of the great disservices to the church, the community, the country, and society in general is the presence of passive men. This is emphatic particularly when it comes to the realm of spiritual growth, the shepherding and raising up of his family, the building up of God’s church, the global ministry of the gospel, and the preparation for His kingdom. To “gird up one’s loins like a man” implies being active, and not passive. Yes, yes, and amen yes – let a man who desires to bring glory to his Creator get off of his cheeks and actively fight the good fight of faith for the sake of his personal sanctity, his family, and his church.
That said, there is a particular element of spiritual leadership in which I truly believe that the man of God must remain passive. And it has to do with not his activity as a leader, but rather his appointment as a leader.
What I mean by “passive”
I am not using the word “passive” in the connotative and cultural sense, in which it is sometimes implies to cowardice, laziness, and refusal to take responsibility. I mean “passive” in the denotative grammatical sense. For all the hyper-masculine folks out there (bless your souls, by the way), passive is not always negative. For instance, Ephesians 5:18 and 6:10 calls the Christian to “be filled with the Spirit” and “be strong in the Lord” – both of which are imperatives in the passive voice. Now with regards to the appointment of the man of God to leadership, the passivity of the man of God means that he is positioned as the recipient of the appointing rather than the active agent of the appointing.
To put it more simply, church leaders – whatever the capacity – must not appoint themselves, but must wait to be appointed.
And to put it more pointedly, self-appointing leadership can be very, very dangerous.
My personal convictions and philosophy over the years
1 Timothy 1:12-16 is my autobiography as well as Paul’s. It’s been a true honor to be able to preach and teach in several venues, train up ministers for the work of the gospel, disciple and mentor men, and counsel those in need. Yet, since the beginning of my ministry, I had a personal conviction that it was not in my right to request for or demand the opportunity to preach or teach (except when a particular seminary assignment required me to do so). And, when it came to discipleship and counseling, I was convicted that I was to wait to be asked by a person to be discipled/counseled individually, rather than going up to a person and asking them if I could disciple or counsel them. I’ve held to these commitments till this day. There’s personal aspect to it. A person of my background, who made the kind of mistakes in life that I did, would never in his right appoint himself a leader or even request for such in the church in which he serves. There’s also a practical aspect to it, in that I desire to submit to God’s leading rather than my own personal desires when it comes to the direction and endeavors of ministry. But I do believe that there’s a philosophical aspect to it. I’m a big proponent of letting your character and competency speak for themselves, rather than imposing them on others. I’ve shared this with our ministry staff at my church, and thus, have no problem sharing it here. Waiting for the opportunities to minister in the capacities above has never resulted in a lack of opportunities. If anything, there has been a glorious (and logistically problematic) over-abundance opportunities.
The problem of growing self-appointed leadership
Thus, in those instances when I do have the opportunity to mentor the eager beaver, I do strongly encourage him to patiently wait on the Lord for opportunities to lead rather than actively requesting for the from the churches in which they serve. For there has been a growing problem of self-appointing leadership in the church. Let me explain with a few examples:
More than once, I’ve had a young Christian approach me to tell me that he’s being discipled by a believer but a few years older than him. I would proceed to ask how such a discipleship relationship was formed, and to my horror, he would say something to the line of, “So and so approached me and said, ‘You look like you are in need of discipleship. How would you like it if I discipled you?” Out of respect for the “older” saint, the younger man would oblige, and would find himself unhappily stuck in a “discipleship” relationship from which he wasn’t truly benefitting.
- I’ve worked in the past with younger ministers and colleagues who would complain about not having enough teaching opportunities in church.
- I’ve heard reports of younger men, be it out of over-eagerness or pride or a combination of both, join a church and immediately try to coerce themselves into leadership positions.
- I’ve witnessed older men (with seminary training and previous pastoral experience) hold grudges against their existing church leadership because they weren’t extended a ministry position though they had been “faithfully serving as best as possible.”
- I’ve seen younger men in their mid to late twenties – either unqualified, untested, or simply inexperienced – simply plant churches and install themselves as the pastors and elders of those churches.
And in every case, you have a man who has a misguided understanding of the worthiness of his person of the glory of the ministry for which he strives. And in many of these cases, such men had an inaccurate estimation of their own giftedness.
The biblical philosophy of spiritual leadership appointment
I realized that the Scriptures not only discuss what a spiritual leader for God’s people should be doing, but also how he should be appointed. For one, Paul entrusts both Titus and Timothy with the responsibility to appoint elders and faithful teachers respectively (2 Tim 2:2, Tit 1:5). But a passage that is largely ignored that does indeed speak directly of the issue at hand is Hebrews 5:1-4. Here, the author says:
“For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God…” (5:1)
“And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.” (5:4)
While these verses may specifically address the office of the high priest in Old Testament Israel before the coming of Christ, the principle of leadership appointment is indeed in view. In the Law of Moses, there was no such thing as a self-appointed high priest. All of those who served in such a capacity were specifically called by God and ordained by the current Levitical priests. Following the same pattern, none of the twelve apostles of Christ were self-appointed, but rather were chosen by Christ specifically for the task. And while there are no longer high priests and apostles in the present-day church, there are pastors and teachers and leaders who Christ has commissioned to shepherd His flock until He comes again. And just as God never designed for high priests or apostles to be self-appointed, it can be induced that he doesn’t expect – or desire – for spiritual leaders to be self-appointed today. For, as Hebrews 5:4 states, “no one takes the honor to himself.” No one, in their right state of mind before God and in full awareness of their own wretchedness and weaknesses and limitations, would ever assume upon himself such a position of honor as that of a spiritual leader for the flock for which Christ purchased with His own blood.
Erred estimations of the self-appointing
Many self-appointed leaders have simply erred into thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to (Romans 12:3). Their estimation of themselves and their own spiritual maturity out-peaks Everest, blinding them to the gaping holes in their character and even lack of giftedness. Other self-appointed leaders simply have a too low an estimation of the weightiness of the ministry. The Scriptures calls for everyone to be servants, but only few to be teachers, for on the latter will incur a stricter judgment. Self-appointed leaders sometimes so over-eager to be in positions of authority or esteem that they fail to realize the the very value of the message that they bear and the preciousness of the souls to whom they lead. Thus, some perspective has to change.
The model of Christ Himself
And perhaps, there are those self-appointed leaders who appointed themselves simply because they didn’t know better. After all, secular leadership is many times attained through self-appointment. But formal spiritual leadership is different. And no one modeled this better than Christ Himself. Christ, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and Lord over all, was one who – when it came to the appointment to lead God’s people – waited to be appointed. Listen to the words of Hebrews 5:5:
“So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.'”
Christ, the radiance of the glory of Father and exact representation of the Father’s nature, did not glorify Himself, but instead waited upon the Father to glorify Him and usher Him into His public ministry (though He was always worthy of such an honor). It is because of this that Jesus did not start publicly preaching and teaching until after His baptism at the age of thirty. And so if Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a spiritual leader, how much more should we refrain from such a temptation.
Even Christ demonstrated that, there is indeed a passive element to spiritual leadership!