‘We have no leaders’ is an unscriptural boast, Heb. 13. 24. If the Spirit of God raises up no leaders in the various branches of a church’s work, the believers should be on their knees to discover why. On the other hand, ambitious men who are always trying to snatch the lead from others are a menace.
God has commonly deigned to work through human leaders. Abraham was a leader, Joseph was a leader, David was a leader, Jeremiah was a leader, Peter and Paul were leaders, to quote only a few instances. In more recent times we have had Craik, Muller, Chapman and Darby whose qualities of leadership have been manifest. These men could enlist the sympathy and interest of others. They had the gift of rousing others to enthusiasm for the things of God. They kept going when others wanted to pack up. Almost every old assembly owes its existence, under God, to a few such personalities. These were men who lived so close to God that they were sure of His will. Dozens of less spiritual believers followed them – people who themselves would never have founded an assembly, or even persevered through the obstacles and heart-aches of the early days; people who were encouraged and taught God’s mind by these men of God.
‘A lower degree of spiritual intelligence and affection in one Christian can discern that which is more excellent in another’ wrote J. N. Darby in 1854, ‘and accept it, when “will" does not work; although he would not have been able himself to make the discovery of such or such a course of action, proposed by greater spirituality and greater love than his … The waggoners know if a road is good and well laid down, and they know how to use it; but only the engineers know how to plan it and lay it down’. Speaking of the man to whom God has given the qualities of leadership, Darby had said earlier in the same letter, ‘I have never seen, when such a person acts and his action flows from much communion with God, that this influence, this moral authority, has not been recognized. Moreover, such a workman is not, in this case, carried beyond what he has received from God, so that his ministry finds its sanction in hearts without any pressure. There are, however, cases where things go badly, and the workman is put to the test. In such a case he must keep before God, and act solely for Him; he must be at the service of Christ, and commit the result to Him alone. The Lord will always keep the upper hand; and in the end, if patience has her perfect work, the wisdom and justness of the judgment of the person who has acted will be made plain. Without having sought it, his authority will even be much increased by it, though perhaps he may, in appearance, have entirely lost it’.
Problems of leadership often occur in the second or third generation of an assembly’s existence. The old pioneers die and a jockeying for position takes place. Part of the trouble may well have been caused by the failure of the former stalwarts to recognize the young Timothys years before. It is clear also that the spiritual condition of an assembly is rarely as high in the second generation as it was at the beginning and so the wrong kind of leadership may well be accepted just when the need of the right leadership is greatest.
Leadership in an assembly is not consistent with a high degree of itinerancy. The man who is rarely seen in the local hall cannot expect to acquire that influence with his brethren which is the essence of spiritual leadership. This fact needs careful consideration. Have we created a system of itinerancy which robs us of some of our finest potential leaders? Could Chapman, Craik and Muller do their work amongst us today? They were not itinerants, but local pastors and teachers. Which assembly would facilitate such work nowadays? If we could not find room for them, would this mean that we have become more scriptural or more jealous?
It would be foolish to close our eyes to the fact that this particular problem is largely concerned with men who have been called to give up a secular occupation to devote all their time to spiritual work. This commonly means the end of their local pastoral usefulness. We are sometimes told that this is necessary for financial reasons. Where, then, is God? In a New Testament assembly a pastor and teacher ought to be able to do the work which God has called him to do, irrespective of whether he is a ‘full-time’ worker or not. There is a place for itinerancy, but surely the normal rule is that a shepherd lives with the sheep. It would be a strange system that made it difficult for a shepherd to feed the sheep in his own district. An expensive and time-wasting system, too.
But there is another side to this question. There arc some who like the limelight and covet authority. They may have Bible knowledge, but that in itself does not make a leader. They lack spiritual perception, and because they have no wisdom, tact or love are totally unfitted to guide others. Looking at godly leaders they see only the influence they wield and desire it for themselves. They do not realize that a leader must lead not drive. He must walk in the right path so that others will follow. He must be a fit model for the imitation of the saints. ‘Be my imitators’ said Paul, 1 Cor. 4. 16; 11. 1. To make it clear that this was not something peculiar to himself because he was an apostle, he adds in Philippians 3. 17, ‘and fix your eyes on those walking thus as you have us for a model’ (J. n. d.). Obviously to be a leader in spiritual things calls for a high standard of life. It also calls for faithfulness to Scripture. The same natural qualities which help a man to guide others in the path of truth can enable him to lead them astray. ‘Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them’, Acts 20. 30. Moreover, the warning of 1 Corinthians 3. 21-23 must always be borne in mind - ‘Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things arc yours … And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s’. It follows also that leadership is not necessarily permanent. The fact that I lead today does not mean that I shall have the moral right to do so tomorrow. If my spiritual condition declines I may well forfeit my right to lead the people of God.
What we have said applies to elders, of course, and is in some degree an extension of what we said in our last issue, but in the Sunday School, Women’s Meeting, Open-air Work and so on, those who are not elders may lead (in fellowship with the elders) and much of what has been said applies to them also.