Through my time playing 5A Texas high school football, participating in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University, and later serving as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, and now serving at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I have encountered some incredibly gifted leaders. Men whose personalities seem larger than life; men that have the unique ability to influence everyone around them, not because of their rank or title, but purely based on their personality and proficiency. Men that people talk about affectionately when they are not around and drive hundreds of miles just to hear them speak and possibly spend a few moments with them. You have probably known these types of men as well; men that inspire in their leadership.
Interestingly, over the past twenty years, the study of “leadership” has emerged at the forefront in Western culture. I even took several “leadership” classes in college. And why shouldn’t leadership take such a prominent role? With the direction that Western culture is heading, the church needs all the great leaders she can get. However, despite the emphasis on leadership training, leadership conferences, and leadership books, there is still a great lack of Christian leaders that fit what I described above.
A Picture of Christian Leadership
I think there are several factors contributing to the leadership void in the church. Part of the problem is that influence is attractive and Christians (and false teachers) can crave to be “Christian leaders” for the sake of being “Christian leaders” because of all the prestige and power that comes with it. There are a lot of people that I perceive to be in this category. I do not know their hearts, but frankly, this is often how many come across to me.
Some have pondered that the leadership void exists because leaders are “born and not made.” I don’t think so, because God “uses the foolish of the world to shame the wise” (1 Cor. 1:27). Like the slave that was thrown in jail (Joseph), or the runaway shepherd that had trouble speaking (Moses), or the brash fisherman who so easily succumbed to the fear of man (Peter), God has always used the people that were least expected to lead for His purposes.
Also, I believe God calls every Christian man to lead in some capacity. It is men who are to be the heads of their households and who are ultimately responsible to God in how they lead their families (Eph. 5:22-23). It is men who are held accountable for making sure their children are taught the Word of God (Deut. 6:7-9). It is to men that Christ entrusts the leading of His church on earth in the office of “elder” (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). And it is men that have fallen into false teaching, shirked their duties, and have failed to pass the baton of faithfulness to the next generation.
At its core, Christian leadership involves godly character and sound biblical teaching. It involves godly living and the relaying of prepositional truth to the next generation. That is what Paul says in the Pastoral Epistles:
- Paul says to Titus, “Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (Titus 2:6-8).
- He instructed Timothy similarly to “practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:15-16).
In both cases, Paul emphasizes that leadership by men in the church be centered in character and on sound biblical teaching.Therefore, I believe that Dr. Mohler is right when he says in his book The Conviction to Lead, “For Christian leaders this focus on conviction is of even greater importance. We cannot lead in a way that is faithful to Christ and effective for Christ’s people if we are not deeply invested in Christian truth. We cannot faithfully lead if we do not first faithfully believe.”
Ultimately, I believe Dr. Mohler nails the Christian leadership void on the head. Christian men by and large across our country are doctrinally weak. The simple truth is that many men in the church are not being trained in the Scriptures, and they are still drinking “milk” and not eating “solid food (1 Cor. 3:2).” And because they are not trained in the truths of the gospel, character building often focuses on moralism instead of the person of Christ and the grace He offers. Thus, many Christian men simply cannot lead effectively because they do not have the character or the convictions to do so.
A Challenge to Christian Men
So, since Christian leadership is based on prepositional truth, and since all Christian men are called to lead, all Christian men should aspire to be experts in the Word of God. This means that we should all aspire to be life-long learners. We should be men that are not content with what we already know. This is just as true for the seminary professor as it is for the mechanic and the farmer. No matter the profession, our minds must be continually captivated by God and the knowledge of His Word. We must keep pressing to know Him and His Word more.
Furthermore, we should not just be content with knowing prepositional truth. Our goal should be to influence as many people as possible with that truth as we strive to observe the Great Commission. This means that we may need to study how we can best leverage our abilities and gifts for the kingdom of Christ. It may mean we should “add some more tools to our tool kit” that will help us learn how to lead well.
- A great place to start is by reading Dr. Albert Mohler’s book, The Conviction to Lead. It’s a book that you could easily pick up in an afternoon and learn the foundation of Christian leadership, which Dr. Mohler convincingly argues, is “convictional.”
- I also recommend The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. In the book they talk about the necessity of raising up and training new leaders (something that ironically, I think many secular organizations are doing better than the church). I think this helps fill in the gap of the “how-to.” It explains the biblical model of how to structurally influence others for the kingdom.
- Finally, I would recommend Dr. John MacArthur’s Called to Lead, which studies the leadership methods used by the Apostle Paul. There are other phenomenal leadership books published by Christian authors, but these are the three that have influenced me most.
Lastly, pray that God would be shaping your character more and more to be like our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Pray for God to provide you with opportunities to lead for His name and for His glory alone. Pray that God would bring young men into your life that you can train in character and the truths of the gospel. If you are a young man, pray that God would provide a godly leader to train you (hopefully your dad is already doing this) – a man that can take you into his home and show you how to follow Christ as a husband and a father.
Men, it is a critical time in the life of the church. It is time to step forward and lead the way as God has commanded. It is time to stand stalwartly for the truths of the gospel in a culture that is swiftly lining up in opposition to Christ. The good news is that Christ promises that the “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against” His church (Matt 16:18), which means that Christ will preserve His Church until He returns through the faithfulness of godly men. May you be counted as one of them.
This post is dedicated to my dad, Preston Abbott, who was not afraid to marry a widow with a son and who took me into his home as a young man and showed me Christian character and taught me biblical doctrine.
This post first appeared at CBMW and is posted here with their permission.